It probably started around puberty for me. Feeling that something wasn't right. The budding women around me were getting into makeup, men, and dresses. They wanted to look pretty, act suave, change themselves to impress.
In some ways, my parents bought into this too. Emphasizing how beautiful I looked when they managed to bribe me into wearing a dress; or, in my mom's case, trying to get me to wear high heels to a wedding or to prom so I could show off my legs. I was also brought in middle school to get my legs waxed - namely because, when hanging out at the pool, I relayed that a 5-year-old told me that I had legs like a boy. (This elicited a response in me too, not just my parents. I was conditioned by society to think hairy legs were inappropriate for girls.)
I remember the pain and abject fear of being in the Macy's dressing room with a beaded dress on, hugging all of my curves, trying not to cry. But I had to go to prom and I had to wear a dress.
I remember my professor giving me a sad look when I expressed how I didn't become a math major to become a teacher and wanted to do something with astrophysics.
I remember screaming and baring my teeth at the boys swirling around me in my middle school art class, as they mimed at grabbing my chest, kicking at my legs.
The deep sense of shame I felt - for now I recognize it as that - went down to my bones: every time I left the house, it was: "Are my clothes matching?" "Are the right parts of my body emphasized?" "Am I giving boys the wrong message?" "Are my pimples covered?"
Then there was this voice at the back of my head saying, "But you don't care about this, don't worry - you are fine the way you are." Because, in reality, I didn't care. It was everyone else around me who seemed to - everyone put an emphasis on how women need to be cognizant of how they look and how they act. They need to get husbands and bear children and whatever. And, wanting to just blend in and pass unnoticed, I tried to please them.
I realize now that this was the wrong way to live my life for the last ten-plus years. (It didn't stop the bullying anyway.)
Granted, no one ever told me I had to get a husband and have children. It was just sort of expected. Like everything else a woman goes through, you are rarely asked about your opinion on the matter and assumed that you will be going through the motions just like the rest, until you make it abundantly, absolutely clear in the most direct (and brutal) way possible that this isn't you. Taking a stand like this gets you labeled as a bitch, "too honest", or in other cases "cruel".
My ex-partner, who was male by sex but not by gender, elicited so much joy that a family member actually said to me, "Listen, I know you don't want children but if you have them with him [misgendered], I will raise them myself. They would be so beautiful."
That was a year ago, and I am still trying to parse that. Even if it was a joke - it was not okay to me and I had said so, which triggered a response like, "Calm down; I thought it was funny". But it will never be funny, even if people continue to tell me these kind of things as if they are humorous.
In the last year, with these compounding realizations threatening the foundation of who I thought I was (or what others assumed I was), I changed how I wanted to be addressed, shortening my full name to initials, EJ. In addition, I have shirked the pronouns "she/her" and have opted for "they/them".
I understand that I am female by sex, and respect this (except maybe around my period when I'm getting punched in the uterus). However, what I have no respect or patience for is how my preference for more masculine clothes and presentation along with my desire to remain child free to focus on having a healthy, complex work-life balance, is taken. I also have no respect for being treated like an object among men or as something to be won over - all instead of someone.
My body is not an object; it is a temple. And that temple has only one worshipper: me. Whoever loves me will have to understand that it is I who allows them to visit that temple, but they have no right to a permanent seat there and no right to claim the spirituality within as their own. It is mine.
In addition to this complex relationship with the roles I've been indirectly told I have to assume, I never truly felt feminine. I always viewed feminine women as if from the other side of a telescope. It could be because I am attracted to them - and how attraction itself works for me is a whole different kettle of fish - but I think it works deeper than that. I look at extremely masculine men the same way, as if I'm leagues away from them too.
This is why I label myself as non-binary when prompted on surveys or on social profiles. I am neither a woman or a man, but I am also not both. It's a strange non-duality to inhabit, but I find it more comfortable than the alternatives.
The fact that I'm almost 30 and feel like I finally understand something about myself in this way shows we have a long way to go with the following generations. I am heartened to hear some of my colleagues allowing their children to explore this - and even heard one use "they/them" to refer to their child who had expressed interest in using those pronouns. However on the societal level, this is not the case. We are cloaked and hidden - our world filled with over-sexualized women and toxically presented men.
We use the word "binary" for computers, not for humans - besides, no one likes a monochromatic picture over one filled with brilliant colors of all shades, right?