Several times in my life, I have felt that I am different. When I was younger, I was the only Jewish kid in my entire school of hundreds of students.
I was the only one who was concerned by the overabundance of learning about Christmas, when compared to other holidays. Year after year, I was the only one who would ask, “When do we learn about Chanukah?”, and get uncomfortable looks from my teachers.
I wanted so badly to be normal, to fit in with the other kids. Instead, I remained “that one Jew,” the one everyone looked at when the Holocaust is mentioned and the one kids asked to recite the Hebrew Chanukah prayer.
When I got a little bit older, I found some new friends, and suddenly the Jewish population went from one to three. I was no longer the odd one out; I was, finally, one of the odd few out.
I was never terribly close with these two, but just knowing that they were like me and understood me was a gift like no other. I knew that they empathized with being overshadowed. I knew they were used to the not-so-subtle looks at the mere mention of Hitler or Nazis. I knew they had grown up feeling ignored, less important, and even alienated, as I did, and I was equal parts apologetic and relieved. I was sorry they had grown up the same way, but I was infinitely glad I wasn’t alone.
Then we got to middle school. I learned more about myself. With this self-discovery, I was back at square one; I realized that I was gay. I tried so, so hard to hide it, and it worked! The strong homophobia I was surrounded by was painful, but I hid behind it. I turned my cheek; I let it go.
I wanted so badly to have someone to talk to. I wanted so badly to be “normal.” I wanted so badly to have a crush—just one—that was on a boy. One that might be reciprocated. I was the one who sat and internalized the homophobia that surrounded me and amplified it in my head, hoping one day I’d wake up and I’d be normal… Hoping I’d wake up and I wouldn’t be alone.
Then I got to eighth grade, and my prayers were answered! I made new friends, and slowly but surely pulled together the confidence to tell them I was … not straight. That was when they really shocked me. Not only did they accept me, no questions asked, but they told me that they were … not straight, too!
I went home that day and cried. According to a diary entry from November 18, 2015, it was the first time I cried happy tears about being gay. I had fit in! I wasn’t alone! Again!
Cue sophomore year of high school, and, you guessed it, with the continuing self-discovery that comes with growing up, I realized, again, that I was alone. I had spent years wondering why I had always felt a sense of being off-kilter, and I had finally figured it out.
I had learned a lot from my time reading and hearing about the LGBTQ+ community, and I discovered that my inner turmoil was because of uncertainty with my gender. I figured out that I am nonbinary. I wrote those words in that order for the first time September 3, 2017, at one in the morning, in the same diary that I had shared my ecstasy when finding community in middle school.
I felt so confident saying that the first time! Until, of course, I got to school the next morning. It was here that I was reminded that outside of my bedroom, the world is less accepting. Outside of my blue walls, there were gender roles I would have shoved down my throat. I spent months trying to convince myself that I was cisgender… Months telling myself that I was a girl… Months telling myself that I couldn’t possibly be nonbinary!
I figured that if I drilled it into my head enough, I would be okay with it. I’d agree with my vagina. I would be a girl.
But then, it happened again. I discovered that I wasn’t alone! I made more friends, adding to both my “Jew Crew” and my “Gay Group.” It has made me so infinitely happy, and the feeling of belonging is back. I no longer felt isolated, and finally, something has clicked.
I realized that, no matter what, I am not alone. I continued to find groups of people like me, no matter how different I was. I have learned that nobody is going to be just like you. No one has a carbon copy. Nobody else is complexly designed identically to you.
I have learned that my differences aren’t a bad thing, even if the general public thinks otherwise. There are more Jewish people than the Jewish population I know. There are more LGBTQ+ people than the few friends I’ve made. There are more trans and nonbinary people than the few I’ve met.
I know now that, while I may feel lonely at times, I am not alone. It’s a comforting realization to have after so long feeling out of place, and I hope that anyone who feels alone in their identity finds such opportunities.