CW/TW: Mental health, suicidal thoughts
When Oliver was introduced to the idea of intercourse at 6 years old, he immediately knew it wasn’t for him.
“I don’t want any of that,” he recalled thinking at the time. And that feeling has never changed.
This was the earliest time Oliver had insight into the LGBTQ community, though he wasn’t aware of everything that came along with it, such as labels, neopronouns and other identities. However, he said there was no internal struggle with his sexuality as he aged – “it was just a fact to me.”
And at 15, Oliver started developing crushes on celebrities and soon realized he could daydream romantic scenarios with them. This was much more difficult for him to grasp than when he was 6 because this was around the same time he began to think more about his gender identity.
“I had always been the tomboy who refused to wear dresses and hated my long hair with a passion, and I vividly remember being confused when my teachers told me that I needed to be part of the girl group in ‘girls vs. boys’ games in elementary school,” Oliver said. “But all these vague feelings got much more intense when puberty hit.”
The thought of growing into a woman terrified him, and in his daydreams of romantic encounters with celebrities, it wasn’t a future woman being in love with them.
“I didn’t have the words – or access to any resources – back then to say it was me as a man. I just knew ‘woman’ felt wrong. It was a very confusing and scary time for me,” he explained.
Oliver’s first label was asexual. He found it on Wikipedia by pure coincidence as a teenager – and it clicked.
“If I remember correctly, the article actually called it a mental disorder at that time rather than a natural and healthy sexual orientation but it just described me so perfectly that I didn’t mind,” he said. “It was a relief to have a word for the way I felt.”
Coming across asexuality opened the door for Oliver to explore other identities in the spectrum. However, he wasn’t able to do so openly around his family. Though he’s always been fascinated with stories about LGBTQ folks, he couldn’t find many discrete books in his small hometown library to sneak past his mother.
But now he had the internet: A new world, a virtual “library” where peers and others openly discussed their identity without fears of repercussion or hate.
Oliver grew up quite close with his mother and three siblings. At a younger age, he was living with an undiagnosed social-emotional development disorder which made it difficult for him to make friends. He said this and other childhood experiences led him to feel “wary and disconnected” from those outside his family.
But some remarks he overheard about homosexuality were usually negative or fearmongering, which led him to conclude that at least his mother may not be accepting of Oliver being in the LGBTQ community. Oliver now could be part of the community rather than see it as “something that only happens to the others.”
While he once identified as a lesbian, Oliver said it always felt off. After a short-lived secret relationship with a female penpal, he switched to identifying as bisexual and pansexual as it felt better suited to who he was.
In the later part of his teenage years, Oliver came out as bisexual to his mother, which he said did not go well.
“She told me she must have done something wrong for me to be ‘broken’ like that,” he explained. “She saw it as some kind of deficit or sickness. That was really difficult and painful for me, especially because we always were so close. I felt like she was suddenly disgusted by me.”
Over the years, she became more accepting. Luckily, Oliver said, his siblings were OK with it from the get-go. His younger brother was willing to confront and challenge his homophobic views when he first came out to him – to let go of misconceptions and learn more about the community. Oliver’s two older brothers were mostly curious and had honest questions with no negative intentions, he said.
“But my mother’s initial negative reaction, even though she got more accepting over time, did still make it difficult to come out as trans later on – even to myself. I was a full adult at that point but I still carried that pain and shame from my teenage years,” he explained. “I didn’t want to feel disgusting again, I didn’t want to be ‘broken’ in yet another way.”
And through his teenage years perusing the internet and the welcoming community behind the screen, he encountered the term genderqueer and loosely identified with it around the same time he identified as pansexual.
“It was there in the deepest corner of my mind but I didn’t allow it to come out,” Oliver said. “It took until my mid-twenties – and a years-long battle with severe depression – for it to get loud enough that I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I got into a really dark place emotionally in my early twenties.
“No matter how much I cried and begged for the whole ‘becoming a woman’ thing to not happen, life did take that route and I had arrived at that place that felt so wrong. By 23 my depression had gotten so bad that I had plans to kill myself.”
However, an opportunity to move to Sweden for a few months came up and Oliver impulsively agreed to take on a new location; it was the first time he had left his hometown for an extended period. With this came the realization he had the freedom to explore and consider things he didn’t allow himself to before.
And with a prescription for antidepressants, Oliver allowed himself to explore his gender identity for the first time.
He first came out to his therapist as transgender after discussing that his depression had been partially tied to his gender identity.
“I think it was a lightbulb moment for both of us – now we finally found a word for it,” Oliver said. “I knew I was not a woman. I focused so much on explaining that I am not a woman that the very simple ‘I am a man’ somehow got lost in it. It was such a relief to say it out loud and to have another person actually believe it, agree with it.
“He offered to call me by a male name and he/him pronouns, just to try it out, and it made me feel so euphoric. It felt like I was finally truly alive for the first time in my life – and it made me realize this can’t stay a secret. I wanted to feel alive all the time, not only in the therapy sessions.”
To his surprise, Oliver’s family didn’t react as negatively as he had experienced as a teenager. At first, his mother found it weird at first and struggled to refer to him as Oliver, but he said the reaction was much better than he expected.
“I was so happy and relieved by it that I almost felt immune to sadness – and then the pandemic came,” he said. “The frightening news, the changes to my daily routine and the constant health worries sent me right down into a spiral. On top of my usual depression symptoms, I now felt a crushing guilt: I was supposed to be happy. When I look back, it was a silly expectation that I would never be sad again but it took me a long time to accept that I am still allowed to need help after coming out.”
But to those who aren’t in a safe space or aren’t ready to come out, Oliver wants to reassure everyone that there is no perfect timeline for how things work out.
“When I was closeted, I worried about missing my ‘window’ to come out. I worried I’d get too old to come out. But there is no window at all! Your story and your timeline are unique and only need to work for you.
“I also think one of the most important pieces of advice is to be patient. Many of those struggles that made me want to kill myself simply don’t exist anymore. Circumstances change and people change. Some people go and new people come. Your level of control over your own life and your freedom, that changes as well! Always trust that life has ups and downs. The next up may be right around the corner.”