The Art of Sticking Out

Written by Pat Breen
Art by Kei Scampa

The first time I was told I wasn’t enough was when I was four years old. 

My mom has always said that I have been me since the day I was born. I have always been introverted and quiet around people I don’t know well, but when I was four, I barely spoke. Loud, extroverted people made me anxious, and I preferred to talk with my preschool teachers than with other kids. I was only close with one classmate – a girl named Olivia who shared my love for all things whimsical – but one of her other friends was jealous of our friendship and attempted to steal Olivia from me. I remember what she said to me very clearly: “You’re not fancy enough to be friends with us!” I was crushed. I came home crying that day, an occurrence that became a theme for the rest of the year. 

To understand why that was so devastating to hear, you have to know more about who I was in preschool. While I was a very shy child, I also stood out in many ways. I wore dresses that twirled every day, loved to make up stories in my head, and was always the last to finish my snack. I loved to play dress-up and dance around my house. Once I proudly declared to my preschool class that I wanted to be a fairy when I grew up, and when the other kids told me that it was impossible, I ignored them. In other words, I was the fanciest kid around. 

It wasn’t entirely my preschool bully’s fault – four-year-olds aren’t exactly known for their consideration for others’ feelings- but the words, “you aren’t enough” stuck in my head long after preschool. 

After my less-than-perfect social debut, my mom decided to homeschool me instead of sending me off to Hingham Elementary (a decision I’m very grateful for in retrospect). In many ways, being homeschooled is a vastly different experience than receiving a traditional education, yet I felt the pressure to conform nonetheless. Fitting in was constantly on my mind in middle school, as it is for many others, and my own insecurities colored every aspect of my life. I found myself trying to mirror others by copying their style, interests, and ways of speaking at all times. When I look back it seems laughable, but I genuinely believed that my friends would reject me if they knew I liked My Chemical Romance. I ceaselessly questioned whether or not the people I considered my friends actually liked me, and if my anxieties proved to be true, I would assume that it was because I wasn’t cool enough to deserve friends – whatever that even means. I even had several friends (or so I considered them at the time) that actively made me feel that way. Because I idolized them and wanted to be friends with them so badly, I ignored the fact that they made me feel terrible about myself. 

I became very closed off, convinced that nobody cared about what I liked or felt or was interested in. I began to believe that I was just too awkward, too unusual to ever be worthy of love. My self-hatred only grew in intensity. I developed Major Depressive Disorder, something that I continue to struggle with three years later. 

My first year at school as a freshman introduced another element of myself to grapple with: my gender identity. The first time that I thought, “Oh my god, I might not be a girl,” I didn’t feel happy or relieved or like everything had fallen into place. Instead, I felt full of dread. If I wasn’t cisgender, I’d have no hope of ever fitting in! If I wasn’t a girl, I no longer had any kind of message from society on how I “should” be. Panicked, I tried to repress these feelings, hoping that if I ignored them long enough that might somehow force the trans out of me. Yet even when I finally came to terms with my non-binary identity, the ever-present voice in my head had something to say: Am I non-binary enough? Am I just faking it all? Will anyone ever see me the way that I see myself? 

Near the end of my freshman year, during a period of heartbreak and intense self-hatred, I dyed my hair blue. While my original motivation for this was a last-ditch attempt to attract the attention of a certain person, it had a very different effect. I found that my bright blue bob attracted many more second looks and unsolicited comments than I had anticipated; once, while I was working behind the front desk at my town library, a middle-aged man who I had never seen before in my life exclaimed, “Oh my god, what did you do to your hair?!” to which I replied simply, “I dyed it.” My neon hair drew more attention to me than I’d experienced before. Since then, I’ve come out as non-binary and began presenting the way I want to, even if it makes me stick out. 

Yet, with all honesty, I sometimes still catch myself worrying about what other people think of me. The desire to fit in, after all, is a part of human nature; the difference is that I no longer allow others’ opinions to determine my self-worth or dictate how I present myself. I’ve realized and accepted that I likely won’t ever fit in or be “good enough” for the perfectionist voice inside my head. That is simply the reality of life.  Despite my best efforts, hiding the parts of myself that made me different – and therefore, what made me me – didn’t work out the way I intended. Repressing the things I hated about myself didn’t make them go away; instead, it intensified my insecurities. It was only after I entirely rejected the concept of fitting in and began to take action for my own wellbeing that I began to truly accept and like myself. After years of forcing myself to conform and attempting to achieve perfection in order to avoid my differentness, I’ve learned to make peace with it.Attempting to be someone you aren’t for the acceptance of others is unrealistic and unsustainable. But once I let go of the pressure to conform to these unattainable ideals, I learned how to be enough for myself.