Growing Up Nonbinary, LDS, and What That Means

This is Bee (the author) on the left, with their twin sister on the right.

Guest Post by B Winward (Bee). Bee grew up a Latter-day Saint in the heart of Utah County, graduated from Young Women’s and Seminary, served a mission to Guatemala and was most recently a Relief Society teacher before the pandemic. Bee uses they/them pronouns, and while coming out as a member of the LGBTQ community eight years ago, they more recently discovered the title of nonbinary or genderqueer as the best way to claim their gender identity. They have a bachelor’s degree in Leadership and have visited 16 countries with a goal to share that every human life has inherent worth.

I have been a confident human the majority of my life- with the exception of middle school. You couldn’t pay me enough to relive that time. Why? Well, because that’s when the changes started.

I am a genderqueer or nonbinary human (human is my favorite label). Growing up as a small child I would tell my mom that I didn’t have any friends. She would then bring it up with my teachers (starting as early as 2nd grade which is 7 years old) and my teachers would look at her in utter confusion and say I seemed to do really well with my peers, just that I was a little shy. It took almost 20 years and some heavy therapy to realize what my 7 year old self was trying to say was “there’s nobody like me here”.

Photos of a young Bee (from top left and going counterclockwise): 1. At age 3 Bee would ask to have a mustache like their dad.  2. Bee and their twin had matching pink jackets at age 5, but Bee asked for their dad’s sweater instead to avoid wearing pink. 3. Bee would get very sad any time they had to wear a dress (age 4). 4. Choosing Superman as their Halloween costume (age 5, with twin sister).

I have a twin sister who fits fairly well into the mold of “girl”. For years people would say things like ‘you don’t have to be the opposite of your sister’ and I didn’t understand why they would say things like that. I was just being me. Playing with the boys, loving getting dirty, loving hot wheels cars and playing sports. I even spread a rumor as a 3 year old that my family was getting a brother (my mom was appalled at this when people started asking if she was pregnant haha). Turns out the brother was me! Or at least I wanted him to be.

 

Top: (age 1) just getting some hugs from their twin. Bottom: (age 3) Bee loved this hat so much they’d ask to wear it every day.

 

So elementary school was all fine and dandy, I didn’t turn into a brother but did end up getting one later on *wink*. Going to middle school was really rough though, it’s when people started talking about their crushes, puberty starts to come around for some, and boys and girls have a starker line separating them as well. My guy friends were now too cool to hang out with me, and because they weren’t attracted to me, they excluded me. I made some great friends, and still definitely got bullied. I didn’t really understand what was going on until years later. And while I started having some crushes I knew it wasn’t appropriate to talk about them. So I picked the guys that were popular and that others talked about and would have “crushes” on them when really, I wanted to be them. This model followed me into my 20s.

My parents generally let me pick out my own clothing, and I loved picking back to school clothes from the boys section. They would pressure me to pick girlier clothing and keep my hair long because I was “so beautiful” and sometimes the kids at school would make fun of me for wearing boys’ clothes. Around age 13 is when I discovered self harm and the release it gave. I could hide anything down deep and release it through self harm. So I did.

I remember when the little buds of breasts started, I would push them down so hard hoping that if I pushed them back into my body maybe they would reabsorb. When that didn’t work, I started using duct tape to tape them down. When that started ripping off skin, I would first do a couple layers of plastic wrap, then keep on the duct tape. I thought over and over if I could just press them back into my body they would stay flat.

Clockwise, starting at top left: 1. Bee played lacrosse throughout high school and loved the team aspect (as well as having somewhere to channel all of their energy to avoid thinking about their feelings). 2. Bee at age 15 – tarp surfing in a church parking lot. 3. Bee with lacrosse goalie and longtime friend – they would paint their faces for each game, then if people talked about them it was about the paint and not for being such ‘tomboys’. 4. Teenage Bee lived for longboarded and being a skater punk.

I would constantly ask my parents how I could get more muscles. At age 12 I stopped drinking soda and eating sugar for years in hopes of getting muscles. I would watch movies and practice walking like the cool guys- to which my dad would scold me with a thump on the head and a “stop walking like a guy”.

I direly wanted my hair short, but any time I brought it up people would talk about how I would look weird or bad or how much more beautiful long hair is.

By the time I was in high school, I had the act down, flirt with the “hot” boys, hang out with the right people, join student government, and play sports. Just put all the other things away. I remember the first boy I kissed. My thought was “this feels wrong” and “why do people like this so much” and “I want this to stop” – to a couple of years later kissing the first girl I ever kissed and everything lighting up like a strobe in the night. “Ohhhh,” I thought – and then, “oh, no…”.

Clockwise, starting at top left: 1. The first and only time Bee got to be the family Christmas elf and they loved it so much! They got to be ‘Carlos’ for the day. 2. At high school graduation with Bee’s lacrosse coach and best friend at the time. They secretly wore shorts under their robe instead of a skirt because they felt so uncomfortable. 3. On a trip to Oregon at age 17 – it was a place that no one judged when Bee talked about cute girls and cutting their hair short. 4. Bee’s high school boyfriend, who would tell Bee he loved “her” a lot. Bee would just kind of nod and ask what kind of adventure they could go on next.

I constantly wondered why I found girls and women so much more interesting, and what the warm tingly feeling was that I would get around them, and why did I want to impress them so badly? While at the same time not feeling comfortable with the guys, knowing I didn’t exactly fit in and I definitely didn’t want what they wanted- to be physical.

It all came to a head when I decided that the only way out of these feelings was to be out of this life. I am so grateful that plan didn’t work out.

Clockwise from top left: 1. Bee’s first day as a missionary in Guatemala – on their 9th day they would cry all night knowing they were gay and trying to fix it. 2. Believing they were “becoming straight and feminine” while serving. 3. Bee let their mission trainer pierce their ears, believing it would make them more feminine. 4. With one of Bee’s dear Guatemalan friends who had just come out to them, both crying because they didn’t know what it meant for their future.

Clockwise from top left: 1. Even as a missionary Bee loved having a bit of a wild side while still being as obedient as they could be. 2. Some parents would ask Bee to take their ‘troubled’ youth out to set them on a better path – not knowing how hard Bee was praying for that for themself, because Bee’s self hatred was off the charts. 3. Missionary Bee would catch all the critters especially if it meant ‘coming to the rescue’ of a woman. 4. P-day as a missionary. Bee went at age 21 and would dress in the baggy shirts as much as possible.

Left: Bee was terrified that leaving college rugby and being a missionary would make them lose their strength, so they would lift weights any time they could. Right: Bee found some old clothes in an apartment they moved into and dressed up like an Elder.

College opened many doors for me, including coming out as gay (I personally never felt right with the label lesbian), and eventually coming out as genderqueer. I now have had top surgery and am on testosterone replacement micro dose. I feel more like myself than I ever have, and I’m constantly in awe of the fact that most people walk around every day feeling at home in their bodies.

Unlike many trans folks, I didn’t ever ask God to ‘heal’ me. I would ask forgiveness. I truly believed I was bad. Inherently bad, even evil; no possibility of being good– all while doing many things and becoming a person most people would consider to be a good person. This was my internalized transphobia and it was wrong. I am GOOD.

I know now that my God, the one who lives inside of me and everyone around me is loving and accepting. My God is either a she or they and she knows my heart and doesn’t have the conditions many religions put on her. They are the best parent and guide there ever was, if I believe in any god at all.

***Note: I would love for leaders to understand that even if they think they don’t know any LGBTQ+ people, they probably do, they just don’t know it yet. LGBTQ+ kids exist in every ward and stake. Some will probably identify as nonbinary just like me. Many of them will think it is a survival tactic to push those parts of themselves down and away, just like I did. And when they come out, if they ever choose to, your reaction will matter so much!

If a child comes out to you and you are scared, remember– it’s not about you. Don’t show fear or shame to that child. Talk to someone who has positive experiences with coming out and various expressions of gender and self.

If you as a parent or leader are concerned or uncomfortable for the youth talking to you because they don’t fit into what you have been taught, learn to sit in being uncomfortable. If they are not harming themselves or others don’t force labels on them or even ideas on them that could be harmful i.e. – girls have to have long hair. This human’s best life could come in a form you have never seen before.

For me, it would have been extremely helpful to have had open questions at each of these stages of growing up for example, when I said I didn’t have any friends to have gotten some questions in a safe space such as, “Your teacher said you get along well with others, what is a friend to you?”. Another example would be when I would talk about short hair, “What do you find so amazing about short hair?”.

Any time inclusive language can be used, let’s use it. Things like saying “hey friends” instead of brothers and sisters would have been so great to hear growing up. It also shows you are a safe person.

I also think that just asking direct questions like “do you think you might like girls instead of boys?” or “are you thinking about dying often?” or “what kind of clothes make you feel the most comfortable and why?” Just normalizing that every person has a different experience in life and showing love in each of those experiences.

One of my favorite bishops ever would remind me often that characteristics and traits we tend to label as masculine and feminine all belong in the divine, and Jesus showed and developed them all.

Note from Abby Hansen, the Exponent blogger who asked Bee to submit this guest post: This is the adult Bee, who I met this past year. I’ve never known Bee as anyone other than themselves, but we’ve lived in the same city for two decades (minus their time in Guatemala). Bee even worked at the front desk of my gym for years, though we never talked or officially met during that time. Bee is the kind of person you meet and instantly love. I believe part of the reason they are so compassionate and kind is because of all of the years they struggled to fit in and find acceptance for who they are. I have no idea how many times I passed Bee on my way to a workout, and I never knew what a magnificent human was behind the counter struggling with depression and for acceptance (internally and externally) of their queer identity. Look into those spaces that you usually ignore and find people who are hurting. Like Bee said in this post, there are LGBTQ people in every ward and stake, even if they aren’t out to you or anyone else yet. Those who don’t fit into the gender norms have so much to offer to our church and the entire world, and we need them more than we can possibly imagine. Thanks for being a great human, Bee!

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17 Responses

  1. nicolesbitani says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story, Bee. You are amazing, and I am in awe of how you have overcome society’s and the church’s rigid, exclusive expectations to live as your authentic self. I loved this sentence: “This human’s best life could come in a form you have never seen before.”

  2. I truly love hearing every non-cis story, deeply aware of the stories that have paused with a bad and unresolved cliffhanger. Thank you for sharing yours. Our stories are different in many ways, but the overtones still resonate our subconscious.

    And you’re right, we’re everywhere, weather they know it, believe it, or not. They can’t shunt us to a “queer” ward and out of mind. We are part of their families, their siblings, bringing who we are to enrich the whole.

    • Bee Winward says:

      Hey Alma, thanks for reading! We are valid! And I agree having diversity enriches lives 🙂 keep sharing your light!

  3. Ender2k says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. I loved this line, “If a child comes out to you and you are scared, remember– it’s not about you. Don’t show fear or shame to that child.”

    And when did Lehi get a lacrosse team? Or am I just that old…or that checked out in high school? Anyway, Go Pioneers!

    • Bee Winward says:

      Ender, thanks for the kind words! I love that you will keep those words in your heart so when people come out to you, you will be ready!
      haha as far as lacrosse, I graduated 13 years ago so it’s been around!

  4. Kathy says:

    Bee thank you for sharing your story! I know it isn’t easy to be vulnerable. But so many others benefit from hearing real life experiences of people in different spaces like you. I know my amazing non-binary child will appreciate this. They are a young adult beginning a likely trans journey. They have a honey bee tattooed on their arm. You sound like a brave, awesome person. Because you chose to stay, I believe others will also be able to.

    • Bee Winward says:

      Kathy, thanks for the kindness! It has been a painful journey and a brilliant one, I was in so much pain trying to make my faith and activity in the church balance with my inner self, to the point I almost ended my life… While church membership was very important to me for many years, it also brought unspeakable pain and tears. Currently I have stepped away from all church and religion. I am a very spiritual person still just not religious. Whatever your kid chooses, show love and know they are doing what’s best for them whether it’s in the church or not 🙂

  5. Anon says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this, Bee! I’ve got an AFAB kid in middle school who is trans and also sort of NB (he’s still figuring it all out) and I’m doing my best to be supportive. I’m going to show him this post and 1) confirm that middle school is the worst 2) show that there’s a positive way this story can turn out! I’m glad you’re on this earth with us.

  6. Wendell says:

    I am a gay transman whose family has been LDS for generations, and was raised much more sheltered in LDS culture than I realized until much later in life. I very much internalized many of the things I heard about LGBTQI+ people while growing up, believing the worst of queer people and generously applying all of that to myself. I, too, do not recall ever praying to be “healed.” Mostly, I prayed to just “sleep forever,” and ultimately didn’t want to exist anymore — in any state of existence. Frankly, I didn’t believe I deserved anything good in my life, and was certain by the time I was baptized at eight years old that I was secretly a Son of Perdition who had lied my way into mortality. Since Heavenly Father would have obviously seen through my lies, He punished me by giving me the “wrong” body with all the gendered roles and expectations associated with it. I tried hard not to cost my parents anything, and felt guilty when they would spend money on me, especially on feminine things that I could not appreciate. Until my mid-20s, all I really did was live life, waiting to die. I found it very surprising to find myself still around, year after year, and felt I had no real life plan (and certainly had no desire to fit the ideal LDS life path of marriage and family). It was a very lonely way to be, and held me back from trying to do anything, including develop any real friendships or let even my family see any real part of me. I was very stiff and stoic, trying not to feel anything. To get by, I created an acceptable person to interact with the world, and only connected myself to that person as lightly as I could. I really wanted to leave no real impression so that no one would be very hurt or miss me when I was gone. I have never been afraid to die. To be honest, the only reason I never seriously attempted suicide was because I didn’t believe that it would end anything; suicide would only usher in a post-mortal existence that I feared might be even worse in it’s never-ending state of what I imagined would be a forced-gendered existence. At least in mortality I could try to get away with little things here and there to relieve some of my dysphoric pain. At 21 years old, I was actually pretty shocked to find myself still around, so I served as a full-time missionary, praying, “Show me how to be the girl-person everyone wants me to be, or I really am going to find a way to check out of this life.” I was just so very tired — physically, mentally, spiritually… Instead, I met my first obviously out gay and transgender people, and was shocked to discover that not only were they not “evil,” but that many of them led deep spiritual lives! I had no idea this was even possible, and I felt like I was being told that being me was not the evil that I had thought I was! I left my full-time missionary experience knowing I had to “become myself” (what I call the transition process). Along the way, I discovered that I actually don’t dislike my body as much as I had thought I did; I just disliked the gendered meaning others have placed upon it. I also discovered the invented person I had created to interact with the world contained more of me than I had presumed. My journey has been more about helping others see me the way I see myself, and feeling respected for the person that I am. It still it a process, and I sometimes still find it surprising that I am still alive, and am very surprised when others know my past and still find me a valuable and worthwhile friend.

    • Bee Winward says:

      Wendell, thank you so much for sharing and for staying! I would personally love to hear more of your story if you want to connect more 🙂 So many things you mentioned resonate deeply within me and my experiences as well. This post was kept a bit more surface level as to not scare too many cis people 😉 Thank you again for sharing!

  7. Katie Ludlow Rich says:

    Thank you for sharing this! It was fascinating to me that you grew up with a twin sister but from such a young age learned and expressed things about your individual self and not just what others expected of you.

    • Bee Winward says:

      Katie! Thanks for the read 🙂 my twin is sincerely my other half and while many people read my actions as just wanting to be different from her, I have known myself just as most kids do from a very young age. You are great!

  8. Brent Barrow says:

    Inspiring story. Stories like this one help me better know the beautiful diversity of God’s children. Thank you.

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