I attended a supposedly progressive all-girls college in India.
As a nonbinary person in my first queer relationship, I was bullied and developed an anxiety disorder.
I found solace in my chosen family and eventually found comfort in my identity.
I always saw college as a place where I could completely express myself. Growing up in a traditional family in India, I thought these educational institutions were the epitome of "woke" — where you can fearlessly make space for your opinions and ideas.
When I enrolled in an all-girls college in Delhi, India, almost five years ago, I thought I would make it my new home and finally express my true self. But as a nonbinary person who is visibly queer, I didn't know just how difficult it would be for me to fit in.
I always felt like an alien, trying to fit into the traditional definitions of gender
I was never conventionally feminine or masculine. Throughout my childhood, my parents treated my preferences as if I was playing dress-up. As I grew older, though, my father expected me to act conventionally feminine. After many conversations, fights, and challenges, my father still expects me to dress and speak a certain way whenever I go see him.
"Do whatever you want until you are under my roof," he always says, demanding respect for his bigotry.
So attending a progressive all-girls school felt like the perfect escape, but I still couldn't find my place. At first, I did my best to blend in. I grew out my hair and tried to dress in a way that was deemed acceptable. If I had an opinion about something being said in class, I remained silent. During this period in my life, I lost myself and transformed into a version that other people wanted me to be.
But I was still closely watched by all the girls at the school. They watched the way I dressed, the way I wore my hair, the way I talked, and the way I walked. When I got into my first queer relationship, people whispered in the corridors, and I quickly became a laughingstock.
I developed an anxiety disorder and yearned for someplace I could call home
When I got into my first queer relationship with another nonbinary person, I felt like I could finally breathe. Even though I still felt like I wasn't doing my queer self justice, I was trying to enjoy this newfound connection.
But everything changed after one of my classmates took a picture from my partner's social media and circulated it around the school. Our personal pictures became an object of public ridicule. They somehow reached my partner's college, which was in a different part of the city. Luckily, it brought me and my partner closer together. We became very protective of one another, but every time I walked through the doors of my school, I felt like everyone was watching me, whispering about who I loved and how I looked.
I started experiencing anxiety attacks accompanied by depressive episodes. On some days, I found it hard to even get out of my bed — let alone show up for classes. I stopped posting my partner on social media, made my account private, and did everything I could to hide who I really am.
The lack of a support system pushed me down a tunnel I thought I could never escape. I yearned for someone to understand exactly what I was going through and give me the strength to face it all. Little did I know that I would find not just one person but an entire queer family to fall back on.
Home is where the heart is, and mine exists with my chosen family
I started to find acceptance outside the boundaries of my educational institution, and it proved to be the best decision I ever made. I met some beautiful, smart, and confident queer people on Instagram who slowly became my family. I was then introduced to queer art spaces intended to provide help for anyone who needs it. I needed help, and they were there for me. These people taught me that the acceptance I seek lies within the community we build.
We have seen each other at our worst, from holding each other through heartbreak, anxiety, and grief to celebrating each other's smallest wins. I even started an inclusive-expression magazine with my closest friends to extend this sense of community to everyone who needs it.
I survived the oppressive and suffocating environment of an all-girls college in India only because I had a chosen family to come home to, and I finally accepted myself.
Read the original article on Insider