‘You have a choice – rehab, or prison.’

Hearing those words, spoken by a judge as I appeared in court, changed my life. 

At just 22, having been struggling with identity issues, substance misuse, and an unhappy relationship, I was out of control. 

Without a second thought, I picked rehab, and it was that tough, rewarding, and necessary step that was the key to making me the person I am today. 

Just five years on from that dark day in the courtroom, I’m an out and proud non-binary person, living my authentic life and helping young members of the LGBTQ+ community avoid going through some of the issues I had.

I realised at 24 that I was non-binary, but I didn’t become non-binary then – it has always been my identity. Viewing my life through that lens makes my past, my struggles, and my brighter future so much clearer. 

Growing up, I was a typical drama kid – even at local pantos in primary school I was always the one trying to get away from my parents and run on stage.

I attended musical theatre classes from age six right through to high school, and was always both creative and outgoing, performing and hanging round with a tight group of friends. 

But during my teenage years, things got more complicated, and questions around my sexuality and gender identity began to rear their head. 

Hanging round with a predominantly female friend group, when we turned 13 or 14 talk inevitably turned to boys. 

I still remember the panic of being asked which boy in the class I fancied, pointing to the nearest one at random. 

With a friend, who was having similar struggles, we decided to present a front as a cis lesbian couple, but that only led to more problems, like homophobic remarks and being cast out of our wider friendship group.

The bullying was relentless at times, and I felt like teachers didn’t know how to help me – I remember those final years of school just being defined by sheer isolation, my self-esteem and self-worth plummeted. 

After leaving school, I tried to continue my passion for musical theatre in college, but I was in just too dark a place, and with acting roles very restricted by gender binaries (male parts for male-presenting actors, for example) – I knew that I had to drop out for my own good. 

But things didn’t improve – I felt lost. I’d lost that sense of structure and organisation in my life, and with my family still not at the time being involved with my LGBT+ identity.

At 18, I set out to find ‘my people’ – and I threw myself into the welcoming chaos of Manchester’s Gay Village. It’s a wonderful space to this day, but I know now looking back that I was there for the wrong reasons. 

It was a toxic cocktail of bad friends, bad relationships, and substance misuse, and after just a few years in that scene things had spiralled out of control.

I realise that I was just seeking validation, and now feel much more comfortable with my space in the LGBT+ community. 

But in 2018, I had officially hit rock bottom – having suicidal ideation, being arrested for driving under the influence, numbing my feelings with drugs and alcohol, and that was how I found myself in front of the judge. 

Looking back, I’m grateful to them – I was out of control and I needed someone to take the ability to make bad choices away from me.

And rehab was certainly a good choice. 

It was three weeks of intense self-reflection, and so much of what I am today is owed to that 21-day spell. 

I worked with therapists, professionals, and examined so many of those dark thoughts that I’d been trying to ignore or block out for years. 

At 23 years old, for the first time in my life, I felt like someone understood. And now I feel like it’s my job to make sure I’m that person who understands when I’m speaking to young LGBT+ people. 

I decided to start again, moving away from the city and to a more minimalist life with a tent and precious few belongings in Cornwall.

Along the way, I met the most amazing, beautiful people, and for six months I was learning so many different techniques around meditation and breathing. 

It was towards the end of that stay, in the sea, that I had the calming revelation that I am non-binary – I can’t even describe the relief, it was a weight off my shoulders. 

And soon after I began to see things both in the past and the present so much clearer – struggles I’d had in school and college I now realised were as a result of dysphoric feelings around my gender – I knew that not feeling able to connect with being birthed in a female-presenting body wasn’t a failure, but a core part of who I am. 

And so armed with this new-found self-confidence, this new sense of living life as my complete, authentic self, I formed Beyond the Binary – a training, consultancy and public speaking service that helps young people, adults, schools and even just individuals learn more about LGBT+ inclusion.

I’ve spoken to huge crowds, and major events, and taught more people than I can count the value of respect and being non-judgemental.

But the most impactful moments are still the smallest ones – I recently spoke to around 700 students at a school, and afterwards one, aged around 10 or 11, came up to me to speak about their journey with their identity.

They said ‘I’ve never had somebody that completely understands me’ – and I just had this amazing warm glow in my chest, knowing there’s one more person that realises they aren’t on their own. 

That’s what I wish I had, someone to just tell me – ‘I get it.’

But I get it now. And I’ll make sure as many young LGBT+ people as possible know that.

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