Finding your gender and sexuality in a rural small town

Anna Stocks-Hess, LGBTQ+ contributor

Anna Stocks-Hess. Photo by Julianna Williams

Discovering yourself in any space can pose challenges for someone. Whether it be your career choice or becoming the person you were born to be, figuring yourself out is a long journey. This is also a journey that never ends. Don’t expect to wake up one day, and suddenly be your completed self. You should be growing and changing every single day.

Growing up in Darlington, Wisconsin, I never really had the representation that I was seeking. Sure, my parents let me dress how I wanted and participate in the boy-ish activities I did, but it seemed like meeting someone the same as me was not a possibility.

My name is Anna, and I was born female. I’ve never felt like a “girl” in my head. Yes, I enjoy feminine things, but in terms of my presentation, I have always preferred men’s clothing and overall looking more masculine. This can probably be a confusing topic for most people, but I can assure you, I am just a regular person. I like being in this body. I do not identify as transgender, but I also do not identify as cisgender. Cisgender is a term that means your body matches the gender in your head. I identify as non-binary. Non-binary is a pretty open-ended term. Basically, I’m just existing how I want to be. I don’t let gender norms or typical gender-related traditions confine me. I use she/her or they/them pronouns.

Now, figuring this out about myself took a long time! About 20 years to be exact, but the thing is, I was never not like this. I didn’t just one day become non-binary. Unfortunately, you don’t get taught in school about gender identities. I think a lot of people, especially in small-town-Wisconsin, are sort of afraid of all these “identities” and “pronouns.” It’s not so much about your body, it’s more about breaking stereotypes. Not every born-male person wants to be super tough and sportsy and manly. That’s okay, and being educated about gender identities can help people understand and appreciate themselves more.

Photo by Julianna Williams

Since my school wasn’t teaching me about figuring out who I was, I did what basically every teenager these days does. I turned to the internet. Connecting with people all over the world is so fascinating and uplifting. It’s very easy to find other people that are just like you or feel similarly to you. Social media and my online friends taught me about gender identities, and it helped me label who I was. It never changed who I was. Educating myself on the difference between sex and gender only helped me understand who I was more. Realizing that gender is a spectrum and not black and white brought me so much self-love. I’m happy and proud of who I am today.

Another topic I’d like to address in this column is sexuality. Now that I’ve briefly summed up the 20+ years of discovering my gender identity, I want to talk about how I discovered my sexuality. First off, sexuality and gender are not related. Just because I am non-binary, born female, doesn’t equate to me being gay.

So, like I said, growing up in Darlington, Wisconsin didn’t provide me with a plethora of LGBTQ+ representation. I’m sure there were gay people around me, but it was usually kept secret. I did watch my fair share of The Ellen DeGeneres Show on TV, but no one in my life was openly gay. As a kid, I kind of just assumed I had to be with a man. I was completely unaware of the idea of my gender as well as being gay.

But, around the same time I turned to the internet to figure out my gender, I also went there to learn more about my sexuality. Not only my own sexuality but I wanted to educate myself on the world of identities. It’s not just lesbian, gay, bi, and straight. There are so many identities out there! If you’re confused about who you are, I suggest going to the internet. The internet doesn’t let you pick from a list, and you become that. The internet simply helps you label yourself. If you’re a person who doesn’t care about labels, that’s awesome! You do you. I only have labels to help with confusion when talking to other people.

The identity that I felt best fit me was pansexual. Pansexual basically means someone’s gender or sex doesn’t affect me being attracted to them. If I connect with someone, it’s more about who they are as a person, their morals, their ethics, etc. Pansexual is sort of like bisexual, but more inclusive of other gender identities.

Anna and her partner, Kathleen. Photo contributed by Anna Stocks-Hess

I met my partner, Kathleen, about a year and a half ago. From the second I met her; I knew she was meant to be in my life. We met online and were long distance for about a year with occasional visits in between. The connection I built with her while being miles apart is amazing. I had never truly and deeply connected with someone like that ever before.

Kat loves me and accepts me for exactly who I am. She really makes me glow and makes me the happiest I have ever been. Love goes way beyond the realm of bodies. It does not make a difference who are you, love who you love. Kat has been with me for so many major events in my life already, and she supports me endlessly. Not only does she help me grow into who I am, I help her grow. Relationships are all about growth and love, no matter who they are with.

If you have any questions or comments regarding this column, feel free to email me at