The Egale Canada Human Rights Trust has selected Corner Brook student and LGBTQ advocate Chelsea Noel's essay as its winning entry in the 2014 #HearOurStory campaign.
Participants were encouraged to post their stories about issues that impact their lives to favourite social networks, using hashtag #HearOurStory.
'It was an isolating and alienating experience for me growing up, it caused me to kind of shy away from folks my own age, because I absolutely could not relate to them ... and I felt that a lot of those folks had expectations of me that I couldn't fulfill.' - Chelsea Noel
Noel, 25, who does not identify as female and uses the gender-neutral pronoun "they," was hesitant at first to share such personal experiences, but felt it was important to do so.
As a young girl, Noel was made to wear dresses, all the while feeling completely uncomfortable.
Noel said it was a struggle for a long time.
"Being confined to these really rigid expectations of what a woman should look like, and these gender rules ... it's something that now I kind of laugh at, in a way — but at the time, it really hurt," said Noel.
"I decided I would share a little of my background. I didn't want to give away too many details of my personal life, but I think I gave away just enough to create a story that folks could relate with. I also wanted to focus on the advocacy work that I'm doing now, I didn't want it to be a gloomy story either."
Isolation 'was just my way of coping'
Noel entered a "very dark period" into their 20's and struggled with substance abuse.
Dropping out of high school with a move to Alberta, Noel needed to get away from "the sleepy little town" they grew up in.
"I felt as a child I was so isolated, that I was looking for a community, I was looking for support, and I thought I found that with what I was doing ... and that was absolutely not what I wanted or needed," Noel said.
"It was an isolating and alienating experience for me growing up, it caused me to kind of shy away from folks my own age, because I absolutely could not relate to them ... and I felt that a lot of those folks had expectations of me that I couldn't fulfill. It was just my way of coping."
Acceptance at Grenfell
Several years after leaving the province, Noel's mother received an acceptance letter from Memorial University's Grenfell Campus. The application had been sent in four years before.
'Being confined to these really rigid expectations of what a woman should look like, and these gender rules ... it's something that now I kind of laugh at, in a way — but at the time, it really hurt.' - Chelsea Noel
Noel has been a student at Grenfell for the last three years, and during that time, started working with the student union and doing advocacy work for the LGBTQ community.
Noel finds the work fulfilling.
"When I came to Grenfell, I was very shy and introverted. I still am, in a way. However, the support I found there, it's such an inclusive and welcoming community — it really gave me the strength that I needed to do the work that I do now," Noel said."
"It's so fulfulling, very rewarding. I couldn't imagine doing anything else."
Noel said this weekend a film crew from Toronto will visit Corner Brook to make a mini documentary about the story, which will then get posted on YouTube and the Egale website.
The Egale Human Rights Trust promotes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans human rights through research, education and community engagement.