Pre-COVID 2020 I was in college about to graduate, but when the lockdown hit, my life stopped and my mental health hit rock bottom. I stopped sleeping, and was experiencing frequent anxiety attacks. I’d been a cosplayer on Instagram and a lot of my cosplay friends (If you’re unfamiliar with cosplaying, it’s dressing up as characters from tv, movies, anime, etc) were migrating to TikTok. I was intrigued and decided to check it out, hoping to find a community of support. On TikTok, I was pleased to find a mostly-queer community of cosplayers, many of whom I remain friends with today.
TikTok connected me with amazing people, but it also made me aware of the bigotry happening online. Around this time, the Black Lives Matter movement was gaining attention. I realized that I needed to step up and take action to be anti-racist. I followed many Black activists online and eventually found queer activists to connect with as well.
At the same time, I was dealing with a lot in my personal life. I had come out as non-binary at 16, and met my now ex-boyfriend shortly after. What I didn’t realize until recently was that he was emotionally abusive. He and his family had no respect for my identity. They would misgender me, make transphobic jokes in front of me and were overall very disrespectful.
I was inspired and felt empowered by my wonderful new online community to start correcting my boyfriend and his family by pointing out how what they were doing was harmful. Despite my efforts to be respectful, I was met with aggression when I asked them to use my pronouns. They said they were allies and didn’t need correction. Nothing changed.
People always ask, “why didn’t you leave?” Abusive relationships can be very hard to leave, and sometimes they’re not safe to leave. I was mentally trapped in that relationship, and I couldn’t walk away.
I started looking to activists online for advice, but couldn’t find what I needed. That’s when I decided to make my first video. It was about performative allyship because that’s what I felt I was experiencing. The video got positive attention online and I finally felt heard after so much time being ignored. I was motivated by the positivity to keep making videos. My boyfriend and his family knew about them and tried everything they could to make me feel guilty.
I continued to struggle with my identity and self image. I was trying to become the “perfect” non-binary person, thinking that if I was “perfect” I would be accepted. But there is no “perfect” non-binary image. Non binary just is.
Throughout the struggle with my self image, I continued to make videos. I received messages that I was helping people and that was wonderful. But part of me felt like I was lying. I was telling people to not accept disrespect, meanwhile I was accepting disrespect from my own boyfriend.
Around April 2022, I realized it needed to end. I didn’t like who I was with him, and I didn’t respect myself. If I wanted to get away from the torment I needed to break up with my boyfriend. It was terrifying, but with the support of my loved ones, I left the relationship. My life immediately started improving. I became happier, more motivated, and healthier both physically and mentally. I realized I didn’t need to pretend to be anyone else to be valid.
After I had time to process the breakup, I started posting videos I called “Lessons from Surviving an Abusive Relationship”. People messaged me saying my story inspired them to leave their abusive partners. That’s when I realized how impactful the videos were. So I expanded my audience by opening an account on Instagram. It was so freeing to know that I could make my videos without fear of judgment from people I had once considered family.
Now I’m well into my healing journey. As tough as COVID-19 was, it led me to where I am now. It put my life on hold and allowed me the space to focus on who I was and what I valued. Without the lockdown, I never would have found that online community that inspired me to accept myself. I’m back in school and I’m out as who I am. I’m able to stand up for myself when I meet transphobia in life, and I hope to be able to teach people to do the same.
Danny Brozovich (they/them) is an online educator on queer issues, and a full time theatre student. Their goal is to provide information for all audiences so queer folks can self discover, and allies can learn how to better support the community.