The world that surrounds me and my family doesn’t provide many opportunities to understand one’s sexual identity. Moreover, this question only leaves everybody perplexed. What does it mean to understand your sexual identity? Even a child knows the difference between a boy and a girl (a smile). But as time goes by, their parents’ smiles are replaced by a nervous giggle. The problem becomes obvious, but remains unclear.

I came across the word ‘gender’ in university, having already given the matter a lot of thought: “I’ll always be alone, I’m a weird creature”; “I’m a lesbian”; “This man wants to take me as I am, but I don’t care, I’m lost and I don’t want this life, so let him take it.”

After several years of marriage to an abuser—after the hell I went through—I managed to escape with great loss. After that, I gave birth to my son.

Even now, having read countless studies, essays and information about sexual and gender identification, I haven’t found my place yet. The strict system in my mind formed by my family and the society confuses me. But just by being in search of the right words and understanding, I have already found my peace—me, it’s me. Not a lesbian. Not a heterosexual woman. Not hating my woman’s body, and not eager to be a man. It was very hard. If the word gender became clear, so many lost people just like me would have never wandered alone, and would have never been ignored for so long.

Mother. My mother refused to come to my place. She can not accept me for who I am, but still loves me. © Maria Dupovkina
Sister. I have four sisters. Five daughters in my family — four girlish girls and me. This is my younger sister. She is feminine and beautiful. © Maria Dupovkina
Lover. I am pleased to be with girls. But I understand that I am attracted to their softness and care. For me, it is a kind of shelter. But I understand that this is not the choice of my nature. © Maria Dupovkina
Beloved. Each man I’ve chosen is not quite a man. All of them have a lot of female traits. They have a hazy desire to be with someone masculine. Some of them tried to have relationships with men, some of them didn’t. But all of them are attracted to my masculine features no less than a woman’s body. © Maria Dupovkina
Son. I am a single mom, so I have to be both — mother and father. And in this case, my duality is a good thing. Sometimes I can better act as a dad than as a mom.
© Maria Dupovkina
Woman. “You’re such a beautiful girl! Why are you doing this? Why are you usually dressed so ugly? Why don’t you use make-up? You’re a girl!” — everyone, always. I love this role, I like to play. And it’s certainly a part of me. But only a part. © Maria Dupovkina
Boy. The part of me that I’m trying to live with, which is very difficult to understand. I’m just at the beginning. I’m not a tomboy. I’m not a fellow, but I’m not entirely a grown-up man. © Maria Dupovkina
Lost. It’s me. It’s all me. All this and so much more. But I do not have the right word. On the one hand, this is freedom, but on the other — I don’t belong to any community or group. I’m lost. © Maria Dupovkina

— Maria Dupovkina

Editors’ note: This work is one of 36 remarkable stories discovered this year via the LensCulture Visual Storytelling Awards 2019. Be sure to see all of the other inspiring winners and finalists.