I wrote this for May 17th. I wrote it to talk about how I feel about my gender identity, and how I feel about the people who try to interact with it. I didn’t post it because frankly it makes me sound like a sentimental old hippy. And then I made a dark discovery… I am a sentimental old hippy! So, sorry that I didn’t quite get this out to you for #IDAHOTB2020 and let’s hope next year that I don’t doubt myself quite as much. Here it is in all its ‘better late than never’ sentimentality…
There’s a passage halfway through ‘The Alchemist’ that resonates strongly:
“I have to separate out the sulfur. To do that successfully, I must have no fear of failure. It was my fear of failure that first kept me from attempting the Master Work. Now, I’m beginning what I could have started 10 years ago. But I’m happy at least that I didn’t wait 20 years.“Paulo Coehlo, “The Alchemist”
I’ve never felt so heard. That’s how I feel about being nonbinary. After so many years – literally from junior school – of feeling different, of being treated different, of just being different, I worked out who and what I am. This revelation – this understanding of who I fundamentally was – came at age 47. To paraphrase the Englishman’s quote above, I could have started celebrating my nobinaryness 47 years ago. But I’m happy at least that I didn’t wait 57 years.
It was a weird experience, being different in a Northern pit village in the 1970s. It’s not just the obvious stuff, like having no Internet and therefore no means to research what I was or connect with similar people; we simply didn’t have the vocabulary to talk about it. The vocabulary of LGBTQ people certainly wasn’t part of our education and if the Tories had had their way, it would have stayed that way forever. God knows what they would have done to trans and nonbinary people.
But no more. I choose to celebrate with positivity. I’ve spent too long hating my body and I know I can’t make that go away completely, but I can at least make it my ambition to feel more positively about it. And I choose to do that by experimentation, by play, by education, and by being a role model in my own small way. That’s going to mean making mistakes, but isn’t that how we grow? Full coverage foundation, over the knee boots, gel eyeliner, vanilla relationships – all these things are mistakes that I have resolved to learn from.
I can’t say I’m sad about the boots. I don’t know what I was thinking there.
A sad story about a wonderful person
I work with a trans woman. She’s an absolute inspiration but we have very different transgender experiences. She knew she was born in the wrong body and is out, proud, transitioning and has mastered gel eyeliner. I’m not as out, have strong feelings about coming out which aren’t helpful here, and have given up on the eyeliner. We talk regularly about our experiences and she was the first person at work I came out to. She herself had only just come out at work and I think it was probably our first one-on-one conversation after she had. I was a really emotional talk and I will forever be grateful to her, not just for being there for me but also for the way she reacted when I accidentally deadnamed her at the end of it.
It was just a simple slip of the tongue. We got up to leave the room and I said, “thanks, [deadname].” using the name I had called them for years. I stopped in my tracks and stared at my feet before correcting myself.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “We all make mistakes.” And with that it was over.
Was it a bad thing to do? Yes. Was I mortified beyond belief? You betcha. Did it make me change my ways forever? Well, no, obviously not. There was nothing to change. There was nothing wrong with my attitude that needed correcting. We’d had an emotional conversation, and discussed things I’d only whispered out loud to my therapist. I was a little overwhelmed and I made a mistake. We all make mistakes.
In law, someone is not guilty of a criminal act without two components: actus reus, the guilty act; and mens rea, the guilty mind. With the exception of certain strict liability crimes, as a general rule you cannot be guilty of a crime without that mens rea, that exhibited intention to commit crime, to cause harm. I had no guilty mind. My friend recognised that, forgave me, moved on, and I love her a little bit for being compassionate. For being human.
Hearts and minds…
I’m a professional working in learning and have been for 15 years. It’s sometimes said that in teaching, a teacher learns more than the pupil and one thing I have learned is about the engagement of both hearts and minds. It’s not enough to appeal to a learner’s logical centre; if you want them to take on your message and absorb the new skill, knowledge or ability, you have to appeal to their emotional centre. You can’t change hearts and minds with a negative message, with arguments, with antagonism; but with education, with communication, with a willingness to help those who want to learn from their mistakes to do so.
I know that some people don’t want to learn. They’re very different from the people who haven’t yet had the opportunity to learn more, or those who do know better but make a simple mistake whilst trying to do the right thing. I’ve learned not to use up my energy on the people who don’t want to learn. Wish them a good day, let them move on.
I have commented at various times that I, “…have strong feelings about coming out which aren’t helpful here” and these are they: I sometimes feel that coming out is something that we only do for the purposes of cishet people, who can’t think beyond their cisnormative, heteronormative bubble. We come out because we have no choice, because they assume everyone is like them and wants what they do.
None of those things is really true. We don’t come out for that reason; cishet people don’t all think like that; and I don’t really believe that myself. It’s just a thought that comes to mind when I’m anxious, depressed or frustrated, like when I think my body is too fat, ugly, old and gendered. I want to give up having those thoughts.
… and love
I want to be a positive role model for nonbinary people, and for cishet people who perhaps don’t understand what it means to be transgender or nonbinary. I imagine it must be very difficult for them to understand how it feels; it’s hard enough for me and I have access to those feelings. Everything about this is so new, and as a community we’re still trying to come to sense with it ourselves. The LGBTQ community are not a people of a book and we debate amongst ourselves about what words we should use and what meanings they should carry. We don’t all agree. We probably never will.
For example, I have to practise using “LGBTQ”, which is what we’ve decided to call the community in our organisation, because I’m not someone who can easily get behind the reclaiming of ‘queer’. To me, ‘queer’ is the sound of catcalling in the playground for hours on end, and the feeling of being slammed into the school wall, and the pressure of someone’s arm wrapped around my throat, choking me. It’s the sound of playground bullying in the 70s, playground beatings in the 80s, attacks in pubs and bars in the 90s. That’s how ‘queer’ feels for me. So, I don’t use it about myself. But I try to be open to other people’s experiences and I try not to impose my feelings on other people.
This is how I choose to celebrate my nonbinaryness. With love and positivity; with play and experimentation; and with patience and dedication to helping those who want to do better, do better. Speak softly, and let your actions be your big stick.