Vesper blogs about identifying as non-binary

Life would be easier if it came with a guidebook.

If it did, maybe it wouldn’t have taken me 27 years to realise that I didn’t actually have to subscribe to society’s assertion that everyone is either male or female. At the very least, ripping the book to shreds in a fit of rage would have made for great stress relief. Then again, had there been such a book I probably wouldn’t have grown up to be the person that I am today and I wouldn’t change that for the world.

Hello, my name’s Vesper. I’m a 31 year old non-binary person who’s here today to tell you that gender is a much more beautifully complex thing than society would have you believe. That some people, such as myself, are neither male nor female but a different gender(s) entirely.

“Some people, such as myself, are neither male nor female”

 

Unlike some who struggled with the gender that society assigned them at birth from a young age, I grew up not actively thinking about gender. While I wasn’t oblivious to society categorising me as one thing as opposed to another, I was content to shrug off society’s assumptions. It wasn’t until adolescence when the background noise from society and my peers became increasingly difficult to ignore. It wasn’t until over a decade of denial and inner conflict later that I happened to come across the word “genderqueer” when researching my sexuality and all things LGBT+, which of course included the word “transgender,” a word I’d never heard of before.

The instant I discovered that there are, in fact, more genders than male and female, everything changed. While this may sound cliché and exaggeratory, the best way I can describe it is that it was like having gone through life for 27 years without glasses not realising just how blurred my vision had been until finally seeing it in focus with glasses for the first time. Everything made perfect sense! I was (am) neither male nor female, but a different gender entirely! I am maverique, one of many non-binary genders which are neither male nor female.

“I ran into criticism and rejection of genderqueer and non-binary people”

 

It wasn’t long at all before I started trying to immerse myself in LGBTQIA spaces online and no sooner had I done so than I ran into criticism and rejection of genderqueer and non-binary people. As someone who was brand new to discussion of sexuality and gender in general, it was incredibly hard not to internalise such negativity, especially since it was coming from people who I saw as my “senior” in the community. At the time, it was especially hard because the internet was my only means of accessing LGBTQIA spaces. Feeling under attack in the only space that I had caused me a lot of pain. However, having finally found words and a sense of commonality that made me feel comfortable in myself for the first time in my life, I sure as hell wasn’t about to let take that away from me. I chose to retreat from such spaces and create my own on Tumblr and YouTube.

[full-width-figure image=”https://www.ditchthelabel.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/vv.jpg”]

 

It’s been 4 years since I was first able to put a word to my gender. A lot has changed and yet it hasn’t at the same time. I’ve watched as so much growth has taken place within online non-binary and genderqueer communities and even as the identities themselves have grown and changed. In 4 (relatively short) years, I’ve also seen online LGBTQIA communities in general grow, change and yet remain the same. There have seemingly been shifts in the negativity and bullying, but at the end of the day it’s essentially the exact same hurtful thing it has always been, sadly. Unlike before, however, I now have access to offline LGBTQIA spaces. I’m also out to select family members and friends, which has brought with it new challenges.

“I actually never intended to come out to anyone in my extremely religious family”

 

Truth be told, I actually never intended to come out to anyone in my extremely religious family. I ended up being outed time and time again in part thanks to my own social media presence. Make no mistake, being outed is a pleasant experience and I do wish things had happened differently, but 2 years after my first outing to my minister of a mother, I’m finally in a place where I can look back on it all and be glad to be where I am now. My being non-binary continues to be the biggest thing that my family struggles to understand and come to terms with about me, but things have improved a lot in 2 years.

Navigating LGBTQIA spaces as someone who is neither male nor female continues to be very challenging at times. That said, every day awareness and support of non-binary people grows. More than ever, non-binary people are carving out spaces for ourselves and I’m incredibly grateful for this. It means that even when faced with negativity elsewhere, there are spaces for us to retreat to for support and affirmation when need be. I’m so proud of how far things have come for non-binary people in 4 short years. There is still a long way to go, but I’m more confident than ever that we’ll get there.

“Self-care and self-awareness are perhaps two of the most important things I’ve learned since coming out to myself”

 

To exist in this world as a non-binary person is a challenge. Even more than that, life itself is an act of defiance. There are days when that fact makes it all the harder to get through the day, but there are also days when that fact can be empowering for me, making me love myself and everything that I am all the more.

Self-care and self-awareness are perhaps two of the most important things I’ve learned since coming out to myself. If you’re non-binary, genderqueer or otherwise struggling to navigate and survive in this society that we live in, I encourage you to take time out of life for yourself. Shut everyone and everything else out and check-in with yourself. Acknowledge how you’re feeling, allow yourself to feel that way and love yourself because of, or in spite of it. Be kind to yourself because you’re just being you and you’re doing your best. That’s more than enough.

Society in general, including the LGBTQIA community, has a lot of learning to do. In the meantime, keep being as awesome as you are. Let those of us who are in a position to try and help society learn, who are able to offer support/encouragement to others, do our thing.

“Navigating LGBTQIA spaces as someone who is neither male nor female continues to be very challenging at times”

 

Perhaps you’re reading this not as a non-binary person yourself, but as someone who’s curious and wants to learn more. There’s a lot that someone who isn’t non-binary can do to support those who are, but in my humble opinion one of the biggest things you can do is listen. Tips on what you can do to be a good ally to non-binary people can be found in the things that we say.

I may be but one non-binary person among many, but I’m one non-binary person among many who can genuinely say that things have gotten better for them and who is determined to help support and raise awareness for non-binary people. Stay strong! And hit me up anytime.

Written by Vesper

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Award-winning playwright, filmmaker and published author Alec Butler was born intersex and now identifies as trans. Here they blog about their experiences.

*Note to Reader: Alec uses pronouns I/we throughout the article

This moment right now is our proudest moment, to be an award winning playwright and filmmaker, a published author, a budding scholar at one of the most prestigious research universities in the world, is a dream I dreamed for myself for years.

We were born with an intersex condition over fifty years ago; there was no closet for someone like us growing up. We were both teased and threatened about whether we were a boy or a girl every day at school; bullied on a regular basis in the locker-lined hallways. The teachers did nothing; my parents worried about whether I would end up dead. Instead of dwelling on a reality where we were not wanted, we found solace in writing and making art, reading stacks of books at the local library, biding our time until we were in a position to leave a community where we were not wanted.

I left home on a quest to find other people like us, aware that there were gods/goddesses like me in myths only according to what we were reading in the encyclopedias at the library. In the Greek myths, Teresias, the doubled sexed seer caught my imagination.

“The teachers did nothing; my parents worried about whether I would end up dead.”

 

In the mid 1980’s I moved to Toronto, Canada where I lived as a butch lesbian for decades, making a name for myself as a playwright in the queer Canadian theatre scene, writing, producing and directing plays about lesbian life in the big city. Getting nominated for a national drama award while at the same time couch surfing with friends because we were homeless. Such is the precarious life of marginalised artists in this society.

In the late 1990’s while performing a monologue by Pussy Boy, a film character I was developing at the “Counting Past Two Festival”, the first literary and film festival featuring the work of trans people in Canada is where I heard the word “intersex” for the first time, struck a deep chord in the core of our being.

I researched the many intersex conditions that exist on the worldwide web.

A memory of my mother telling me about a drug her doctor made her take while she was pregnant with us bubbled to the surface. I realised we were born with the one intersex condition caused by medical intervention in utero, lucky us. I often wondered if we were the result of a medical experiment when I was a kid. Thoughts that inspired many sci-fi short stories in my mind, turns out we were not too far off the mark. Since those young fantasies of being special, or an alien from another planet, I discovered that people like us, people who identify with both genders, or none, have existed since human beings have existed, that we were worshipped as deities, that masses of people performed special rituals in our honour, we had sacred and practical roles in the community, we were wanted and desired.

“I realised we were born with the one intersex condition caused by medical intervention”

 

In North America before colonisation, First Nations recognised people like us as healers and teachers called Two-Spirits. Our mixed race family background is a result of colonisation of Canada; our ancestors are First Nations, French, Irish, as well as African on my mother’s side, my grandmother Nanny, was a descendent of the first 250 slaves brought to Cape Breton, a small island on the east coast of Canada. It was on this island in New France where the first point of contact between European and Indigenous people was established, the island where Fortress Louisburg was built 400 years ago, a huge military complex that controlled the trade routes of the New World. In was from our favourite beach at Kennington Cove that Captain Cook launched his curriculum trip around the globe in the 18th Century.

In the 1960’s a section of Fortress Louisburg was rebuilt as a tourist attraction, my father worked there as a carpenter. We lived a twenty-minute car ride down the road from what was once the epicentre of the colonisation, the main port of resource extraction from North America on behalf of the King of France. Today the colonisation continues unabated, it is still in progress. The colonised mind is the root of the mentality of people that bully; colonisation is the birthplace of feeling entitled to take what does not belong to you without asking.

Over the years, since coming out as trans we have made it our mission to decolonize our mind and our community, but the forces of colonisation have been at this for hundreds of years, destroying not only the land, cultures, food and living resources, the very spirits of the indigenous people they encountered and in the process almost wiped out the many beautiful gender expressions that have existed since the dawn of humanity.

We need to remember as Two-Spirit, gender queer, non-binary people that we are the descendants of these LGBTQI2S ancestors who were almost exterminated but they did not succeed because we are still here, that we exist as flesh, blood, guts and bones, mind and spirit, living lives of purpose and pride, we are not just myths in stories from the past.

If I had a message to give to my past self from what I know now it would be to love myself more, by using my voice more not just bury myself in books, thoughts and dreams about how it could be different, although dreaming is an important stage in decolonizing the mind, it is equally important to speak up and act. It’s now the 21st century, trans people have made unprecedented gains in getting their humans rights recognised but a vicious backlash has ensued in response, black trans woman bare the brunt of the backlash, Trans Day of Remembrance is a mass communal memorial to the hundreds we lose to violence every year. So speaking up, not being a bystander when witnessing abuse is more crucial than ever, not just for trans people but for all people who are bullied.

 

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