Fox and Owl on what it is like to be a trans, non-binary couple in 2016
DtL: Hi Fox & Owl – can you tell us a little bit about yourselves and how you met?
Owl: We met at the Transgender Europe (TGEU) Council in Bologna, Italy. The Council is held every two years by TGEU and is the biggest European (even international) event where trans people from organisations all over the world come together and meet, share experiences, host workshops and generally have a chance to network with one another, both personally and professionally.
Fox: I was hired by TGEU to create 5 short films about the work they do and Owl was on a list of people that I was supposed to interview during the Council. So that’s where we connected and the since then it has been a romantic comedy, really.
DtL: Did you have any fears about transitioning?
Fox: It was fear that held me back for so long. I was scared of not being accepted, but most of all I feared it not fixing the deep sense of dysphoria, discomfort and anxiety I felt. Luckily, I took the leap, I’m still around to tell the tale and never been happier.
Owl: To me it was definitely a step that was very frightening to take – but I also felt like it was the right one. I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy, but the alternative was even more frightening and grim. I basically would not be here if I had not made that decision and I don’t regret it for a second. I didn’t have many fears related to the transition process in itself. I was more afraid of how people would react and how I would be treated in society, because we all know that trans people are heavily discriminated and marginalised in society for a variety of reasons. We often lack proper access to health care and our human rights are being broken all around the world. Thankfully I had the opportunity to access a health care system, which is a privilege I am very aware of.
“An act of self-love as a trans person becomes a radical notion”
DtL: What are your most prominent challenges, and how do you overcome them?
Fox: I’ve been medically and socially transitioning for 5 years now, so I’m past the initial wobbly years, and no longer feel like a teenager! For me, it’s about catching up for lost time. I’m a work-a-holic, so not it’s about trying to find a balance between work for My Genderation, Trans Pride Brighton, All About Trans and my love life with Owl! I’m lucky because we are both heavily involved with trans activism in Europe (and beyond) so we understand when work has to come first.
Owl: I guess my most prominent challenges were to learn how to accept and love myself. In our society, trans people are so heavily scrutinised that an act of self-love as a trans person becomes a radical notion. It’s also learning how to navigate your way around the world where you’re sometimes very celebrated but in other places deeply hated. As an activist who does a lot of work around the world, it’s very difficult to find your place sometimes. But I am in a very good place now with myself. I’ve both socially and medically transitioned and I feel in a place where I am happy with myself, and I’ve also finally found someone to share that with. And not only that but someone who understands and shares my experiences in so many ways.
DtL: What is it like to be non-binary in 2016 and what needs to change?
Fox: There’s still a lot of work to do in public awareness of non-binary issues. We even have a battle from within the trans community, where some people feel that presenting as other than the binary threatens their own identity. We have no legal recognition. This is why Owl and I are embarking upon a feature documentary called They, which is our non-binary love story, documenting our lives, the way the world treats us (both positively and negatively) as well as the day-to-day lives of many other non-binary or gender-fluid defining individuals.
Owl: Being non-binary is very complicated, because your very being is in itself a political statement as well as being a personal experience. In a world that is so fixated on two genders and two sexes, you simply don’t get to exist in a way. Socially, we are still at such a starting point with the discussion of gender and gender identity, not to mention that we are almost nowhere legally recognised and possibilities to register your gender as anything else than man or woman is impossible. What needs to change is something very fundamental in our society; the constant binary of gender and sex is what is causing most difficulties for non binary trans people and it just causes difficulties for us all. It creates the notion that men and women are two opposites of a spectrum and that they come together and unite each other. This creates very essentialistic ideas about behaviour, expectations, gender roles and so on. So in my opinion, we need to start challenging and questioning this more actively and push for legal rights and access to health care for non binary people.
“Being non-binary is very complicated, because your very being is in itself a political statement”
DtL: What are you experiences (positive and negative) as a non-binary couple?
Fox: Just recently there was a massive explosion on FB as our vlog was shared on the darker side of the internet. Within 24 hours we had 4000+ hateful comments. We made this live video at the time: https://www.facebook.com/uglastefania/videos/1400204600006031/?pnref=story. Strangely enough, we’d already filmed this sketch about trans haters, so it was perfect timing to release: https://www.facebook.com/MyGenderation/videos/1253511338016869/?pnref=story
Owl: Our gender expression is mostly feminine and masculine, so when people who don’t know us see us down the street, they might assume that we are cisgender and straight. This is something that gives us a certain privilege in society as we fit into the norm in many ways and rarely have to worry about our safety in public spaces, at least not in places where people don’t know who we are. However, our identities as queer and non-binary are also very important to us, so when we are in queer spaces we sometimes notice that people seem to think we don’t belong there, because of our gender expression and the way we appear to them. They assume we don’t belong in queer spaces.
DtL: Did you ever experience bullying? If so can you tell us what happened and how you overcame the experience.
Fox: I honestly think that everyone has experienced bullying. When I was younger I was bullied for not being feminine enough. And, as a mixed race person (I’m half indian), having spent many years in the Saudi sun (our family lived out there when I was growing up), I was bullied for the colour of my skin. For many years I was very down on myself but I learned to turn that sadness around, and to create poetry, fanzines, music projects, screen-prints and film.
Owl: I think that anyone who has ever been gender non-conforming at some point in their lives has experienced bullying. I was bullied constantly for being too feminine, constantly being called gay, a fag, a sissy in a negative way. Fortunately I had friends who supported me and I become very involved with sports, as an act of rebellion and to show people that even the people they bullied could beat them at sports. I became very good and I certainly did show them what I was capable of.
DtL: What advice would you give to those who may be experiencing bullying or feel like they don’t fit in because of attitudes towards their gender identity?
Fox: Don’t give up and live your life for yourself, nobody else. You’re only in a position to help others once you’ve assessed your own situation. Life’s too short to not be happy.
Owl: I think it’s important to remember that we are all beautiful and amazing in our own ways. Find your passion and don’t let anyone take that away from you. Don’t give up and keep going strong. Try to find support around you; what helped me the most was finding people in my position, other trans people and people who experienced bullying.
“It’s important to remember that we are all beautiful and amazing in our own ways”
DtL: What has been your proudest moment so far?
Fox: Having our first broadcast on the BBC in 2015 was amazing. Having a celebration at C4, for the creation of 25 short films through All About Trans was extremely special. It was so amazing to have all the contributors there to celebrate, which is apparent in the photograph afterwards. I felt the most proud at each Trans Pride event I’ve helped put on. We’ve just had our 4th annual celebration and it’s so much work, but always fills my heart with joy. The feeling there is unlike any other.
Owl: I’ve had so many wonderful moments that it’s hard to say. I’ve achieved much success in my activism in Iceland and I’ve been a part of so many different and amazing projects all around Europe. Just to recall a few, I think it was extremely special when I was a part of a project in Lithuania were we held the first official meeting for trans people in that country. It was an amazing experience and I feel like these moments are always the most special. When you connect with trans people around the world and you give each other support. I take my pride from the connections, the friends I make and the people I reach out to and support. It also gives me so much and inspires me to continue.
I’ve also received awards in Iceland for my contribution as a spokesperson, including the science and education award from the Iceland Humanist Association (Siðmennt). I’ve also done a TEDx talk, and done TV interviews, articles and appearances around the world.
DtL: Is there anything you would like to add?
Fox: If you’d like to see more of our work, join us on social media!!
[Photo credit: Alda Villiljós villiljos.com ]