I’ve read a couple of really interesting and illuminating articles recently in which people who don’t identify as either male or female talk about what that means for them. In yesterday’s Daily Record, there was an interview with NUS Scotland’s transgender representative Drew O’Donnell.
And while Drew says they know many people may find their ever-changing gender difficult to understand, they say people need to learn to be more understanding.
Drew, 23, of Paisley, said: “I’ve been told there are 37 different types of gender – a lot more than simply male and female.
“Even I can’t remember them all but when people ask me about it, I try to explain to them that sex and gender are two different things.
“The singer Cher has a transgender son who said, ‘Gender is between your ears, not between your legs’ and for me that describes it well. Gender is what you feel – and sometimes I might feel two thirds male and only one third female while the next day, I might feel two thirds female and only one third male.
“Some days I feel absolutely gender neutral – neither more male nor more female and that is totally fine too. I have three genders – the more feminine me, the more masculine me and the gender neutral me – but I am still the same one person.
“When I am feeling more feminine I will wear more feminine clothes – not skirts or dresses but clothes that have a more feminine than masculine look to them.
“I will wear make-up – I like eye shadow, eye liner and nail polish. And I have even coached my voice to sound more feminine.
“On days where I feel more masculine, my clothes are much more boyish and I won’t wear make-up. On gender neutral days, I’m somewhere in the middle.”
Last month, academic and counsellor Dr Meg John Barker talked to Beyond the binary UK about their experience:
The word I generally use for my gender is non-binary because I think it’s one that is fairly easy to explain to people who aren’t familiar with it: “‘Binary’ means that our culture generally divides people into men and women, and I don’t really fit in either of those boxes”. I’m aware that non-binary is really an umbrella term for lots of other terms and the best one of those for me would be genderqueer because I question of the usefulness of the gender binary more broadly than just my own experience.
In terms of my gender expression, I use the pronoun ‘they’ for myself, and ask other people to use it for preference. I buy ‘men’s clothes’ because they feel most ‘me’ and most comfortable (Fat Face seems to design clothes for exactly my body shape and taste so I mostly shop there. Also non-gendered changing rooms ftw!)
I changed my name earlier this year to Meg John for many reasons, but particularly because I like the way it includes names that are generally associated with femininity and with masculinity (both of which are meaningful to me). I like the fact that when I initially made that change I was using ‘John’ as a middle name, but some close people started referring to me as ‘Meg John’ and that felt really affirming and fitting, so I’ve begun using that more and more. I like the way that identity can be positively relational in this way.
The world in which Drew and Meg John live, though, is one which expects you to choose between two rigid options many times a day:
Everyday experiences are probably the most challenging where people address me with female pronouns or titles (madam and lady are ones that particularly grate for me!) It feels good to get some ‘sirs’ mixed in with that, as I do, but even then I’m aware that we’re a long way away from people doing away with gendered words entirely. Similarly there can be a tug each time I’m forced to choose a toilet, a box on a form, or changing room. Those micro-moments over the course of a day can add up to a weary feeling by the end of it. Then there are the times when somebody you thought would get it really doesn’t: like a copy editor changing all my ‘theys’ to ‘shes’ without checking, or a queer academic criticising non-binary for remaining part of identity politics.
I try – although definitely don’t always succeed – to hold this all lightly. I don’t want to make who I am all about being non-binary because I’m a lot of other things as well. Also I don’t want to see the world entirely through that lens all the time because it’s exhausting. Additionally I’m aware of how many other people don’t even have the possibilities that I do to express a gender that fits me because it would result in violence, losing their job, being ostracised, or other horrendous outcomes.
Part of the reason for sharing all of this is that many people aren’t familiar with the concept of non binary gender. As politically aware people, it’s important, too, to realise that there are some things we can encourage our state to do which, without much trouble, can make life so much easier for non binary people. One of them is simply to give them the chance to choose a non binary identity on official forms, the X marker that Julian Huppert has campaigned for with several Early Day Motions for example. It is the most basic of courtesies to enable people to identify in the way that they choose and we need to be more understanding and open.
* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings