A few words about agender – and pride – by Gordon Self.
When I was growing up, everyone told me I was a boy. That there were boys and girls and… nothing else! Whenever I noticed girls and boys doing different things… having different interests and expectations of their own, different freedoms and expectations assigned to them… it made no sense to me. Why was everyone putting up with this – and some people even enforcing it? Nobody ever told me that the experience of being a boy… or a girl… wasn’t supposed to suck – that it didn’t suck for almost everyone. If they assumed I didn’t mind being a boy, they never said so!
When I first heard of trans people and, some years later, gender dysphoria, it was only talked about in terms of needing to be the very opposite of whatever gender you got assigned at birth. All I could think of was… when are we going to escape gender by abolishing it altogether for everyone? All of my thoughts were so far from practical reality – I can look back now and see that I was relying on the coping mechanism of not thinking about real life in general – and certainly not my own.
When I first heard of nonbinary, did I have a eureka moment? Nope. Back then I was so dismissive of gender as a whole that I immediately thought of nonbinary as just another layer of nonsense poured on top of the existing oppressive nonsense!
So, what got me asking the right questions? When I started reading asexuality blogs (largely by accident at the age of… wait for it… 38) many of my favourite ace bloggers also turned out to be nonbinary. They wrote about their experiences of discovering, living and presenting their gender – which taught me so much more than any dictionary definitions had ever done. I became amazed and horrified by an idea that was entirely new and alien to me: that it was the norm to want the gender you were assigned at birth, not just quietly put up with it and make the best of a rotten job! It was time to look for ways to escape from all that.
Slowly I started to explore the possibilities – growing my hair long again, changing my clothes… Changing my pronouns and official gender details wherever possible (and it needs to be made possible everywhere – there’s still a long way to go!)… For once, this theory person just had to learn by doing. Doing, in fact, many things I had always wanted without quite knowing why. Doing for real some things I’d briefly tried out when I was younger but not managed to integrate into my way of life because I hadn’t been ready to fight alone against the world for those freedoms. Discovering that some of my old ideas of myself and my gender, were not true or helpful but were merely those coping mechanisms I mentioned earlier. That others had been assuming my experience of gender was like theirs, and I’d been assuming their experiences of gender were a bit like mine – and we were all spectacularly wrong!
I was able to start moving away from the harm caused by those past assumptions. Being the real me and taking pleasure in it – in ways I had never known a person could. How can you desire an experience that you have no idea even exists? For the first time ever, I could have conversations about gender without feeling alienated by the mere idea of its existence. Instead of being surprised and disappointed each time I heard a cisgender person saying they were actually happy with their assigned gender – which used to feel to me like they were letting the side down – I could now see how their viewpoint was different from mine and respect it. I could knowingly meet other nonbinary people and feel kinship over gender experiences that I now knew we shared.
Pride is about being our true selves – a process that depends on discovering our true selves. To do that we have to defeat ignorance. To listen to each other’s stories with openness and acceptance from as soon as we’re old enough to know what a story is. To work towards a world where we’re safe telling our own stories and free to change our lives with whatever we learn from each others’. I’ve only told one story here, but if I had heard many more different ones when I was younger, I would have been able to look for my place among them. Doing that as a middle-aged adult has been a very different experience although I’m so glad I’ve got there at last!
I am not a man or a woman. I am so not a man or a woman, that the word nonbinary doesn’t even quite go far enough. I am agender. I’ve even got the hat to prove it!