I have known within myself for some time that the two options for gender that I spent so long thinking were the only ones didn’t quite work when it came to how I saw myself. I was a called a girl and saw all that entailed in our society. For a long time I thought that the constructs of gender were false and imposed upon us for whatever reason. I met very ‘girly’ women and thought they must have been brainwashed or something. I have always been noticed and singled out by school bullies – yes, even an adult – for a number of reasons. When I was a kid the gender stuff just got added to all the other stuff but when school children have felt the need to publicly criticise my adult self as I walk past, the ‘insult’ is always the same ‘Are you a boy or a girl?’ I always wanted to say ‘I’m not either, I am me’ but instead looked at the ground and prayed they would go away. I occupy the space of a different gender – something I often thought of as a third gender which doesn’t fit neatly into the male or female expression – for my whole life. My choices in my dress sense and hair and other external expressions of identity change every several years. I spent my teens and early twenties with shaved short hair and wearing check flannelette shirts and work-boots. Bus drivers used to call me ‘mate’. In the last six or so years my outward expression has been about sparkly and shiny and colourful. This is a conscious part of my work as an autistic advocate but it is an expression I imagine would perhaps be considered more ‘feminine’ but I don’t really know. When I wear what I like to call a ‘frock’ it feels like I am playing stress ups rather than being genuinely ‘me.’ My comfort – ‘being me’ – clothes are pants and t-shirts and runners with big jewellery and a coloured wig or hat. I am not at all questioning or unsure of my identity. I know who I am. My gender is ‘Jeanette’.
Despite knowing who I am, I haven’t really formalised or articulated my thoughts about my own gender identity until recently. I have some great friends who are trans, gender fluid and part of the gender diverse community. I have been discussing these thoughts about who I am in terms of gender identity for some times and have received some great support and encouragement. The other day I announced my wish to be referred to as they / them rather than she / her. I put it on Facebook, just like that. It has been the start of a very fertile time of thinking and consideration and reflecting on who I am.
I posted this the other night:
I recently publicly affirmed and declared that I identify as being of non-binary gender and that I prefer being referred to as ‘them/they’ to being to as ‘she/her.’ It has been incredibly liberating and opening new possibilities to my understanding of myself and others. It makes me feel sort of young, like I am discovering more about myself than I knew was there. I am wondering why it took me so long to get to this point of identifying and understanding. There is a lot of contented happy wandering through life tempered by occasional worry and uncertainty.
Oddly enough the uncertainty is around something I would jump right on if heard someone else say it. I keep wondering if it is a ‘phase!’ – like the parent of a teen who brings her girlfriend home in the 1980s might have said! I find that really absurd. I am being discriminatory against myself! I counter that one by reminding myself of how liberated I feel having come out and the fact that I am 43 years old, so probably ‘phases’ aren’t part of my age group’s experience! (And the ‘phase’ idea around edgier and sexuality is pretty silly and unhelpful, not to mention kind of bigoted anyway.)
Because I have known that I am non-binary for a while I thought coming out would be almost like a formality. I didn’t anticipate what it would mean. My identity has just blossomed into something I didn’t know was there. I feel like a plant which has been growing slowly in the shade and all of a sudden it gets put in the sunlight – it was getting by before but now it is just blooming and reaching its potential. I know that there are some other more specific descriptors of gender identity which I am not sure whether I belong to yet so will need to find out more about them. While I am thought of as an expert in autism and a bit less of an expert in mental health things, I feel very short on expertise around gender beyond my own experience and those that friends have described to me and written about. This kind of thing is very exciting. There is more to discover about me.
Embracing my me-ness is like unknown territory in many ways. I think it also brings me closer to a lot of friends which makes me happy. Because I have a profile in the autism and autistic community it seems to be a lovely thing because I am hoping it will be relatable to other gender diverse autistic people. There are actually a huge number of us, both anecdotally and in research evidence. It also opens the conversation around gender diversity to people who might not otherwise think a lot about it.
I keep asking questions which I can’t easily answer: Should I keep running my women’s group? (My thinking is that as long as none of the members of the group have an issue there shouldn’t be a problem. I am definitely all for feminist principles and empowering women and have facilitated the group perfectly well since 2011!). Should I change my name? I am wondering about this. I would quite like to but I think I should let that one sit a bit longer and see how I want to approach it. Will I have to justify myself or defend myself for deal with more discrimination as an ‘out’ non-binary person? Maybe, probably. I don’t know but I do know I will be using my identity to support others who may face discrimination where I can.
I am liking my unfolding identity. It is a huge adventure and I’m not quite sure where it will go but I am glad I took the step to tell everyone. It is like the first chapter of the book, just after the introduction…