I was nonbinary before there was a word for me... I’ve been called just about everything and it’s never hurt as much as being asked to be somebody else."
|Adam Jesse Burns
When I was a kid, wildly inhabiting the alien worlds I made of the beaches in New Zealand, I had hair down to my shoulders and people often mistook me for a girl, or, better still, a tomboy. I must have spent as much time climbing trees as I did drawing and sewing.
My father, who I always called Dave even though he really was my father, was a homophobic, macho womanizer. Oblivious to all that, when I was about 7, I had an epiphany and marched out to tell him. There he was, leaning on the fence with a beer in his hand, talking to our neighbor who probably also had a beer in his hand. I proudly announced, “Dave, you know when a girl does boy things and they call her a tomboy? Well, I like doing girl things, so I’m a tomgirl.” I skipped away feeling rather clever, but I will never forget the look of horror, disgust and crushed manhood on their faces.
By adolescence, it was clear I had to stop the cascade of masculine traits that were pummeling, protruding from, and poisoning my body. The worst was the facial hair, which was like having an armpit on my face. It felt like a steel brush and bled every time I shaved, even with an electric shaver. Almost as bad was the hair on my arms and legs, and the small amount of hair on my chest — a stain that only I knew was there. I shaved it all off and kept that up for a while. No one but me knew that under my clothes I felt less masculine, yet not quite like a woman, which was about right. But it dawned on me that if I kept shaving, it was only going to grow thicker if I ever had to let it grow back one day. The horror of turning into Burt Reynolds made me want to dismember myself.
So here’s a simple message, learned from a complicated life. If you feel you need to become something only you can see, do it. Do it now. Crash and burn a few times and keep on getting up, until you don’t even have to think about it any more, and you have an identity that is yours, whatever flavor of the rainbow that turns out to be. Don’t let society and family pull you in directions that are not your own. They will come around, or they won’t. But if you bend to their identities, you may never have one of your own. If your outside matches your inside, the world you meet each day must meet you on your terms not theirs, and it will be you they will meet. The real you.
*Nonbinary. Heterosexual. Complicated. I was nonbinary before there was a word for me. Tried to remove my gender at a sex change clinic in the ‘80’s but I didn’t fit the profile of man-to-woman so they wouldn’t do it. The waiting room sure was interesting though.