It was not until I was 20 that I started noticing an uncomfortable feeling within myself whenever I heard words like ‘man’, ‘boy’, ‘he/him/his’ or ‘sir’ used for myself. These are words used to describe or refer to someone who is male, but these did not sound like the right words for me. I began to wonder what it meant to be male or masculine; there are clear societal expectations as to what it means to be male, but no one really talks about what it means to feel or be male.
I was feeling a lot of confusion and uncertainty within me – I didn’t feel wholly male but I also didn’t feel female. This confusion was beyond not fitting male or female stereotypes. Male or female is not who I am or how I feel when I think about myself. But where does that put me?
Thankfully there are a lot of great labels, identities and language to describe these feelings and myself. The word I continually landed on is non-binary. To me, being non-binary means existing outside of male or female and sitting on another plane and that is something that really struck as a way of describing who I am. People may use a different label to describe something similar to my experience, or may use non-binary to describe non-binary and that is okay.
Prior to realising my gender, I spent a long time identifying as a gay man and in a lot of ways that label was a badge of honour and pride. For me, gay was a central part of my identity and gave me a strong group of individuals to stand with. Soon after realising my gender identity, I realised that identifying as gay was also a shield for myself. People are more understanding and more protective of a cisgender gay man than a non-binary person, and by coming out as a non-binary person I would be giving up that safety and be subjected to more hate.
For me, the process of coming out and discovering my gender involved asking my friends who would be supportive to start using they/them/theirs pronouns for me and stop referring to me as male when they could. When I started hearing they/them/theirs used for me I felt a sense of safety and relief; these people really cared for me and they/them/theirs sounded perfect.
Once I had a taste for they/them/theirs, anything associated to men were never the same. I would feeling a sinking in my stomach or a stab in my chest whenever I heard he/him/his, male, man or sir used for me. As such, it became really important that I began telling the people around me to begin using they/them/theirs and stop referring to me as male.
These experiences are my own experiences with my gender and my journey. While some non-binary people may have similar experiences as me, many non-binary people have had different experiences to me. It is just one of the many ways everyone is diverse from one another.
By simply asking someone’s pronouns respectfully or introducing your own pronouns you are showing you value that person’s identity and signalling you are an open and inclusive person. For some further information there are some great websites you can check out.
Freedom Centre: A youth centre for LGBTI+ young people under the age of 26 – http://www.freedom.org.au/
QLife: A phone and internet counselling service for LGBTI+ people and people who support LGBTI+ people – https://qlife.org.au
Signed anon LGBTIQA+ young person, WA.