I cannot separate my non-binary genderqueer identity from my Black identity. I cannot separate my Black identity and my genderqueer identity from my disabled identity. When I was made, the Orishas wired me with circuits like old strings of Christmas lights; one light blows and the whole system goes out, never to shine again. At least, that’s how it feels to me whenever I try to separate out these parts of myself.
I know this because experience has taught me that binding my chest is bad for my dyspraxic, autistic, Touretter brain and body, even though half my days it is what I crave to soothe the dysphoria that my breasts often create as they sit, unwelcome boulders, beneath my clavicles. As a teen, I starved myself in pursuit of a smaller chest, not understanding that my eating disorder was borne in part of a type of discomfort that I would only begin to place in university, after talks with other (albeit binary-identified) trans people.
Now, my severe and persistent mental health conditions feel like a major barrier to accessing dysphoria-alleviating surgery. My slew of mental health professionals perceive anything that their colonialist medical system considers ‘disturbances’ in my identity as part of my mental health diagnoses - transness included. I am heavily medicated, for good reason, and mostly compliant with my care plans; nevertheless, I am perceived and met with caution in all that I am and do, and I know this is heightened by my Blackness. Challenging these medical ‘authorities’ - poking the beast - in an effort to access gender-related healthcare requires the kind of energy that is inaccessible to my disabled existence.
Worse still are the restrictions placed on me by my rare bleeding disorder, a disorder which makes any prospect of having surgery to alleviate my gender dysphoria difficult, due to an increased risk of blood loss and the probability of a slower healing time. I’ve had to lie in the past in order to gain something as seemingly innocuous as two small wrist tattoos - let alone surgery of such magnitude. I grieve for the bodies I might inhabit if not for this limitation.
My multiple neurodivergences affect the ways that I use pronouns, even the way in which I name myself. I think out loud a lot, and the words that my OCD, Tourette’s and dyspraxia make leave my mouth affect my relationship with my gender and my body. I tic about my reproductive system at least sixty times on my less intense days; on more difficult days, that rises to several hundred. I tic to strangers, on my way to the clinic, in taxis, on the toilet, crawling on my hands and knees in my hallway. It is an inescapable part of my existence that I have to make my peace with, because not even the most heavy-duty of Tourette’s indicated medication will solve this conundrum for me.
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When I was diagnosed as autistic last year, my diagnostic report stated that I was “careful not to presume the gender identity” of the assessor; this seemingly innocuous comment was used as evidence as to the atypicality of my autism in the report. The report seemed to suggest that autistic people aren’t usually aware of gender in such a nuanced way, an assertion that I can only find laughable, considering the high proportion of trans people I know - online or in person - who are autistic. Correspondingly and inversely, a handful of existing studies, in fact, show an increased prevalence of gender dysphoria among the autistic population. Dr Sally Powis states in a video for the National Autistic Society that estimates have been ‘anything from around 5%, 8% and[...] 23%’, and although statistical evidence to clarify this connection may be limited, it’s a link which is certainly verified for me through the plentiful anecdotal and lived-experience evidence which abounds in the trans and autistic communities I belong to.
So. There are physical expressions of my gender that feel like intangible dreams. Binding and top surgery are out of my reach. I have had to make my peace with the verbal expressions of my identity that come with my neurodivergence. But these access issues don’t make my gender ‘not non-binary’; they make my gender disabled non-binary.
I don’t know how to write it other than this: disability is part of my non-binary experience. It is my non-binary experience - not solely because of the restrictions placed on me by others, but the way that my impairments and health conditions interact with my gender.
This isn’t to suggest that all other disabled and non-binary people experience their disability and their gender in as inextricably linked a way as I do, but that I am just one of many non-binary individuals making sense of where and how I exist in the world, integrating the way I write and speak about my experiences in the same way that these identities are integrated within my being.
Phoenix Gray is a long-term disabled London-based writer and disability activist
This week HuffPost UK is running Being Non-Binary, a series of first-person perspectives exploring what it means to be non-binary, looking at how non-binary gender identity relates to different people’s personal, professional and romantic lives. If you would like to share your experience, please do get in touch with us at email@example.com