“There’s no such thing as non-binary. There are only two genders. Bloody snowflakes.”
“There’s no such thing as gender, only stereotypes. We’re all ‘non-binary’, except that’s not a thing. They’re just boring straight people who want to be special”.
I hear or read variants of these clichés every single day. Alongside the usual jokes about identifying as a helicopter. Darling, I’ve lived more lives than you’ve had hot dinners. I don’t need anything else in order to be special, or strange, or interesting, or notable.
I’ve played festivals across the UK, heard my music on Radio 1, done spoken word on Radio 4 and spoken at conferences across the world. I’m bisexual and was victim to homophobic abuse before I even knew what that was. I have cerebral palsy and have trained and competed in 100m and shotput alongside Paralympians, resulting in two years on a British Athletics development programme and being consistently in the top 20 athletes in my classification in the world until I retired. I earned a full set of Blue Peter badges (bar the gold one). MPs follow me on Twitter. Popstars follow me on Twitter. I was big on MySpace back in the day. I got hit by a car at 40mph and didn’t die. I don’t need anything else in order to be special, or strange, or interesting, or notable.
What are labels for? They’re not glitter, darling, and if you say “identity politics” then you can tootle off right now to your intellectual dark web videos and Spiked columns. What they do is they help me to understand myself, help other people to understand me and help me to find other people who are like me. Categories are not harmful unless you’re put in one unwillingly. Unless you actually think my sexuality, my gender and my disabilities are something to be ashamed of?
Do you? Is your sense of self so fragile that it is compromised by me using different pronouns, adding to or removing things from my body in order for it to feel physically comfortable? Is that feminism? Is that politics? Is that being a decent human being? I’m an Ed Balls fan, I’m used to being publicly shamed for niche preferences. The people who do that are wrong, in case you were wondering. Fan is one of the most glorious labels you can give yourself. You can find joy and community in fandom. And so it is with a full understanding of and vocabulary to describe your gender.
What about other labels? Do motherhood or fatherhood or orphan or student or teacher or musician or words, chosen and not hurled, relating to race and sexuality help? Do you feel better if you use person-first language to describe other people? Does it make you feel uncomfortable when I say I am autistic? Only that smacks of you removing my agency and thinking of me as an unreliable narrator of my own life. That, I am not. I played the narrator enough times in Nativity plays to get this one right. Who I am shouldn’t matter to you. What I am shouldn’t either.
I’ve got blue hair and I wear clashing patterns and glitter, but that’s my shell, I might as well decorate it. I’m not erasing womanhood or the state of being female by not claiming them for myself. Yes, my sexed body has been attacked, but it’s not typical for my sex either, so that complicates rather than simplifies. I have gone through the trauma of major surgery and a major accident and also auditioned for Hollyoaks. Being non-binary is just part of my vocabulary and part of the pile of things that help me to articulate who I am. Let it in, as a concept. It won’t hurt. Not like a Ford Galaxy smashing you onto the road hurts.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org