Hey There — I’m Non-Binary
Updated: May 5
By J.D. Stevens-Jones
I didn’t even know what that word meant up until a few years back. I had always identified as a gay man with an affinity for feminine fashion, but in the back of my mind, something never felt right. Did I feel like a woman? No. Did I feel like a man? Not really.
Let’s get something straight (for lack of better words) — what is non-binary? It’s really quite simple. Non-binary, also known as genderqueer or gender fluid, is a gender identity that is not exclusively masculine or feminine. The binary, meaning two, is thrown to the wind. We do not fit either mold and sometimes we fit both.
“I am not a man in a dress.”
Powerful words spoken by performance artist Alok Vaid-Menon resonate with me more today than ever before. Just hours before writing this I watched Alok take the stage for Business of Fashion's VOICES. It was there they talked about this "man in a dress" concept, though I've heard it countless times before. Today it was like hearing it for the first time (you can watch the speech here).
Standing in the mirror, I shrug off the memories of yesteryear by trying to be just a little more queerer than the day before. Will I wear a new pair of leggings? Should I try nails today? Maybe a little eye makeup. What about lips, though? And then I’ll throw on a camo jacket with boots, and while I may feel ready to tackle this world, I wipe off my face every time I walk out the door.
See, I am writing a story that has already been written. This story has been happening for millennia. We, those who do not fit the gender binary, are constantly second-guessing ourselves. We are ridiculed and harassed. We are told by our employers what to wear via outdated dress codes. We are shown where to shop by predetermined ideals conceived about fashion. Fun fact: clothing doesn't have a gender! There is little to no representation in mainstream culture, though we are the creatives putting our blood, sweat, and tears into what our heteronormative society reaps.
I am constantly made to choose M or F when I really just want to choose HUMAN.
Big city, little city — we are looked down on because we don’t fit in. I look in the mirror at a body I still have no idea what to do with, and I cry. You scream because you don't know what to do with my body either. Somehow we are both left red-faced, yet I am still suppressing myself to fulfill your needs.
See, much like Alok, I am seen as a man in a dress. For this, I have never worn a dress in public. I have worn dress-like things — tunics, long shirts, capes, etc. — and I have been able to justify myself mentally (at least long enough to leave the house). But some days I want to accentuate what I’ve created, and I pause. How can I exist when so many people don’t want me to? I have “masculine” attributes that seem to define me more and more as I age, yet I work so hard to erase what society has placed upon me. I did not ask for this. I did not want this. I do not want this. Coupled with being a public figure for such a large part of my life, I have a history in this 200,000 person town I call home. I can’t walk out the door without seeing someone, and while some people may say it’s brave to be yourself, it’s not. Alok was right — it’s just being honest. My gender identity has no bearing because regardless if I’m wearing a skirt or a pant, I am still being brave every time I take a breath. Being brave is second nature. Being honest is the doozie.
I often wonder if I dressed more feminine, would people stop calling me sir? Maybe if I wore lipstick people would just stop addressing me as he all together. But I still have a 5 o’clock shadow (which I adore), and my name is Derick — a traditionally masculine name. I thought about changing it for a brief period, and while I did try using something different, it caused more dysphoria than I expected. Having to explain to someone from my past why I’m using a different name constantly wore me out. Maybe I just need to own my name instead of letting it own me.
It would be much easier if I were trans and exclusively choosing one gender, but I am not. Am I trans? Some may argue I am not. Some would say yes. I do not believe I am the gender I am assigned, so for me, that means I am trans. Some non-binary people present totally masculine, some present totally feminine. Some use they/them pronouns (like myself), others use gendered pronouns. Being non-binary is not the same for every person, but what is the same is our continual quest for authenticity.
I struggled a bit with writing this, but I’m trying to make a commitment to 2020. I’m not sure what’s beyond, but I know that this platform and blog were created for queer creatives. And to be quite frank, that’s me. I am a writer, a blogger, a stylist, a fashion brand owner, an entrepreneur, an event planner, and a designer. I am a creator, and I have a story, too. I have spent my entire life writing about other people’s stories. I have written a thousand stories about business owners and photographers, chefs, students, teachers — everyone and their mother. Sometimes even their grandmothers. I am important, and I am worthy of sharing my stories, too.
So I’m challenging myself this next year — to bring more raw content like this to our blog via myself. I am not a poster child for what being non-binary is, but I am a privileged voice that can be heard.
J.D. Stevens-Jones is a co-creator of Queerport. You can usually find them at The Korner Lounge or out and about documenting Shreveport's queer history.