'Identity Beyond Binary' / Lawrence Rogers
Almost a year ago I declared through a Facebook status that I would like my friends and family to use non-binary pronouns when talking about me. Since then, I have been trying to reconcile a lot of things within my own mind about my non-binary identity.
I was raised in a relatively open-minded and gender-neutral way (for the early 2000’s). My parents let me paint my nails and grow my hair long. When I said I wanted to wear a dress, my 6’4” father bought a dress too, so I wouldn’t feel weird about it. Because of these experiences, I never felt a strong attachment to either the male or female gender. Recognising my feelings of dislocation from the expectations of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ is what made me realise that I was probably non-binary. I couldn’t honestly say to myself I was a ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ or a ‘man’ or ‘woman’ and truly connect with that label. For me, all these labels did was place expectations and assumptions on myself about who I was, what I could do, and how I could behave and relate to people.
Given my own struggle with my conceptualisation of binary gender roles as a restricting force to individuals, I am now somewhat resentful of them as societal construct. It may seem self-centred, but it became difficult for me to accept and respect people who feel completely comfortable fitting into the binary. Just as I ask myself who I would be in the absence of the inescapable expectations of gender from the moment I was born, I ask the same question of society. When someone says to me that they are comfortable or even reassured by their identification with male or female gender roles, I wonder why they don’t mourn the loss of their potential self – the person raised in a non-gendered environment.
It didn’t take long to realise that this resentment was unproductive and unfounded. How could I reasonably expect anyone else to uproot their identity whilst also respecting and acknowledging my own? Being publicly non-binary inevitably comes with a rejection of a lot of foundational social norms that we rely upon. Not everyone will reject these norms. Perhaps there will be a day where Australia or the world will no longer be rooted in the male-female binary. As a non-binary person living in today’s world, however, it is important to recognise, respect and celebrate all individual identities. It goes without saying that one can still challenge the binary as a whole: through public expression of identity and open discussion one can still challenge the expectations of femininity and masculinity. Yet, this challenge doesn’t have to come from resentment or frustration.
To bank on radical change can be debilitating. Radical change and radical thought are often necessary; however, it is easy to get caught up in utopic ideas of what things should be like. When this happens, you can find yourself under-appreciating the steps made towards it in-between the past and the ideal future. This is especially true for identity politics, where your own self-image is tied up in what you believe and are advocating for. An important thing to remember is that change is slow, and society in general takes a long time to shift its normative frameworks. What we must reconcile with ourselves is that this is a good thing for us. It’s a defence against populism and more violent identity politics. It's a huge part of what upholds our everyday lives and it may be fair to argue society couldn’t function well if it was easily and quickly persuaded of any new norm.
Perhaps this seems obvious to a lot of people already. I am still learning and still naïve. I am only an individual young person who is still in the process of resolving my own self. Part of that has meant coming to terms with questions about how I fit into the world and fit into my community. I’m sure that most people will question how their individual identity ‘fits in’ with different expectations of gender, race, wealth and other societal factors that shape who we are. They are important questions to grapple with. I believe that by analysing how our identities are similar and different from the expectations of our communities, we can learn more about who we really are, and what features of ourselves are most important.
Lawrence is a student at the Australian National University, studying International Relations and Applied Statistics. They spend too much time thinking about the future, and not enough remembering the past.
Photography: Harry Burmeister