Monday, December 3, 2018

Non-binary at 46

I remember when I was first exposed to the idea of gender being a culturally imposed idea. It was 1993 and I was taking an introduction to women's studies course at USM. That one’s gender was not the same thing as one’s biological sex kind of blew my mind. 

I recall having that ah-ha feeling that comes when something you couldn’t quite define before suddenly starts to make sense, "Well that explains a lot of why I don't feel like I always fit in with the idea of what is feminine or woman." At the same time, despite my lifelong beard envy, I didn't feel exactly masculine or male either.  But despite the topic being raised, the discussion 25 years ago still only assumed two genders - man or woman - non-binary or androgyny were not mentioned.

So, I went on with my life assuming that my discomfort with my identity as a woman had to do with how our culture not only defines but also treats women.  That I didn’t like being one because women were not something our culture valued.  I felt like it was pretty unfair that I had little say in who the world said I was or what my life would be. 

I was in my mid-twenties when I came out as bisexual. It wasn’t a surprise to anyone, but it was the first time I named it publicly and it left me with a feeling of being a bit more at home with myself.  I thought maybe this was the thing I’d been needing to say, that naming this might help resolve the issues around who I felt I was. 

Through my thirties and into my forties I began to perform, and the stage gave me a chance to do something I’d not felt comfortable doing often in my daily life, explore dressing as a man and presenting the less feminine side of my self to the world.  The character I became, P.J. Buster, felt like putting on a new but familiar skin.  I often felt more at home as him than I did has myself. 

Occasionally, I started exploring expressing this off stage too.  One day I might be in a skirt and makeup, the next my hair pinned back, with a hat, button down shirt and a tie. Other times I was somewhere in between. The more I did it the more comfortable I felt until it just became part of who I was. Even so, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I first heard the term non-binary. When I did, despite feeling like it made absolute sense to me, despite that same ‘ah-ha’ feeling, I didn’t claim the term as my own. 

To be honest I felt like I was too old.  While many of my younger friends defined their gender in whatever way felt right for them, it seemed to me that, being in my mid-40s, it was a bit too late in the game to say I was something other than what the world assumed I was for 40+ years.  I felt had the option been presented to me at 20, I would have said yes, wholeheartedly, but now?  It felt like it was 20 something years too late.

But then I attended a storytelling event where a woman shared the story of her 80-year old father who finally told the world, “I am a woman and will live the rest of my life as one.”  And I began to wonder if there were non-binary folks who came to this decision later in life.  I did what I always do when I find I’m facing a question I don’t have answer too…I googled it. 

Gender in midlife.

I came across many stories of people transitioning from male to female in midlife.  There were fewer stories of women transitioning to being men, but they were there.  All were about people who felt they’d finally come home to themselves and their stories were told in an uplifting and loving way.  But I didn’t find much mention of non-binary people, so I decided to get more specific.

Non-binary at midlife

 A list of articles came up: Coming Out as Gender Queer at 50 and I photograph trans and nonbinary kids. It’s made me rethink my own gender both discussed the same issue I was facing. Could one come out as non-binary at 40, 50, or later?  What is it like to do so?  I identified greatly with Annie Tritt’s words when describing the feelings that came up when she pondered the possibility of how things might have been different had the non-binary identity been available:

“I can’t say how my sense of identity, and my life, would be different if I had grown up in this generation. But I know I wouldn’t be pondering the question. Kids nowadays don’t feel like it’s a big deal to explore your gender. For people of my generation, doing so is much more fraught with anxiety.”

In the end she was unsure about claiming that identity.  And wasn’t sure that the leap could be made. 

I am not in that place.  For me stating that I am non-binary feels comfortable.  It feels like I finally have a word that encompasses what I am.  It feels right, and it feels necessary.   I changed it on Facebook a couple of weeks ago.  It isn’t one of those changes that Facebook announces so no one really noticed.  I told a couple of friends.

I wondered how to tell the rest of the world and decided on this blog post because writing has always been a far more comfortable medium for me.  So here you go. 

I’m Joie.  I’m non-binary.  I’m still unsure on the pronoun thing. 

In the end the most important part for me is what I feel inside when I think of my identity.  It finally feels right. 


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  1. Thanks for sharing. A friend sent this to me. I'm a gender-questioning 37 y/old, and this was helpful. You reached a complete stranger. :)

    1. Thank you so much for reading this and for sharing your comment. I am finding that while it has been a long process (one with more than a bit of anxiety)I have learned it is never to late to come home to yourself.