Nancy Eves, an ambassador for LGBTQ+ young people’s charity Just Like Us, reflects on the moment they realised they were trans non-binary – and why it was truly magical.
Being non-binary in the UK right feels very strange right now. With every passing week we’re in a better place in history for the LGBTQ+ community than ever before, but it can be hard to remember this when the bad news travels faster than the good.
It’s more important than ever to make sure we celebrate the joys of gender exploration, especially as the challenges we face can be so heavy on our community.
I first questioned my gender identity over a year ago when I came across something online, urging readers to think about how they feel about their gender.
The Twitter thread said: ‘I WANT YOU TO TAKE HALF AN HOUR SOMETIME TO THINK ABOUT YOUR GENDER.’ I thought I was cisgender at the time, so I figured this would be an interesting experiment.
From the very first question, ‘What do you enjoy about being your gender?’, I was stumped. How was I supposed to answer this? As a woman? Oh. Oh. This prompted a whole journey of realising my feelings around my gender.
And so it turns out I never was a woman. Of course, I was reluctant to tell anyone about this to begin with. First of all, I had no idea how to describe what my gender is, and secondly, I had no idea how the people in my life would react.
Complicating matters further, this was happening around the same time that I discovered that I am autistic. Having two, truly world-bending, personal epiphanies at the same time was exhausting to say the least. Luckily, I found myself able to be extremely open about the latter because my brother is also autistic, therefore this realisation was not a new one in my close circles.
However, while figuring out that I am autistic was like a lightbulb finally flickering on, figuring out that I am not cisgender was like a web of dark passageways appearing before me. Out of nowhere, my gender identity went from something I had rarely even considered, to a cataclysmic, never-ending realm of possibilities.
Learning, and then accepting, that gender is a made-up cultural concept and not nearly as biologically-essential as we are made to believe wreaked havoc with my autistic brain. Why on earth are we forced to grow up confining ourselves to these predetermined categories when the human experience is so much more brilliantly complex than that?
Dr Wenn Lawson, an autistic and trans researcher, puts this brilliantly: “The non-autistic world is governed by social and traditional expectations, but we may not notice these or fail to see them as important. This frees us up to connect more readily with our true gender.”
Through the process of unmasking, learning how to live as my authentic autistic self, I have made so many discoveries, including what I feel my gender truly is. I had confirmed rather quickly that I am definitely not a woman, but I’m also not a man. That leaves the gender binary that the non-autistic world sometimes seems to love so much out of the question for me.
I definitely rode on the wave of novelty for the first year of identifying as non-binary, not completely minding when people misgendered me because it was so new to me as well. But more recently, as I am becoming more confident in myself, complacency just feels like a self-inflicted injustice.
To reflect this change of mindset, I recently updated my pronouns from she/they to they/them. Although I am not any more non-binary than I was before, this further detachment from my assigned gender has been extremely affirming for me. However, strangely, it also increased my awareness of how inaccessible the UK is to non-binary and trans people.
First of all, being non-binary means I am technically a trans person, and with the hate currently circulating in the media and online, this was a scary thing to admit. Secondly, there is still no way of identifying as non-binary legally, so I must endure every official process that requires a tick-box exercise as if I’m living a lie. There are endless examples I could name.
To put it bluntly, being autistic already means that the world is not built for me, but being non-binary amplifies that experience tenfold.
While, unfortunately, I cannot personally alleviate all these issues, I am comforted by the fact that being trans and autistic feels truly magical to me. When you have been called ‘weird’ by everyone for nearly 25 years, figuring out that it is because your brain was never wired to ‘fit in’ to begin with is such a relief. The best part is that I am far from alone in my experience.
Admitting that I am non-binary used to leave a funny taste in my mouth, but I absolutely do not regret that I started to open up about it.
I have been volunteering with the LGBTQ+ young people’s charity Just Like Us for just over a year now, giving talks in schools about growing up LGBT+ and how to be an ally. For the majority of that time, my story has focused on my journey with sexuality because I did not feel that I could talk confidently about my gender identity just yet.
However, while delivering my story at a volunteer training session recently, I decided to weave in my journey of gender exploration and how I have come to identify as non-binary. At first, I felt panicky, frantic and nonsensical as I spoke. But then something amazing happened – afterwards, one of the other volunteers approached me to say that what I’d said had really resonated with them. I was immensely grateful to hear that sharing my story was helping others.
Dealing with the topic of gender is really hard. It may seem to cause rifts and discomfort everywhere you look, but that is because it is important and worth exploring. No matter how you identify, I highly recommend giving yourself the time and space to get to know how you feel about your gender and gender expression.
It is rare that we are given permission to really delve into such an integral part of our identities separate from medical or political settings. Take the time to revel in the mystery and euphoria of your own existence – I promise it will be worthwhile.