This week’s photos are of my journey from when I came out as non-binary to today as a fully fledged confident bag of mostly water.
Greetings. 14th July is International Non-binary People’s Day. The day sits midway between women’s and men’s day. As far as I’m aware Richard Herring does not sit on twitter replying to tweet’s about “Oh but when’s it international my gender day?” He has failed us. The BBC has an article with the creator of the day, why they created it and why it matters. As a non-binary person it matters to me for two reasons. Firstly because it’s nice to see stories being shared by non-binary folk and secondly because I accidentally claimed this day as my non-binary birthday.
It was roughly one year ago that I stumbled upon a discussion about gender that perked my autistic brain and down the rabbit hole I went reading everything I could about being non-binary to come out the other side as an enby/NB/Non-binary person. While I read a lot I didn’t understand the gravity of it all and so I casually mentioned my new identity to my wife before dropping her off at a friend’s BBQ. It took me weeks more reading to wrap my head around the idea that I was LGBTQIA+ and what I was doing was actually coming out to my wife not just dropping it into casual conversation. I’m glad, fortunate, lucky, blessed, underserving, honoured, to have such a person in my life who is cool with my journey of self-exploration.
That was just over a year ago but close enough to Non-binary day that I’m claiming it as my rebirth/birth/reboot/upgrade day. Amazingly it’s 2 days before my autism diagnosis anniversary. Should I book this week off in the future in preparation for life changing events?
Once around the sun this enby has been. It’s been a long road, getting from there to here but my time is finally here. I publicly came out in August and didn’t wear gender affirming clothes outside the house until late October. In some ways the change was fast. I knew as soon as I read up on non-binary that it fit and helped answer life long questions. While I didn’t have a constant feeling of something being wrong with the world I often had queried why something was the way it was. “Why is it ok for me to wear a towel robe but not ok for me to wear a cotton dress?” Learning that I am non-binary gave me the freedom to look, question and reject things I felt were absurd. I handed in my man hoodie and took to wearing whatever I damn well wanted.
While the initial acceptance of a new gender was fast the transition to feeling ok in any item of clothing I wanted to out in public felt slow. Those first few months were scary. I was excited and terrified to go out in a shirt dress and later a skirt. If the neighbours saw me I could not undo that. Would I get a reputation? Would I be the talk of the town? I tried to manage my fears by telling myself that it was simply their problem if they had any issue. I had nothing to prove to them. They needed to go off and learn how to be a better more accepting person. Whatever is going on inside someone else head is not something I have control over or should spend my time worrying about. I have enough to worry about with my own head let alone others.
Every time I went out in my new clothes (skirts, tights, makeup and non-binary battle jacket covered in supportive badges) it felt like taking a cold shower. “It’s so cold! I can’t do this. Too cold! steps in fully COLD!!! … Wait, am I doing it? I’m doing it! Fascinating.” I was on edge and as the reality of it all splashed me I felt oddly exhilarated. Stepping into the world (cold shower) I felt a rush of nerves and adrenaline. It reminded me of what I wrote last year about courage.
All I need to do is teach myself to recognise that feeling is courage not anxiety. When I feel it I’m feeling my power. That’s all I’ve got to do. Not impossible right? I’m courageous.
That feeling I had while walking around and being seen in the world in a skirt and makeup I chose to believe was courage. I liked it. I bought more skirts, more makeup and lots more tights. I now have more than my wife does. I have an entire new wardrobe and it’s been over 6 months since I had to wear something male presenting. Even during those times I had to rebel a little. Lipstick, eye shadow, hot pink underwear. Fight the power! Somehow I became confident and courageous.
Did I go so far as to become fabulously flamboyant and somehow into fashion? I’m more into clothes and creating looks than I used to be. Before I was always worried about whether I could pull off a look. Now as long as its colourful and bold with a punk edge I like it. I never used to wear pink but I wear it all the time now. I wear red lipstick when I exercise because I like to mess with people’s heads. Why should red lipstick be for sexy fun times? Why can’t I wear it while swimming? If I said I’m a massive Liverpool Football Club fan would that make it ok? I’m not at all but would men be ok with it then? Oh I like to mess with their heads.
Being bold and messing with people’s little heads comes with ups and downs. People can be truly horrible and beautiful within 10 minutes of each other.
Since making that video I’ve had more men film me, make comments and generally be the worst. Thankfully I haven’t been attacked but I haven’t been in a city late at night. I haven’t been anywhere late at night due to the pandemic. Later this year I face my biggest challenge. A trip to Europe. London, Paris, Zadar, Zurich. Can I do it all in a skirt? I’d like to think I can. It will be odd if people stare at me for wearing a skirt while I’m at the beach. Skirt bad. Sitting around in tiny speedos, totally fine. The world is messed up.
While I’ve had some bad experiences, and one or two genuinely frightening experiences, walking around in my non-binary finery has been mostly ok and sometimes incredible. Even today someone commented on my look. People never did when I was a man. Random acts of kindness are powerful. I need to find the confidence in myself to compliment strangers more often. Pass on the joy not the outrage.
Women have been kind. Blokes can get in the bin. People I know? 99% supportive but there’s always one. Last year when I came out I said I was worried about not being accepted by some people in my life. That happened. They never engaged with me about my transition. They made small talk about random things and did talk to me but never asked what I was going through in order to better support me. That was upsetting. If you want to know what people really think, wear a skirt. The world hates people in skirts.
Well I say “the world hates” but the world doesn’t hate. People hate. The places I’ve felt most comfortable are landscapes away from people. I can be 100% myself in those spaces. I can wear whatever I want, enjoy the view, take photos and feel at ease with myself. It is a wonderful place to be. Nature does not judge. If it rains it’s not because I’m wearing a skirt. It just is a thing that happened. If my anxiety wasn’t so debilitating I would spend more time wandering landscapes and making photos. I think that would be nice. Could I make a living that way? Probably not. I need to make money in the human world while also feeling comfortable wearing a skirt because that is me and I want to feel like myself.
I wear skirts on photography jobs every time. I did today and yesterday and I will tomorrow. My client list is currently small compared to what it once was but I appreciate the ones I have who are happy to commission a non-binary person wearing a skirt to work. I’ve worked with trans and non-binary artists and met incredible people along the way. I really want to work with more. More queerness at work is what’s needed. It is scary turning up to a job with a whole new identity. A friend of a friend once said “You never stop coming out.” Totally true. Working with queer people means I’m accepted, less anxious and more creative.
Which brings me to being queer. Am I queer? What is queerness? I’m still reading all about this because up until a year ago it was a word I didn’t use due to memories of school kids being idiots in the 90s. As I read and learn I find myself questioning queerness. I want to know more. I’m listening to different music and looking for different photography. My photo heroes of old are not who I want to learn from now. Old / dead white men with Leicas? Meh. I want to know what a young queer photographer has to say.
So. Year 1 done. I’ve been flamboyantly non-binary while climbing the hills of Wales, while having bits of a tooth slowly pulled out of my skull for 40 minutes, while skinny dipping, while at a funeral, while doing architecture photography, while shouting at Lightroom for being so slow, and while making snarky jokes about awful Eurovision outfits on twitter. I simply am non-binary 24/7. Which, finally brings me to pronouns.
2 years ago I was he/him. 1 year ago I was he/they. Today… I feel less he and more they. As the weeks went by and people called me he, which I said was ok, I started to feel like it wasn’t. When someone said “Mr” or “He” or referred to my maleness I felt… awkward. Maybe a part of me felt annoyed that I clearly didn’t look like a “he”? Maybe I was fully letting go of that side of me? For now I feel more comfortable as they/them. I know people who are he/she/they, he/they/, she/they, or they simply use their name. You be you. Will I be they/them in a year? I don’t know but I’m open to the experiences coming my way. The nice ones that is. Men can get in the bin.
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- Harry Styles can get away with wearing a skirt. But can I? | Men’s fashion | The Guardian
Toxic positivity is bad. Yay for sarcasm.
“I can capture the beauty of life through the lens of my camera” – Crime scene photographer.