A first-person account from off the beaten track,
as told to Anne Ford.
“People believe that there’s male and female and that’s it, right? When you ask someone what makes them a man or makes them a woman, it’s a tough conversation. It’s just how they identify.
“I was assigned female sex at birth based on my genitalia, and that’s something that I don’t identify with. I’m a female-bodied person, but that doesn’t, for me, determine how I should be able to navigate society. As someone who identifies as gender nonconforming, it’s a way to decide how I want to be seen in the world and not have that determined by my body.
“I’m addressed as ‘sir’ most of the time. It depends where I’m at and what I’m wearing. Most of the time I just continue with the interaction, because it’s not a problem for me either way. It’s usually a problem for the other individual, after they feel like they called me by the wrong pronoun. It reveals how they feel about the situation, not necessarily anything to do with me.
“We’re trained to notice the difference between things from a very young age. Most people feel a lot of confidence in their ability to tell things apart: ‘That’s a banana; that’s a kiwi.’ People feel about gender performance the same way. And when people are confused, it makes them feel like they’ve been tricked.
“I just don’t use the bathroom, for the most part, in public spaces. It is really uncomfortable. But I would rather not risk a bad reaction.
“I prefer the pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them.’ It feels very comfortable. It lends itself to the multiplicities I feel I am. But mostly I get silly reactions, like someone challenging the pronoun because it’s used in a particular way in English. Which is silly, because so much about our language is transforming. But that’s their issue. Other times I get, ‘OK, cool, great,’ which is always refreshing.
“The really rewarding part is coming to terms with my love and appreciation for my body, and being able to navigate spaces in which before I felt really self-conscious. For example, at the beach, there’s so much pressure as to what to wear. The beach is a very gendered place. The last three to four years I’ve been feeling a lot more freedom being able to experience the beach, because I’m no longer feeling as if I need to conform to ideas of how my body should be viewed. It was really freeing to decide to not wear a bikini or a one-piece anymore, that I was going to wear whatever I felt like wearing to the beach—a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, or just a pair of shorts and no top.
“The least challenging thing I’ve done in my life is embrace the nonbinary gender spectrum. What’s been more challenging? Coming out as a teenager. Living on my own afterward. Moving from New York City to Chicago. Navigating the world in general as a black person in America.”