Zoe: I’m non-binary - ask me anything
“We want to be able to say ‘this is me’, and not be constrained by traditional ideas of male/female only.”
As someone who is gender non-conforming, Zoe is no stranger to people asking questions. Zoe explains why having a platform, and standing together in Pride, is essential to the goal of helping more people understand what being non-binary means.
Hi Zoe, can you tell us about yourself and what being non-binary means to you?
"I’m 21 now and I’ve known I’m non-binary for five years.
Being non-binary can mean different things to different people - it’s an umbrella term for people who do not identify as exclusively male or female. I can also refer to people who are gender-fluid and may have a fluctuating experience of which gender they feel more aligned with. It’s a spectrum and it’s possible for people to sit outside binary identities of man and woman. It brings together the two sides of the Venn diagram – so some people feel they overlap both genders, or sit outside of them. There are also a-gender people, who do not feel like any specific gender.
Being non-binary does not have a direct relationship with sexuality. I, personally, am pansexual, which means I’m attracted to all genders.
Although there is a lot of terminology, the key thing is self-determination – we want to be able to say ‘this is me’, and not be constrained by traditional ideas of male/female only."
When did you first start to identify as non-binary?
"I first came to terms with my gender identity because I thought I was gender-fluid. Some days I would feel extremely feminine and I wanted my body to reflect that so I would waist-train and dress very girly, the next I felt more masculine and would be at the gym pushing weights to build my chest. These extreme changes happened because I was still trying to define my identity. I was still experimenting. Then I realised, I didn’t have to choose.
I’ve been poking my toes out of the closet every now and again and my close friends know that I’m non-binary now – they are very supportive. I feel more confident to speak out now, however it can still be tough especially when family want to see you a certain a way, like when I was 11, dressed as a bridesmaid with curled hair – to me I was extremely uncomfortable but to them I was the idealised version of myself. I’m just not that person now."
What challenges do you face as a non-binary person?
"I use they/them pronouns (rather than she/her). When I get called a girl, I do wince. I tell people that singular ‘they/them’ pronouns have been used since Shakespeare and Chaucer, but I still find I’m educating people. Baby steps. My friends protect my they/them pronouns with a fiery passion, but they don’t make a meal out it. If people slip up, and say ‘she’ for example, that’s fine. It’s about the intent behind it.
People who are cis-gendered (born with and aligned to their assigned gender) have often not met, or not realised they’ve met, many non-binary people but that is getting better – we are becoming more seen.
It can be dangerous to out yourself. I’ve experienced hostility and get disdain in some cases, or I am belittled. I don’t want to live in fear – I came out as non-binary because I reached out to others on social media, so I think the more visible we are, the safer and fairer the future will be for gender non-conforming individuals."
What newfound freedoms do you have since identifying as non-binary?
"Labels can be useful – they helped me to reach out to other people in ‘categories’. A majority of my friends on social media are part of LGBTQ+ communities. We are finding more of a community online now, however in other countries there is less freedom and less recognition.
Understanding your gender identity is a journey! I started one way and it can change in the future. I love that recognition of my own freedom and I want to inspire it in others who feel the same way."
What advice would you give your younger self?
- I’d go easy on myself. It’s hard to have a thick skin – I still struggle with mine, and I’m still growing.
- I’d say that people who threaten your self-identify are not good for you.
- I’d want myself to know – you’ll be called names, you’ll face challenges but as long as you stay true to yourself, you’ll pull through just fine.
What advice would you give to someone who is exploring their gender identity?
"When it comes to being part of the LGBTQ+ community, and coming out, calculate your first move. When I first questioned my gender, I took to the internet and tried to find reliable sources and build my own knowledge.
I recommend reaching out to others. Make an anonymous profile if that helps, figure out if you feel the same way as others and befriend people. The LGBTQ+ community is, on the whole, incredibly friendly – find a buddy.
It’s a slow process Feel able to ask questions eg ‘not-judging, but can I know…X,Y and Z?’ I put my gender identity on my profile and people reached out to me as well.
I’m still learning about my own identify and it’s a big learning curve. I had no formal education about this in school and there wasn’t much in the media – so self-education and co-support is king. I’m happy to answer questions now, so that in the future we can all be more informed."
Where to find support
You should not feel pressurised to label yourself or your sexual orientation. If you do feel you’d like to come out as gay, lesbian, bi or pan to others, and are safely able to, you can find support on how to start conversations, and further advice, at Stonewall.
It is always good to speak to someone you trust about the issues you might be facing, no matter how big or small. It can be hard talking about sexuality, relationships and mental health – everyone finds them challenging at times – so if you are experiencing difficulties, don’t feel ashamed or different, and don’t feel you have to hide away from it. You can also find help on a range of issues at Young Minds