This week is Non-Binary Awareness Week, with July 14 being International Non-Binary People's Day. July 14 was chosen because it is situated in the middle of International Women's Day and International Men's Day, which is somehow both fitting and widely inaccurate. It is fitting because it is the farthest you can get from existing in the binary experience, but is inaccurate because it suggests that being non-binary is somehow situated between "man" and "woman." It is not.
When I was in my early twenties, I struggled to understand my gender experience. I had come out as queer and spent hours of my time volunteering with the 2SLGBTQI+ community. Living in Toronto I had access to community organizations, like Youth Line and Supporting Our Youth, that are at the forefront of progressive anti-oppression theory. In these spaces, we learned about systemic oppression and intersectionality; how our identities were undulating spectrums interacting within different contexts to sometimes visible and known outcomes, and often invisible or unknown outcomes. As I began accessing language around racism, sexism, ableism, and other systemic outcomes of our culture, I began to see microaggressions and restrictive narratives with loud, stark lucidity. It was startling.
At the time, I was living in my single-parent family home. My siblings had moved out (for the time being), and I was alone with my mom discussing the frustrating dynamics of gender, race, and sexuality. As I paced back and forth, testing different ideas and identities, my mother looked at me calmly and said, "Well, maybe you're not a 'woman' in the North American sense, but you can still be a woman."
The thought hung there in the air for us to look at. I hesitated and said, "Ya, maybe," all the while knowing that wasn't quite it. It wasn't about a cultural nuance, it was the very essence of man and woman that confused and angered me.
Fast-forward to today, a day after International Non-Binary People's Day, as I sit in my backyard typing. The morning is slightly cool and the neighbour's air conditioners are thankfully quiet, allowing my mind to breathe and think. It's amazing how noise pollution can slowly pressure your mind until it feels like you are experiencing your day through a fog.
That noise pollution and fog is how it felt before I came out as non-binary. There was a pressure to my self definition, to my conception of how my body moved through our cultural landscape. Before coming out to myself, I had days where I would change multiple times, unable to settle in the performative act of fashion. I would go from baggy pants to dresses and back again within the span of hours, a near frantic "costume change" as I rode the waves of what I perceived were polarity changes in my gender experience. It was fascinating, liberating and exhausting, until one day I happened upon videos of folks talking about being non-binary.
The non-binary community is vast. It includes multitudes of expressions and experiences. Some folks spend the majority of their time in "femme" or "masc" spectrums, some folks use he/him or she/her pronouns. Some folks slide into androgyny, some folks challenge androgyny as being largely centred around a particular idea of masculinity and whiteness as neutral. Some folks use they/them, or ze/zir. Some folks slide back and forth, in and around, over and above our binary conceptions of gender.
That is what makes our community largely challenging to define. In a culture and official language that predicates so much of its structures and understandings around binary worldviews, it is difficult to understand that much of life does not exist in this conception. The term "binary" means being composed of 2. Non-binary is the challenge that humanity exists beyond such a simplistic and divisive understanding of ourselves. That whatever your definition, be it "biological" or "cultural," there was never and will never be only 2 base compositions to the human experience.
Non-binary is when the noise pollution stops, the pressure softens and we can begin to hear ourselves beyond what has been assumed.
Non-binary is infinite, and isn't that beautiful?
Kamini Murthy-Korteweg is the Audience Services Coordinator at Canadian Stage.