CLAIMING MY NON-BINARY IDENTITY
As a non-binary, non-heterosexual, fat person it took me quite some time to discover my particular shade of queerness, longer still, to unleash, claim, and embrace it.
I grew up in the suburbs of Boston in a community of well meaning cis/heteronormativity. Most people defined themselves as liberal, but communities were homogeneous so voting blue was easy to hide behind. Cisgender and heterosexual was the default and so we were all “safe” in this bubble even if it meant knowing a gay couple or having a lesbian aunt. Growing up, all my friends had straight and cis parents. I remember every queer person I met as an adolescent, gathering them in my mind the way other kids collect baseball cards or Disneyland character signatures. After having met a queer person, I would often journal about the context in which we met and the conversations we shared. I was fixated for sure, but it took me another decade to figure out why. I remember cis girls talking about cis boys and feeling like I was missing a gene they had all magically grown into at age 13. Meanwhile, I was still happily disappearing into full blown imaginary worlds with my sister and best friend. I had no context, no language, with which to talk to people my age. I knew how to be well “liked” but I didn’t have peers I could trust in school. I made up crushes on cis-boys to try and fit in with cis-girls around me. I thought, as so many of us queers do, that maybe if I performed cis and heteronormativity it would eventually stick. Spoiler alert….it did not. If you are a queer person experiencing this feeling right now, I implore you to unleash yourself.
During these same years, I started putting on weight at a rapid speed without having any shifts in my diet/exercise routine. Also, my hair, which had been thick, long and a definitive feature of my body for my whole life began to fall out at an alarming rate. Eating was miserable, shopping was isolating, I internalized all the fatphobia and tortured myself because of it. My prom dresses were bridesmaid dresses purchased with my mom at bridal shops (instead of with my “friends” at the mall) because of lack of size inclusivity, I began to be frequently confronted with questions about my diet and exercise habits, doctors offices were horrifying and anxiety ridden, jokes were made at my expense and I laughed. It was easy to explain why I never dated, or boys never asked me out. I was fat, undeserving and undesirable. The reality that I actually wasn’t ever attracted to any of the cis men in my life didn’t even occur to me. I didn’t understand who I was or what I wanted, but I was certain that everything I was experiencing was my fault. I buried my queerness, my joy, myself under this external layer of fat, this hate, internal and external.
Flash forward a few years, I am in college deeply immersed in my beloved theater department, 18 years old, never been romantically or sexually intimate with anyone and I have become a professional level best friend. I’m the friend all my female friends come to when they have a crush, they’ve fallen in love, lost their virginity, had their heart broken, the one their boyfriends are “afraid of”/“and threatened by”, the one playing matchmaker, the one everyone loves but no one is in love with. I spend sometime during this period wondering if I am asexual because I am increasingly certain that I am not straight, nor a lesbian, and I am not sure what other options exist. During this time, a female identified friend told me that she was “glad I was fat” because I was “so beautiful that if I was skinnier men would be all over me” and she was grateful that she “didn’t have to worry about me being assaulted” and then followed it up with saying that she “wished I were a guy” cause then she “would just marry me and we could call it a day”. The most fucked up part is I allowed her to think this was a compliment at the time, even though typing it out right now still makes my heart race and hands shake.
It wasn’t until a couple years later when I realized my complicated and intense friendship with one of my closest friends was actually an attraction to them, that I “came out”. I still wasn’t sure what to label myself as, but I was female identified at the time and so was the person I was in love with so, for the comfort provided by labels, I told people I was bisexual. I don’t really subscribe to the notion that LGBTQIA+ people should have to “come out” I think it locks people into more labels rather than releasing us from them; but this was the beginning of me claiming my queerness.
That friend is now my partner of almost a decade and this year we are getting married and adopting a kiddo. In our near decade long relationship, we have seen and supported each other in becoming our most authentic selves while also growing as a unit. Making space for both of our gender identities and sexual identities to be fluid and continue to evolve has strengthened our love for ourselves and one another. I am so grateful that we didn’t rush to get married, as so many cisgender and heterosexual people pressured and expected us to, because now we are able to do it on our own terms. Incorporating the wedding traditions of our families that serve us and removing the many hetero/cis normative ones that do not.
In a world of boxes, labels, and extremes, it’s hard to claim grayness: to say, I am not that, and I am not that either. People don’t understand uncertainty, it causes discomfort and if you let that discomfort fester, it becomes fear. For many years I let that fear prevent me from claiming myself, owning my most authentic identities. At a certain point there was a shift, not like flipping a light switch, but a gradual shift where I looked at my life and my body and I had had enough: enough of living on the outside, being there for everyone else, bending my body in every which way for the comfort of others. By going to therapy, seeking out queer community, dancing with my whole body, loving unapologetically, and radical self-acceptance, I have found and grounded myself. This year, for the first time I have claimed my non-binary identity and feel more authentic in my queerness and in my body than ever before. This is a statement I plan to reiterate next year and the year after that.
These identities don’t live in boxes on a shelf, or words on a piece of paper, they live on us, in us, they touch our most vulnerable spots and become immersed in the fibers of our skin. So try on as many as you like and claim one if it serves you, if it makes you feel strong and authentic in who YOU are; but don’t let others place them upon you and don’t let yourself get trapped inside another box. To me, being queer means being free, free to love, to change, to grow, and to challenge this backwards binaried world in which we live. The truth is, the rainbow has all the colors for a reason, we’re all in there the labeled and the labeless, every color, every shade, every person.
I celebrate: all the colors of the rainbow (and every shade in between).
I am Madeleine, a queer, non-binary, fairy who travels through life barefoot, leaves glitter where ere they go, and I carry all the colors with me.
Lastly, but definitely not least, https://www.minus18.org.au/ has fabulous articles and videos about the LGBTQIA+ experience and how to be an informed and active ally, unfortunately they are located in Australia and so their trainings and ways to get involved are not always as useful for people living in the states.