6th July 2018:
Sav, who uses they/them pronouns, talks to Lee and Ryan about their current PhD research on non-binary identities, what it’s like conducting research on something very close to them, moving to Melbourne from Perth, and concerns about using accessible bathrooms. Sav also discusses the limitations of language when it comes to articulating identities and relationships, and the importance of having the space and taking one’s time to explore one’s identity.
R: Ok, so today is the 6th of July, and we’re sitting here with Sav. Thanks so much for being interviewed and being involved –
S: Thank you so much, I’m really excited to participate!
R: We might just start out with some introductory questions. Would you mind telling us your age and your pronouns?
S: So I’m currently 32, and I prefer they/them pronouns, however a lot of the time that doesn’t happen. Um, and I get she’d and her’d a lot.
L: Just jumping right in, I’m just wondering what your experience of being she’d and her’d a lot is like?
S: I feel like I’m going through a lot at the moment, in terms of like, understanding my gender and that is a lot to do with, I’m currently doing a PhD in gender studies and in, specifically, non-binary identities. And so that is my world right now. Uhh, 24/7. I have the privilege to speak to a lot of amazing people and a lot of their experiences really resonate with me in different ways, so I’m constantly, I feel like my gender is evolving so much at the moment. Like, even so just like a year ago, I would often say, when I had the opportunity, I use she/her or they/them pronouns. Like I gave the option. But now more and more so, to hear ‘she’ and ‘her’ sounds so bizarre and like, so jarring, and I just feel myself like, freeze up. Like my partner the other day used she/her. And I actually like called them up, not in the moment, but I said, hey, like I just wanna talk about that – because it felt really weird. Like more weird than it has ever felt. And she was like, yeah it actually felt weird for me to say it as well. So, yeah, I think its constantly changing for me, and whether they/them pronouns are going to be the right pronouns for me in the future, I don’t know either. Yeah.
L: I might jump back just a little bit, what kind of things do you like to do?
S: My life is pretty busy at the moment, so when I get chill time, I quite literally, just like bum out on the couch. I love finding good things to watch on Netflix, like I love binging TV shows, and I really enjoy podcasts. So, in particular, like True Crime podcasts. So I listen to them, like every day on the way to work, and like if I, whenever I exercise or if I go for a walk, I love just, when the weather is good – just going out for a little walk, getting out of the house, and listening to a podcast. Just like tuning out. That’s kind of like, my ultimate happy place at the moment. I really love the beach, I love, over the summer my partner and I had a habit of just like, we decided that if you plan like big, big trips, you never get out of Melbourne. Like, cos you have to book in accommodation, and like you can’t work out your rosters, so we were just like, screw it, whenever we come across a day that we both have off, let’s just get in the car and drive. And we did a bunch of road trips, like driving as far as we could possibly in a day, like 3 or 4 hours in Melbourne. I’ve only been in Victoria for 2 and a half years; my partner has been here for about 4. So, we both have a lot to explore. And that’s just been awesome.
R: Where were you before Melbourne?
S: Uh, I grew up in Perth.
R: What drew you to Melbourne?
S: I think, I don’t know if it was really a conscious decision at the time, but I think exploration of my gender was part of it. I really needed a change, I’d been in and out of Perth – like I’d spent like 3 of the 4 years before I left Perth, overseas. Just coming and going, and it was largely a coping strategy I think. Just like, get out and be on my own, and try and work shit out. So yeah, Perth didn’t really feel like home anymore, and a lot of my friends had left. I came over to Melbourne for like 10 days, going if I like this place, this is where I’m coming. And I think I landed, I had about 2 days just hanging out, and I was like: yep. So like I booked my trip back to Perth, and booked one for like 2 weeks later coming back. So I had like 2 weeks to organize my life in Perth, and just move over.
Yeah, I kinda came without plans. And was just like, let’s see what happens? And I came with the policy of whenever people invite you to things, you’re gonna say yes. Cos I can be quite introverted, and I can make excuses not to go out and do things, so I had that policy, and it lasted – it lasted a few months. Yeah, whenever people said, you wanna go out tonight, you wanna do this, you wanna do that? I was like yes, yes, yes. That helped me, like really get excited about Melbourne, and I still feel like its really exciting, like I still feel like its new, which is lovely.
S: I feel like a big part of the move was also to have that freedom away from my family. Particularly because I had, because I was coming and going from Perth, like when I was home in Perth, I was always living with my Mom. Didn’t feel like I had a lot of independence. Her reaction to my queerness, because I originally came out like 10 years ago, as like gay or a lesbian, it was really weird. So like I felt like I was hiding that side of me a lot. And then yeah, I came here, and I was like screw it, I can be whatever I wanna be now, and I think that really helped me to kind of, it allowed me that freedom to explore myself. Even though, like of course, I’m an adult – but, and I, it’s just being away from family, has just given me that space to kind of explore things, and to be more involved in the queer community here than I was in Perth, like in the last years that I was in Perth.
R: Do you wanna tell us little bit about your project here at La Trobe, and how you got interested in it?
S: Yes. So the year that I moved to Melbourne – so I moved in, in February of 2016 it must have been. And I initially came going, I’m going to look for work, like I already at that point had a Masters’ degree in sexology, so I was looking in sexual health and youth work, and that kind of area. And didn’t really have much success. And then I just had a conversation over dinner with a friend, who was talking about their research, and I was like: hang on, I love research. I loved doing my Masters’ research! Everyone else was tearing their hair out that year, and I was in my element. So I was like, you know what? Cos I had originally toyed with the idea of doing a PhD straight after Masters’ but then I just went travelling, and my life took like a major tangent, and I became a hippy jewelry maker for 3 or 4 years [laughs].
So I kind of was like, hang on, that kind of ticks all my boxes. I love to write, I really enjoyed the research process, and I found it really creative because I’m doing qualitative research. I feel like there’s a real creative element to it, in that I’m kind of trying to work it out all the time, in my head, and its constantly shifting, like my ideas about what’s happening. So I was like, okay that’s great, if I can get a scholarship, that is what I’m going to do. Yeah, unfortunately I was like, yeah if I don’t get a scholarship, it’s just not financially an option for me. So stumbled across my supervisor here, Carol D’Cruz, who was amazing. Carol was like, well I just had a student leave, which means I have one spot that’s opened up. And I was like, sweet. Did the application, and I was like okay, non-binary study – you do a little bit of prep to get into a PhD program, like you have to kind of show this is roughly what I wanna do, this is the project that I’m thinking of. And I did a little bit of prep, and I was like okay, I don’t think there’s really that much out here. But you don’t have the time to really sit down and do a review of all the literature and all the studies that are out there.
When I got accepted, I was like, sweet this is like the next 3 to 4 years of my life. Awesome, it feels like such an honor and a privilege to like, have the opportunity to do a PhD. I spent the first year, so all of 2017, doing a literature review. I realized there was nothing out there, basically. Like in terms of qualitative studies that really get to like the nitty gritty of like, what it is to be non-binary? There was nothing. There was like 1 or 2 studies; there is another study happening in Australia, but like a slightly different focus, that’s going on at the moment, another PhD student. Yeah, it was like, well this has to be done. Just in terms of like, knowing the struggles I went through in understanding my gender, how it would’ve helped to hear these other stories like – it just, yeah I can’t even begin to imagine.
So it became very clear that like, this is definitely what I needed to do. And I was going down the right path. I started doing interviews in March this year, 2018. And the response has been overwhelming, far more than I ever anticipated, because your fear always, as a researcher is that you’re not going to get enough participants. And I know that is a struggle for a lot of people, but I’ve had more people contact me than I could ever manage to interview. So yeah, it’s been amazing and just hearing the diversity of experiences that there’s, there’s definitely no one set narrative as far as that goes. And hearing from people of different ages, so like the oldest person I’ve interviewed at this stage is in their late 50s, so hearing their experience. And the youngest at this stage is 20 years of age – and just like, completely different experiences. So yeah that’s been really, really fascinating. And to hear from people from like, remote rural areas as well, um, is very different to people living in cities. So that is what I’m doing at the moment. Interviews are continuing on for another few months, and then by the end of the year I will start the kind of full-on analysis and writing up.
L: Is there any place that you find particularly meaningful to you?
S: I really love the beach. And I think that’s been a Perth thing growing up – like I grew up in a small coastal town, north of Perth. Yeah beach, nature, just that smell of nature, being barefoot, like on the grass or in the dirt – is like, so grounding for me. And I feel like, cos I do feel like I get overwhelmed in big cities sometimes, like now living in inner city Melbourne, it’s a lot more chaotic than I’ve ever been used to. And I really sometimes need to take a break from that and just get out of the city, and that might just be for a couple hours, or it might be going down to the local park and like, shoes off, and like feet in the grass. Just, yeah connecting with nature again is my thing, I think.
L: Do you ever go back to Perth?
S: I do, yeah. So the first year that I was here, I ended up going back 4 or 5 times, and I think that’s cos I had a bit more disposable income, more than anything. And then the last couple of years, like since I’ve started the PhD, I think I’ve gone home like twice a year. My sister just had a baby, so I was just home a couple of weeks ago. Also doing interviews there as well. So I think that baby is going to be pulling me back on a regular basis [laughs] yeah.
R: How would you describe your gender?
S: If I get the choice, I like to use a really broad term, and that is queer. And that is a term I feel encompasses both my sexuality and my gender without having to use a more specific label. Um, and, yeah I feel like there’s a lot of freedom under that, under the queer label. But if I am pushed, and I need to like, identify with a more specific identity in terms of gender, then I use non-binary. And again, I feel like that’s, I use it in a very broad sense as well, and that’s just because I’m toying with a lot of ideas and possibilities at the moment. And yeah i don’t think that I can lock it down to anything to more specific, other than the fact that I don’t feel like a woman. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like a woman, and that’s about as far as I get [laughs]. It’s very, it’s really really, yeah. It’s very complicated. I find it really difficult, and I don’t feel like there is like the language just doesn’t exist, to adequately capture the way that I feel about my gender. So yeah, I kind of get as far as – definitely not a woman – um, and that’s about it. Yeah, it’s really, and that’s a struggle, and that’s a struggle that I have with like, the research that I’m doing as well – cos like, you’re trying to like, pinpoint, what is it that makes you nonbinary? And people just don’t have the words for it. When I push those questions or ideas on my participants, I also push them back on myself, and I actually can’t answer this myself, other than it’s just a feeling. I just know. That’s it. It’s just a feeling, I just know.
R: Other than you, I guess self-reflecting on the questions that you’re posing to your participants, what is it like, beyond that, to do research on something so close to you?
S: It’s becoming increasingly challenging, to be honest. Yeah, it’s definitely confronting, confronting I think is the word. And, cos I feel like, I’ve sat on stuff around my gender for a very long time. Like I can go back now to an early as 4 or 5 years of age, and remember questioning gender, by being very confused, and wanting to be a boy. And like, puberty was pretty horrendous. And I really struggled with the changes that were happening to my body, but I didn’t, like I just didn’t have the capacity to deal with it at that age. And then, I remember like 10 years ago now, when I first entered the LGBTI community having conversations with trans people, and kind of acknowledging at that stage – so 10 years ago – that there was something going on for me, gender-wise? And then I’ve just kind of sat with it. And it’s come in and out of my life, in ebbs and flows, and sometimes I can ignore it for a little while, and sometimes it comes in and it’s all I think about every day. That is kind of what’s happened, since I’ve taken on this PhD, is that I think about it every day: in a professional, like academic capacity, and also in a very personal capacity. So it’s, yeah, it’s quite difficult for me to deal with at the moment.
L: Thinking about trans community, whatever that might mean, um do you feel like you’re currently a part of that community at all?
S: My entrance into the queer community was identifying as like, gay or a lesbian, about 10 years ago, when I was about 21, 22. And at that point, I was involved in a youth center and was exposed to like, a broad range of identities which was amazing. But also the downside of that, when you are involved in the community like in LGBTQI community services, is that they are very small kind of networks. And like there were moments when I felt like I wanted to access other services, but because I’d worked for 1 or 2 of them, and like, in terms of like job prospects and things like that, I felt like I was limited in what I could access, what I could be involved in, because of how it might impact on my professional career, I guess. Now, here in Melbourne, like the last couple of years, again because of personally like, that I am questioning a lot of things, I feel like I want to access things again? And to be more involved, and there is like, Melbourne is such, so queer friendly in a lot of ways, compared to a lot of other places. There are things that I want to do, and I do want to be more involved, but I’m struggling with like, professional boundaries at the moment. Because I’m accessing participants through those same communities, so like online spaces, Facebook groups, that kind of thing, and also advertising my research through some bigger organizations as well.
So it’s, yeah, I’m in a difficult position at the moment, in that I feel like I have to hold back, and like, I feel like there’s so much value, and I have so many questions that iw anna ask of other nonbinary and trans people, in a personal way, not like in a professional setting. Like, with my interviews. And I feel like I can’t do that, like I’m holding myself back at the moment, and kind of just biding my time until the research is kind of little more like – I’m over the interviews, and I don’t need to recruit participants anymore, and I can actually like, stop lurking in online spaces and actually start asking questions and things like that. So yeah, I’m not, I’m not as involved in things as I would like to be, and just like, from talking to other people, like so many people find so much support in online spaces. There’s some amazing online communities and yeah, a lot of other support services out there that I would like to access, but also, because of what I’m doing at the moment, and because of potential career paths and things like that, it’s like I always have to, I don’t know, question everything, everything decision that I make a second time. Cos I’m like, oh well, if I access this service, is this a service that I might want to work at in the future or something like that? So yeah, most of my support and most of my friends at the moment are queer but like, cis queer. Like I do know a few, I have a few non-binary or trans friends, but they’re not like my closest friends, so yeah. Most of my support is just like regular [laughs] – regular is not the right word!
L: [laughs] Typical folk
S: [laughs] Typical queer folk
L: It’s such a paradox, hey, to be so deeply involved in one way, and that kind of acting as a barrier in another way, to another kind of engagement –
S: Yeah, and I’m definitely not the only one, cos I’ve spoken to other people that work in the LGBTI sector – and it’s like, they want to, but they can’t, because of this clash of like, personal/professional boundaries. And because I think, even in Melbourne being a bigger city than like Perth, it’s still not big enough. Y’know, like – especially, if you’re wanting to work in that kind of sector, like everything is so interwoven.
R: Yeah I guess the flip side of that is, that as a person trying to access services, its also important that those professionals are themselves members, right, of the queer community or the trans community. So it creates a problem where like, those people aren’t getting support, yet those people are the ones –
S: Often giving the support –
R: And it’s important that there are queer and trans people that are working for those services too
S: Yeah –
R: Yeah I don’t know how you get around that –
L: It makes me wonder if there needs to be like a service –
S: An outside service [laughs]
S: That queer workers can go to! Yes, that would work, I think [laughs]
L: How do you see yourself in relation to other social and political movements?
S: I think its related a little bit to, like my changing identity, and like changing awareness. Yeah, going back 10, 8 or 10 years ago, it was all about gays and lesbians, and maybe the bisexuals occasionally. And I remember going to like, equal marriage rallies 10 years ago, and that was like, that was the ultimate goal, in my naivete. And I guess like, that has kind of, with everything that happened last year with the marriage equality survey, it was horrendous, it was absolutely horrendous. But I think it opened up for people who were willing to listen to it, conversation about what else has to happen in the queer community, and who are still struggling for basic recognition and rights. And like there was a lot of discussion on marriage is just marriage, that is just one tiny thing, one has to happen post the ‘yes vote’ is like, focus on trans, non-binary issues and various other inequalities. If I can take one little positive maybe, out of that [laughs] marriage equality debate: was that I think, yeah, like people were having conversations about what do we do next. Like, this pulled a lot of people into activism. What do we do next. What are we fighting for? There’s a lot of issues around asylum seekers and refugees, there’s blatant racism, there’s all the Indigenous issues, and animal rights issues. Yeah I think, like just being more aware of what actually is important.
R: How do you see yourself in this moment of increased trans visibility?
S: I think it’s a double-edged sword. The positive of more trans narratives, or non-binary narratives, in whichever form they are, is that people that are questioning their gender have something to grab on to. Because growing up, I had nothing to grab on to. And therefore I couldn’t understand myself, because there were no role models, there were no stories, there was nothing. This was like, pre-Youtube and everything else that everyone goes to today. So I think in that respect, it is a positive thing, yes. Because people have exposure to information and it’s going to help them in their journey to work themselves out.
The negative side is, firstly you have the formation of a transnormative narrative, and that is very much – I don’t feel like it has evolved since the 1960s. So like, early stories that came out were so focused on the medical procedures and so focused on what kind of genitalia you had. And I feel like that is where its stuck. Like, I guess its like, Caitlyn Jenner. Caitlyn Jenner is what trans is to most people, and that is, that is their idea of trans, and that is a very limited, white, wealthy image of trans. And that is someone who can access whatever they want to access in terms of medical transitioning, and it doesn’t reflect where the average person is at.
L: She’s also so vocally conservative, so she’s this representation of transness that is incredibly wealthy and conservative – so she’s always my idea of who my Mom thinks is what trans is. It’s always Caitlyn Jenner, yeah.
S: Yeah, and like, yeah I’ve definitely spoken to a lot of people who thought there was no option of being assigned female at birth and transitioning to male – like, because you never see it –
L: It’s, so many people have said it in these interviews, that they didn’t know that was a thing –
S: Yeah. So yeah you’ve got these narratives that are out there, create this idea of ‘there’s one kind of path to being trans’, and that is the only legitimate, valid path. And when you don’t prescribe to that, you’re not really trans, or…and just that ‘wrong body’ narrative as well that you have to have known since you were a child, and that is carried through, I know, in medical services that you have – like I’ve spoken to people in like my research, who have to blurt out a very binary kind of narrative because that’s the way they feel they can access hormones. It’s the only way is to tell the story of, ‘I’ve always felt like a boy’ even though that is not their story. So I feel like that still kind of exists. The internet is probably the only place where you get alternative narratives, and there are some amazing people doing amazing things on YouTube, and they are people that don’t have this like, straightforward trajectory, they kind of swap around in like, their identities. And a lot of more diversity as well. People with disabilities, people of color, nonbinary people, because you don’t see the nonbinary narratives in mainstream media at all.
The other negative is the conservative backlash. It was like, trans, gender nonconforming, gender diverse people kind of slipped under the radar for a long time, and now they’re very much on people’s radar.
L: You touched on this, maybe in regards to your interviews, but do you have any intergenerational relationships with trans or gender diverse people?
S: I don’t have any ongoing friendships with older people. I guess like, my friendship groups and like also work that I’ve done, like in the youth sector, and like at the moment I’m a facilitator for Queer Chat, which is a group that runs here at La Trobe campus for queer people – and most of them are like 10 years younger than me. So young people yes, but older people – I’ve had some beautiful, beautiful experiences going to conferences, and having good old chats with people, and people actually like, opening up, going I don’t think I will ever identify as that, but if I had the choice, I probably would. And asking questions, and acknowledging their biases, just because of the way that they grew up and around, like lesbian feminism and things like that. So, but when people open to hear, and they seem to understand, and they talk about their own struggles, like I had an amazing conversation off the back of a presentation that I did in Adelaide last year. And it was a group of older lesbians talking about like, butch identities, and how that fit with like, trans identities, and nonbinary as well. And not from a place of anger or disappointment, which is a lot of what you hear around that, but just like genuine curiosity. And we came to the conclusion that, like it takes so much guts to come out as trans, or gender diverse. So people that came out in the 70s, the 80s, what courage. That’s where we sat with that: what courage.
L: I feel like that leads on to another question, about what might you say to an older trans person today if they might be listening?
S: It’s just never too late to be yourself. It sounds like such a cliched thing to say – and I just, I know personally, like I’ve sat on my gender stuff for 10 years. And I haven’t made a move. So it’s, I get that there’s so much at stake sometimes, or at least you think that there is. I don’t know if you feel that there is, whether there is or not, I don’t know. Yeah, that its never too late. And yeah, I’ve spoken to a bunch of people I’ve encountered at various times, who realized in their 50s, realized in their 60s, and I guess also to the older generation, the binary narrative is not the only narrative. Because I feel like, that is sometimes what older people might only be exposed to because they’re less likely to be in certain areas of the internet discovering other narratives. So there are different ways to do things, there’s not only one straightforward trajectory, um and there’s certainly no right or wrong way to do anything. Really comes down to yourself, and though I haven’t implemented it enough in my life, I had someone say to me a little while ago: just lean in to it, and if it feels good, keep leaning. And I’m trying to implement that in my life [laughs] and actually take some pretty scary steps, and I think it’s such a beautiful way to put it. That you don’t have to plunge into anything, that you can do baby steps and if it feels good, you keep doing that.
R: We had a question here about institutional recognition, but I guess more specifically I’m interested in your experiences of navigating being non-binary and all that that entails, um at university? What that’s been like for you?
S: I think my experience is a bit more unique, compared to the average student because I am, I sit within gender, sexuality, and diversity studies. So I’m not sitting in classrooms with a bunch of, 20 other people and having to be misgendered or anything like that. So I feel like I live in a little bit of a bubble, but outside of that bubble, in other parts of the campus, like I’ll go to buy a coffee and one of the baristas will be like, ‘oh can you help that lady?’ Just like: lady, woman [laughs] – can’t you just be like, ‘can you help them?’ [laughs]
I think, yeah, you step outside your bubble, and I’ve been misgendered constantly. Because people don’t know that I exist in the way that I feel that I exist. So that is very challenging. I think that’s kind of the big one, and like I have to – I’ve set it as a task for the next couple of weeks – I need to revisit whether I can change my pronouns or like the, cos it says ‘Ms’ on all my stuff – whether I can change that to something gender neutral, if it is in the system or not, I don’t know yet. I have to find that out. And also, to like put in a preferred name as well. So just stuff that I’ve put off doing. But the other thing, like, the university got gender neutral bathrooms a couple of years ago? A year ago, two years ago? The issue, and this is an issue that is shared by myself and a bunch of other people, is: great that there is some kind of gender neutral space, but that space is also the disability space. And I will still go into female bathrooms even though I hate it, because I don’t want to put someone else out, who really needs that space. So they are there, but a lot of people don’t want to use them.
R: That’s a really interesting and difficult issue –
S: It is a very difficult issue, and a lot of people share the sentiment that I do: they’re there, but you feel really reluctant to use them –
L: I fight with myself the whole time I’m in the accessible toilet –
S: Yeah, exactly! I went and used – cos there’s one upstairs here – I went and used it before you came, and I was going to walk – there’s 3 separate ones, the female, male, and the disabled gender neutral. And they’re all just single cubicles on that, those particular ones. And the female one was engaged, so I was like, ok I’m going to use the disabled one. But I wanna be in and out of here as quick as possible.
R: It’s such a tricky issue, but I think that like, the issue of accessibility just needs to be much more expansive because like, there is, it is not a space for you, right, if you do not feel like that is a space for you, then its not. And there should be spaces, y’know, I do the rush in and rush out of the men’s bathroom, the same with gender neutral or all gender accessible toilets, but I think like, there is kind of links back a bit to what you were saying earlier about the, the potential problems and rifts within LGBTI community, because I think the really useful alliances to be bridged between trans people and disability justice activists, because like, there’s this – not the same, like you know, real same physical questions of accessible, but in terms of access to space – in terms of like, feeling isolated because if you go into, y’know the Brunswick Baths have an all gender changeroom, which is great, but you’re in there alone. And the way that you get sequestered from the rest of society is very similar to the way that people with disabilities do. And I dunno, there’s much more kind of expansive bridges to be, y’know built and – and like I do that panic too in those bathrooms, but I’m also like, but fuck it,
S: this is the only choice I’ve been given –
R: And so you know what, this is the only accessible toilet for me
S: It’s very complicated. And I always struggle to talk about it, and I definitely, I’ve heard whispers of various city councils around Melbourne that have like, are discussing or have it in policy that future like government buildings will have 3 toilets built in. And I think that’s not only for people like, who are gender diverse to use, but also these situations of like, a father taking a daughter, and what age, what bathroom do you go into, and what’s appropriate around safety and that kind of stuff? So it’s like, for use of the wider community, not just the queer community. In these debates, I don’t think people understand, like there are people – and I have like cisgendered queer friends – who cannot use female bathrooms, they were assigned female at birth, they cannot use female bathrooms because they are read as male, and they get harassed constantly. They cannot use public bathrooms anywhere. And then you’ve got like, speaking to people like in my research that are transitioning, they’re like, at some point in my transition I’m not going to fit into either. Like what option am I going to choose, because either one is a risk. Like so many people actually fall into that because of how they’re read, their physical appearance, it’s not safe, they get harassed
R: …percentage of gender diverse people have developed UTIs because they just avoid using the bathroom for that reason –
S: Yeah –
L: I see conversations about how long people don’t go to the bathroom for. A really long time
S: Yeah, or how they plan their day, and they won’t have a full day out, because they’re like, I can only be out for 3 hours and they have to go home
L: This idea that you’re saying about, that you still get pushed away by yourself. Like I love the idea of having queer bathrooms, I like the idea… you get what I’m saying!
R: How does being nonbinary relate to other aspects of your identity?
S: Firstly like, I feel like my queerness in general is like, huge part of like who I am. And mainly like, I feel like it’s defined who I am and how I’ve experienced life in various ways. Because I was like, this super queer-ish kid who was running around topless, and I was always the prince to the princess and all that kind of stuff. When I realized that I was attracted to women when I was like 12, 13 years of age, and going to a Catholic High School, like, it was horrendous. And it took me from yeah 12, 13 to actually 21 to come out as gay or lesbian. That experience, the depression and the anxiety and everything that came with it, that defined a huge bulk of my, like 10 years of my life. And it was all around finally like working up to being okay with my queerness. And then the last 10 years of my life has been like, on and off, dealing with the gender stuff, like I’m in my first serious relationship with a woman. So there’s experiences that I’m having around that, that I haven’t had before. So like dealing with my family, and going out and holding hands in public being a big deal, because everyone’s looking at you. So it relates in terms of like language, a lot of the time. It relates in terms of language, and like the identities that I kind of gravitate towards, because when I didn’t know there was an alternative to being a woman, then I identified as gay or a lesbian. And then I kind of shifted to queer, and now I’m in a relationship with a woman and we just have, we repeatedly go back to the same conversation of how do we define this relationship? Because she’s someone that strongly identifies as a lesbian, and actually battled when we started talking about my gender, of what that meant for her identity. Around language, like I don’t know how to define our relationship right now, um there’s just, I don’t think there are the words in relation to like, my identity as a nonbinary person. Other than queer. Like queer is the only one we can go for.
So in terms of other parts of my identity, I guess I’ve always been pretty academic, firstly I decided to study psychology because I knew I had all this sexuality stuff around, and I was like, oh I’ll do this. And then it got to a point where I wanted to like postgraduate in Psych, and they didn’t want me to do anything around sexuality, so I went and did a Masters’ in sexology. So like my whole path has been based around what I’m going through personally. And then coming out of like Master of Sexology, where I was still very much seeing everything through sexuality, and then like actually realizing, no there’s actually gender is a separate thing, and a lot of this is actually very much about gender. And then I’ve come into a PhD in Gender Studies.
And yeah, that’s something that I want to talk about briefly as well – is that, coming to a point where I openly identified as a gay, as gay or lesbian, I felt like I was free from a lot of societal pressures, like around what it is to be a heterosexual woman. In terms of like, gender norms, and presentation, and things like that. And that kind of gave me a lot of space to explore myself. And it felt, it was okay to be 23 and walking around as I did with baggy pants, with my undies hanging out the top, and like [laughs] – and just like, y’know, having a bit of a swagger and thinking I was like, the shit. Um [laughs] – and like yeah, it gave me space to do that, and I think that’s why I was okay in that identity for a while. And then just slowly kind of going and realizing hang on, like you have all this stuff going back to childhood and puberty, that is dysphoria. Cos as long as I can remember, so much struggles around having my period, I had so many struggles around any kind of breast development, to the point that I was like hunched over shoulders and had terrible posture and things like that. Like trying to hide that I had any kind of breast development. Actually, like going back and going hang on, there was something going on that wasn’t just like, you being scared shitless of your sexuality, like – there was this whole other thing going on, moving beyond seeing everything through this lens of sexuality, to seeing things through a lens of gender. And really, yeah basically having to like, see everything about my life in a different way.
L: Is there anything else that you wanted to chat about?
S: I think this is the thing with nonbinary identities, because there isn’t, I don’t feel like there’s one, there isn’t that normative narrative that there is with binary trans narratives. And its really interesting having spoken to like, a bunch of different nonbinary people a this point for my research. That everyone struggles with issues around validity of their identity, and there are people that choose or don’t want to, have any kind of medical transition, so they’re not interested in hormones or any kind of surgery. And they feel like their nonbinary identity isn’t seen as valid. And then you’ve got people who are on hormones or have had surgery who have found it so difficult to identify as nonbinary and have, want those things, have had those things, because they feel like they should be transitioning to the binary, to the opposite. That it’s nonbinary, that nonbinary people don’t have hormones and surgery. So like: whether if you are [?], you think is, is not valid, basically. I don’t know where that comes from, and I reflect back on myself and really struggling around that issue of validity – and feeling like well I know that a lot of people just read me as like a queer woman even within the queer community because at this point, I haven’t had any surgery or hormones or anything like that. Like I feel it big time. Yeah, it’s just, there’s definitely no one way, there’s no one way to look, there’s no one way to be nonbinary, and it comes back to that really, that thing that there’s just, there isn’t the language. So what you have to take people on is their – is just how I feel, it’s just how I am.
L: What do you think the best thing about being trans is?
S: I feel like I have a lot of space to move. It’s hard to say, because I don’t like, I have tried to conform to gender stereotypes and I felt like there was a lot of pressure. And it’s like, if you want to look good, you have to wear make-up and you have to wear dresses, and you have to do that. Whereas I feel free to wear whatever the fuck I want to wear, and if I want to wear some makeup, I do. Yeah, I just, I don’t feel like I have a lot of weight on my shoulders. Maybe from family a little bit? Yes [laughs] – but other than that, I feel very free to kind of explore where I wanna go with my gender presentation, and what I want to wear, and I feel like my like taste in clothing has definitely like shifted, across time, I get shorter and shorter haircuts, and I went to the barber for the first time yesterday, and I’m waiting for the fall-out from my family when they see the shaved [laughs] –
So yeah, I think space to move. And particularly, identifying predominantly as queer, like that can mean whatever I want it to mean. And I don’t feel pressure to prescribe to like, a lesbian stereotype, or some other stereotype within, within the community. It’s just, I am kinda, what I am [laughs] basically. It’s definitely evolving and changing and I feel like I have the space to very, very, very, very slowly do that [laughs].