The Loneliness of Being Non-Binary: A Personal Essay

The first Prince song I ever listened to on my own was I Would Die 4 U –I think I was using YouTube or something for the first time. I knew I was trying to get to When Doves Cry, because that’s the song of his that the radio played most often, and some of my earliest memories are dancing to it in my car seat. But it filled a void of nostalgia that wasn’t as simple as missing a past I had known and lived. I heard it and looked into some parallel past where a cohesive series of events grew me into a person who understood what they were and what it meant.

The more I do to bridge the gap between who I am and who I want to be, the more I realize that the chasm will never close. It widens and changes directions, so that I’m trying to cross a bridge that’s always behind me. It’s always thinking there will be some fix, like a change of name, or aesthetic; a PSA on social media broadcasting my pronouns. A rush comes from all of that for sure—“speaking out” or whatever—but even in solidarity or admiration, for me, being non-binary has always been relatively lonely.

non binary

I wasn’t born in the wrong body, because for me there is no right body. It’s more like I’m a begrudgingly invited guest; welcome at random intervals for unspecified amounts of time. A welcome guest overstaying said welcome.

The lonely part is just knowing how alien it is to not exist on an imaginary spectrum that people consider sacred—that’s so ingrained that people will, on the grounds of serious traditions, assign pronouns to inanimate objects before accepting the ones people choose for themselves. And it’s not like I’m not guilty of stepping back in the grasp of a trap I was born into. I’m a writer, and I struggle to fictionalize my own reality. Imagining people suspending disbelief for a world where a non-binary character isn’t mis/gendered to hell and back triggers such an uncomfortably existential thought loop. My gender has historically been as fluid as my sexuality, even though the latter has definitely been easier. Other people are already there, intact, readily loveable, whereas every day I shape myself into something I can stand.

A lot of daily existence is putting myself to the side and not letting people know because it feels like too much, even when I don’t factor in those who maliciously and deliberately misunderstand me. I navigate the world as a Black person perceived as female. I’m already made to feel like I’m asking too much, or I’m doing too much, or I am too much. Regardless of gender identity, my family loves me and cares about me, and the logic, painful as it is, is thus: they don’t need any more reasons to worry about me or my safety. I would never discredit their intelligence, but I wouldn’t expect them to “get it,” and given that I’m still learning who I am to this day, I don’t trust myself to explain just yet. Like a lot of young QTPOC, I do struggle with mental health. I hope to one day to be in a place where I can be out, but as of right now, it’s a struggle to even quantify what’s holding me back, or to imagine what personal liberation would be.

The lyrics to I Would Die 4 U have stuck with me for so long that I almost feel like I was born knowing them.

I’m not a woman / I’m not a man / I am something that you’ll never understand.

This lyric, and by virtue this song, is what saves me sometimes. It transcends clothes, names, pronouns. I get so overwhelmed trying to nail down and compartmentalize fluidity to present to other people when really, no one will ever truly get it but me. 

Written by Mars Exwyzi @iluvpingu2

Photography by They Them @theyshootthem

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