AL&HL invites nonbinary writer, Chyna Parker, to share their experience on International Nonbinary Day. Read all identity posts here.
You are born and a doctor looks at you, from there, deciding if you tick off a certain box. Or if your parents wanted to know months before, you have your first onscreen experience and then the rest of your life is shaped on whether or not they see just one thing that determines what box you fit in.
My mother knew from the moment that she found out I was growing inside of her that if I were a boy, then I’d be off to live with my father. She insisted that one boy was enough for her and she would be damned if she didn’t have another girl. Laying down to see me underneath the wand of the ultrasound scan for the first time, she found relief in knowing that I was a girl. I wish I could have felt that relief too.
There was never a moment that created a “A-ha” for me. There was no magical lightbulb sitting above my head. I had years and years, nearly all of my teenage years, of being almost comfortable with being a girl. I fit in the box. Almost.
I’d wear dresses and skirts as a child and feel uncomfortable. I didn’t understand why my mom wanted me to look a certain way or act a certain way. I just wanted to be comfortable. I never understood why beauty had to equal discomfort or pain for women. But as I grew up, wearing dresses and skirts meant different things. Attention for being seen as “pretty” or “beautiful” as a woman. Validity in my identity as a woman. I thrived off of the attention and the advances. Until it wasn’t enough.
The first time I voiced any inkling of a thought in me not being cis, I was 19. I was in the car with my girlfriend at the time. We were on the way to god-knows-where, and I simply asked her “What if I don’t feel completely female?”
And I didn’t get much of an answer, at first. She was silent before she looked at me for a brief moment and asked what did I mean. The confusion in her voice and the way she looked at me only made me shrink in the seat. I tried to explain that sometimes I felt like I wasn’t a woman. She questions me further, asking if I felt like I was a man. I rush to tell her no, fearing that I would suddenly start another conversation that I didn’t have the vocabulary for. I shrug it off, telling her that it was just a thought, nothing more.
But I hadn’t truly shrugged it off, as I spent the next year feeling sick. I physically couldn’t bear being in my body. There was often a tightness in my chest. I was sleeping at odd hours. I was angry with myself for not being able to be comfortable how I was. That if I just tried harder, I’d be a woman, or at least be what society and my family thinks to be a woman. I was internalizing a lot of hate for myself. Too many things were happening at once. I was uncomfortable in the spaces I was in, surrounded by people who either didn’t look like me or didn’t feel like me. For a very long time, I didn’t know any other black LGBTQ people in person. The ones I did know were miles away and we had fallen out of touch after high school.
Conversations about sexuality and gender with my family were impossible, as I had seen things that did not give me comfort in talking through things I greatly needed to talk through with them. And the sad thing about a handful of black families is that sexuality outside of the heteronormative gaze isn’t talked about. The mere thought of explaining the nuances of gender and gender expression to black families is a thing of nightmares. We often joke about the memes of aunts and their 10 year standing roommate, even though there’s only one bedroom.
Those jokes are a real reality though, with people hiding homophobia behind them. And many go along with the act while being afraid of how family would react if they ever vocally admitted the truth. But anything further than that can be terrifying. Because black LGBTQ people experience so much violence and push back when they even breathe the wrong way. And I wasn’t breathing at all at times.
I started to spend more time on Twitter for the next 2 years, finding people that not only looked like me, but felt like me. And while I still hadn’t been around black LGBTQ people in person yet, I was experiencing the culture online. I was learning the vocabulary of thoughts and feelings so foreign to me. So many stories that connected the dots for me. But I was still unable to call myself nonbinary.
The problem was simple. I still connected femininity to being a woman. It was all I had known for years. When I started seeing and speaking to other nonbinary people, my mind felt like it went into overdrive. In a brief message by a close friend, they made it clear to me. “Your proximity to masculinity or femininity does not make you more or less nonbinary.” This made me put “They/she” in my twitter bio. But I still told no one. I was scared to even say it out loud. Because then it would be true. Because then my skin wouldn’t crawl. I think I had grown so used to the tension in my shoulders that the thought of finally allowing myself the space to be myself was terrifying.
One person takes a look at my account and their interactions with me shift to them using gender neutral language. I didn’t notice it at first. Maybe because it just felt natural. As more people started to use they/them pronouns with me, I felt like a weight was lifting. I was breathing easier. The tightness in my chest receded. The clothes I wore were no longer restrictive. I felt like I was being set free.
It takes a few weeks for me to publicly say anything. I make one tweet, telling people that I’m nonbinary. I remember that moment so clearly because my hands shook. I was nervous beyond belief. Would people question me for still using she/her pronouns? Would there be questions at all? Would I somehow lose followers? Because while I finally realised that my proximity to femininity didn’t take away from me being nonbinary, I was still scared of finding no validation. But something beautiful, and underwhelming happened instead. I got plenty of likes on the tweet. No questions, no replies. That was it, it was off of my chest and out to the world, albeit only a small piece. But it was a start, and a massive step into finding comfort for myself.
I sit proudly in my identity now. Realising that I was seeking validation from people and places that could never bring me any clarity or joy has ultimately helped me. And so much of myself got lost in translating how I felt into words, it felt impossible at times. But I found those words, I swallowed them and let them give me everything I had been needing. I’m nonbinary. I’m nonbinary and I’m free. I’m nonbinary and I can breathe.
Chyna is a nonbinary lesbian writer. They spend their time drinking far too much coffee and working on scripts they hope to bring to people’s televisions one day. They want to create unique stories that connect with people and inspire them. You can find them on Twitter rambling about sapphics and support them by sending a few dollars on Paypal.