Sometimes I think I was always non-binary. I was always uncomfortable – with my clothes, with social norms, with expectations and conventions. I was in my 30s before I finally pinpointed what that discomfort was. I was already surrounded by non-binary and trans people, and came to the realisation that I had created this specific social circle for a reason. Lockdown helped, being able to experiment at home. I tried out new clothes, new hair, new names, and then I came out.
The bell was rung. I told my friends and added ‘they/them’ to all my social media accounts. The hard part is over, I thought. I did it.
How wrong I was.
Coming out to my close chosen family was a piece of cake. They already knew what non-binary meant. I was blossoming within a support bubble. Beyond that bubble was a world that was a lot less clued up. Explaining it to my brother was easy enough, but as he said, “We may as well not bother with the rest of the family; they’d never understand.” He was right – I’d have to do so much educating, and even then, I’m not sure they’d accept it.
Work was a whole different, much harder story. I put my pronouns on LinkedIn, my Zoom name, my email signature. Existing clients and colleagues welcomed it but that didn’t stop constant slip ups. Without any other point of reference, it was just impossible for them to get into the habit of using ‘they’. A newer client queried it, and then point blank refused to use my pronouns, stating, “That isn’t a thing, you’re a woman.”
Online (poly) dating was, at times, even worse. People demanded to know what was “in my pants” and made jokes. I was despairing, until I started talking to two different cis men who didn’t bat an eyelid. I met them at just the right time. It was the little things – one asked me if I preferred it to be called ‘cowperson’ position as opposed to ‘cowgirl’. The other asked what my favourite cute gender-neutral pet names were. They rarely misgender me, and if they do, they take correction with a swift “sorry, thanks”, and move on. After a few months of horrible and awkward experiences, I was reassured that easy, respectful interactions were possible. But more than that – it was HOT.
Using my pronouns is sexy. It’s the simplest thing but it immediately turns me on because I feel safe. It signals that this is a person who cares enough to try. Messing up is fine, because safe people correct themselves, and that is heart-warming. I once watched a hot, flirty friend of mine reply to me in a Twitter post using a femme word, instantly delete it, and then replace with a gender-neutral word. My crush on them increased tenfold because I could watch them actively care about my identity.
My identity is not meant to challenge people. I have to fight feelings of guilt when I see people struggle to get it right by reminding myself how much it’d hurt to continue to be ‘she’. I’m not hurting anyone by asking for they/them pronouns. And if you put effort into using them, then that feels like healing. Healing years of discomfort, confusion, self-hatred, and misgendering in a modern world where my existence is controversial. It’s sexy because I can be naked and myself, accepted and loved. I feel like it’s me you want, the real me. You want me enough to change the way you speak. It’s a tiny thing, and it should probably be something I expect rather than praise, but that’s the way it is. Not everyone makes the effort. But for those that do, thank you. You’re sexy, safe, and I’ll love you forever.