My experience realising I was non-binary, and the pockets of joy I found along the way as I embraced my true self and came out to the world, one small step at a time.
By the age of twenty-three, I already had experience with questioning and examining my identity in terms of sexual attraction. I’d grown up believing myself straight by default, but when a new, soon-to-be-friend joined our sixth form, I suddenly found myself with a realisation on my hands: I liked… girls? But also boys? I had been aware of the LGBT+ community, and knew a little about what bisexuality was, but this was my first time applying that identity to myself. Later on, I would find myself drawn to the asexual/demisexual community, finding a little of myself echoed there, too. I began to proudly see myself as a queer woman – something didn’t quite seem to fit, but I knew with comfortable certainty that I was queer, so what was wrong?
It took a little while to realise that the part that didn’t fit was the ‘woman’ part.
My knowledge and understanding of the LGBT+ community had grown over the years, and I can’t recall the exact moment I found out about non-binary as an identity. What I do remember is seeing people talk online about their experiences as non-binary people, the way they presented themselves and lived proudly, and I caught myself thinking ‘I wish I was non-binary’. These people were living a freedom of gender expression and identity that I envied, but it took an embarrassingly long while to put the pieces together. In fact, it wasn’t until I saw a post on tumblr (I know, I know) talking about a trans woman’s journey and her realisation that ‘wanting to be a woman is one of the signs that you probably are, in fact, a woman’ that I finally figured it out. I didn’t ‘want to be’ non-binary; I already was. Huh.
As I’m sure many people can relate to, this realisation came with a degree of self-doubt. Was I really non-binary? If I was, why didn’t I figure it out sooner?
The first time I decided to test my hypothesis outside of my own head was through work. At the time, I worked as an historical interpreter at a museum (basically part tour guide, part actor), and our social media accounts were getting involved in #museumselfieday. I was toying with submitting one for the twitter feed, but did I really want to be addressed as ‘she’ in the public eye? I thought I wasn’t ready to try anything else, but – as with a number of things in my life – I was ultimately motivated by anger and a little spite. It just so happened that the same day, a colleague had made a transphobic remark to me and reacted very badly when I tried to correct and educate him. He was flippant and dismissive, and it riled me up. Made me realise that there wasn’t enough awareness of trans and non-binary people… people like me. It was the nudge I needed. I submitted my in-character selfie, but with a private message to our social media manager asking if she could use they/them pronouns for me in the tweet. She was more than happy to comply, even offering to update the records to my correct pronouns for me when I was ready, and that was it. Ten minutes or so (and a whole bunch of butterflies in the stomach) later, there was a photo of me on social media with they/them pronouns attached. One small step. But also, one giant leap.
Now, if any of you reading this are a fan of romance, particularly within the realm of fanfiction, you will probably know about an ‘oh’ moment. The moment one character looks at another and realises ‘oh, they’re the one’. I got to have that moment with myself, as it were. I saw that little word, ‘they’, and just like the cliches, it was a feeling of finally letting go of a breath you didn’t know you were holding. Oh. This is me. This is who I am.
That night, I was sat on my bed, staring at the same tweet, and I finally said it out loud: “I am non-binary”. And suddenly, I was beaming ear to ear, with happy tears in my eyes. Once more, just to be sure. “I am Meg, and I am non-binary”.
My friends were the first ones I told after that. I am fortunate to have a group of close friends that I was confident would be accepting of me, and they were true to form. I’m sure they’ll forgive me for being so sappy about it, but their support still means the world to me. It made my initial coming out, while a big deal for me emotionally, a small and almost effortless tweak in how they talked to and about me. They even asked if I wanted to go by a different name and were quite happy to mix things up when I told them I liked to use both my given name, Meg, and also a new name, Nate (which was also technically given to me, by a cashier who misheard me say Meg when they took my order. I saw the name Nate on my order and loved it, so thank you, dear cashier). In fact, there was only one issue my friends had with my new identity – the number of puns and silly jokes I could now make about my non-binary-ness. Luckily, they knew to expect as much from me.
By the time I turned twenty-four, at the end of February 2020, I was comfortably out with my friends but still privately non-binary around my family. I’d moved home not long before the first lockdowns began, and being stuck at home with my family was setting up to be difficult with all the ‘she’ and ‘her’, but I wasn’t sure I was ready to come out to them yet. So, I found myself in a bit of a tricky situation.
Fortunately, I’d just found a new job which, as ‘essential retail’, kept me busy and out of the house during lockdown. And while retail work during a pandemic came with an abundance of stresses of its own, it was still a sort of refuge for me. My job was as part of a smaller team within a big supermarket, and I made the decision fairly early on to tell them I was non-binary and that my pronouns were they/them. The downside of coming from a fairly small town meant that this next little coming-out came with a lot of explanations and what I jokingly referred to as ‘Gender 101 with Meg’. I was about the first non-binary person most, if not all, of my colleagues had ever met (that they knew of). Once the work of answering questions and dispelling myths was done, though, they were incredibly supportive. They ordered me an extra name badge with Nate on it and let me wear a they/them badge on my uniform. One colleague in particular, who had started at the same time as me, was more than willing to get on my level with silly gender-related jokes and puns, which was a godsend on stressful shifts. He was also there to roll his eyes with me whenever I got called ‘miss’ or ‘ma’am’ by customers, and decided that he would address me by the gender-neutral option of ‘captain’ instead.
Despite the seemingly endless March and April of last year, we eventually reached June. Pride Month. Seeing the love and support amongst my fellow members of the LGBT+ community gave me the courage to finally come out to my parents. Which, for many of us, is the big one. Especially when you’re still living at home.
I can remember so clearly drafting out everything I wanted to say, putting it in a message because I knew I’d just get emotional in person, laying out explanations of what non-binary meant in general and to me, what would change and what wouldn’t… I even added links to articles written by parents of other non-binary individuals. I guess I figured it was easier to let them read it all, then come back to me with questions afterwards. I typed it all out one lunch break at work, hands shaking, and hit send. I was still a mess of nerves when I got back to my shift, waiting for a response. It came less than an hour later and remains the most in-character response I could possibly have got from my dad: ‘ok’, followed by a thumbs-up emoji. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry from relief. Just in case, I messaged back to ask if we were good. “Yes, absolutely” was the reply.
While my parents were a little sketchy on their understanding of things, I’m fortunate that for the most part the relationship hasn’t soured there. It’s an ongoing thing, I suppose – twenty-four years of ‘she’ and ‘her’ and ‘daughter’ takes a bit of work to stop. But all the little times my dad catches and corrects himself (“so ladies – I mean, lady, and Megs”, and “kid” instead of “missy”) are tiny pockets of joy for me.
For a while after that, things were going pretty smoothly, pandemic aside. I began to experiment with my presentation, ordering my first binder and shopping as much from the menswear section as I did the womenswear. I found that I leaned towards fluidity, equally comfortable in a binder/button-down/skinny jeans/doc martens combo as I was in a summer dress and sandals. The really big thing for my gender euphoria, though, was my hair. Growing up, I’d always had it long, down past my ribs at times. Then, after finishing at school, I experimented with a side shave and, eventually, went for the short look when I was twenty. I passed it off as evening out my hair so I could grow it out to a bob, donating my long locks and, for all intents and purposes, I never planned on keeping it that short. But seeing that pixie cut for the first time – and later, when I took the plunge and went for a sharp undercut on a whim – that was the me I was looking for. After starting to come out as non-binary, I kept my hair short, lucky enough that my mum was willing (after some persuasion) to keep my undercut maintained while the hairdressers were closed. I also started getting creative with different hair dyes. I don’t think it’s been the same colour for more than a couple months since about April of last year. When I was stuck in a work uniform, my hair was a way of expressing myself and embracing my more masculine side. And, when combined with a mask, a way of confusing customers as to whether to call me ‘sir’ or ‘miss’.
I had found myself, and while there were hiccups along the way, I was doing well.
Fast forward to a year later, June 2021, back in Pride Month. I’d spent the last year and a half becoming more open and expressive in myself and it was energising me in a way I’d never known before. My confidence, notably lacking in my teen years, was skyrocketing.
One of my biggest worries – finding relationships as a non-binary person – was thankfully done away with when I met my partner, who is incredibly supportive, and loves me for me. In fact, one of the most joyful moments of my non-binary experience came when he introduced me to his ten-year-old son. We weren’t sure how to approach explaining it to him, but all my partner had to say was that I use they/them pronouns and his son smiled and said “oh, Meg is non-binary”. Seeing that easy understanding and acceptance in the next generation? That’s one of my favourite things. And it was one of the things that gave me the nudge I needed to finally bite the bullet and come out to everyone, officially and proudly.
Which, of course, I did via Facebook post. It seemed the easiest and fastest way to spread the word with everyone I interact with most, friends and family, in one go. For some people, it was stuff they already knew, but for some, it would be the first they were hearing of it. Hitting ‘post’ brought back those same nerves from when I first came out to my parents as well as when I explained my identity to my partner before we started dating. What would people say? Would I find out that some of the people in my life weren’t who I thought they were, and be faced with cutting them out of my life for my own sake?
Thankfully, if anyone did take an issue, they kept it to themselves. What I saw instead was a beautiful out-pouring of love and support, from people from all facets of my life.
Now, I get to be me, fiercely and unapologetically, and I have people in my corner all the way. I no longer have to worry about who knows and who doesn’t, who I can be myself around and who I have to rein myself in for. The real me is here, and here to stay.
To anyone reading this, no matter where you are on your coming out journey (even if that’s still considering your very first steps), my message would be this – no matter what happens, you have people in your corner.
Yes, there may be hurdles, some of them in the shape of people who take an issue with you for one silly reason or another, but you can clear those hurdles. You have people out there who will love and accept you exactly as you are, no catch. Seek them out and hold onto them.
And when it comes to coming out – if/when you decide to – you do you. Take it at your own pace, whether that be small steps, giant leaps, or somewhere in between. Be safe, be comfortable, and be happy. Remember, you belong here. Vibrant, thriving and unapologetic.
So, wherever you are, and whatever your journey – I wish you all the luck and joy in the world.
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