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"I Realised I Didn’t Have To Choose": Being Non-Binary In London

By Aude Konan Last edited 7 months ago
"I Realised I Didn’t Have To Choose": Being Non-Binary In London
Photo by Lee Jackson from the Londonist Flickr pool.

“Am I trans enough? Should I transition? What if I regret it?” These are questions many non-binary people wonder when it comes to gender. They do not identify as the gender that has been assigned at birth, yet do not feel ready to transition.

Non-binary, or genderqueer, is a term describing people who are not exclusively masculine or feminine, outside of the gender binary.

London has a diverse non-binary community. We met Travis, J and Sarah, who identify as non-binary and work to get their voices heard.

J

J is a fundraiser and creator of the website Beyond the Binary.

"When I was a kid, I was a tomboy with no gender awareness, despite people seeing me as a girl.

"I suffer from a mental illness and as a teen, stayed in a psychiatric hospital. I discovered the term genderqueer and I wanted to become androgynous-appearing.

"Because of my illness, I felt like I couldn’t enjoy my adolescence. Many queer and trans people suffer from mental illness, so I am not alone in that case. I was fed up, and something has to change. At 16 I started transitioning and took hormones. I identify as trans, but also the wider definition which includes people who do not fit in the binary system."

Sarah Gibson

Engineering student and writer.

“I came out as trans woman a few years ago. But I realised the way society tells us how we’re supposed to present yourself, how you’re supposed to talk, to dress... it was just trading one set of rules for another. I didn't want to be constrained by those rules."

Travis

LGBT president at King's College London and performance artist.

"When I was younger I was confused by what being a boy meant. I played around with what is classified as 'women's clothing'.

"I didn’t feel like a woman and I’m not one. But being a man didn’t feel right either and we’re only given the option to be one or the other.

"Four years ago, I heard about non-binary. It felt right. I realised that I didn’t have to choose. I’m just a mix of all the genders."

Where can non-binary people meet in London?

Sarah explains that there are a lot of informal meet ups for non-binary people, mostly in London, but there is a need for more outside the city.

One example J mentions is Gender Intelligence, which is inclusive of non-binary people, especially young people and runs a monthly group for non-binary people who are BAME.

Travis describes the struggle to find safe spaces, as they didn’t fit in black spaces nor in the LGBT spaces.

Thankfully, there are groups who are welcoming of non-binary people such as QTIPOC London.

Clothing choices

Fashion can also be an issue. The way non-binary people dress and present themselves is a form of expression but also a source of attacks from people who don’t understand why they don’t fit either male or female.

Travis explains: "Fashion suffocated me because of how much it is gendered. It feels like you can only wear certain clothes. I don’t want people to validate my identity only when I look a certain way. I am non-binary whether I wear a dress or jeans. For non-binary people, shopping can be dangerous and stressful.

"I mostly shop online or in thrift stores."

Vintage shop Kookie London.

Sharing experiences

All three of them are involved in the community. J created the site Beyond The Binary "as a way for non-binary people to have our own media."

Sarah is assistant editor and a regular contributor. They say: "The mainstream media is getting more interested in our issues but it still follows a norm. With our site, we publish diverse voices and stories."

Travis is the LGBT president at King’s College University, and says they've seen things change at that institution. "It was very scary at first because they never had someone like me. It used to be very male and white and now it’s not.

"Now that I am president, progress has been made and we are more visible. We also have dedicated events for people of colour, as well as four PoC officers."

J explains that eventually, despite the guilt many non-binary people feel about whether or not they should transition or identify with the gender they have been assigned at birth, it is fine, to not make a choice. It doesn't make who they are any less valid.

Last Updated 10 November 2016

Tim

So great to see discussion and education about these issues!