There seems to be a distinct lack of media resources for us nonbinary folks, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. I put some of that down to the fact that a lot of people don’t actually understand what we are, and it’s hard to be mad at cis folks for feeling that way because of a lot of us enbys don’t know what we are, too.
So it was with both delight and surprise that I discovered a thoughtful, well-made, entertaining and informative podcast called “NB”, made by the BBC, which explores what it means to be nonbinary.
It’s hosted by Caitlin Benedict (they/theirs):
And the shy, retiring Amrou Al-Kadhi (they/theirs):
Caitlin is still in the early stages of their nonbinary journey, and kudos to them for coming out to their Dad by means of a globally-distributed podcast from one of the largest broadcasting corporations on the planet. Certainly beats me telling the one friend who knows over Facebook Messenger.
What I wanted to do with this series of posts, and for now let’s assume that it’s going to be a series and I’ll have the mental wherewithal to stick at it for more than one post (the podcast certainly being something I’ll stick at but as for writing about it, who the fuck knows), was not so much a standard review, but pick out the main talking point that stuck out for me. And given that blogging is an asynchronous communications platform, I get to do exactly that. Yay me!
During the podcast, our intrepid duo visit Brighton’s Museum of Transology and speak with curator E-J Scott. Ignoring the fact that I spend a third of my life in Brighton and that somehow the Museum of Transology had completely escaped my attention (damn you for monopolising my attention, Hop Poles), I listened with interest and have definitely added it to my list of places to visit when I’m next there (along with The Brighton Birdcage, very exciting!). It was one of the comments that Scott makes that I wanted to pick up on. He says:
“… I don’t like the term ‘nonbinary’. I find it really problematic that people are starting their description of their gender freedom with a negative. I find it difficult that they are also defining themselves as not normative, so in a way the term ‘nonbinary’ reinforces that there is a binary…”
It’s an interesting interpretation, and of course a perfectly valid hypothesis. Amrou makes the point that they like the term because ‘it shows that I am rejecting you, you’re not rejecting me’, and I really like that interpretation. That’s much closer to the way that I feel.
When I started exploring my gender identity, I was very hung up on words and labels. I work in learning and communications, and philosophically speaking I’m a post-structuralist, so either way words are very important to me. But even more important are the concepts they represent. I find great mental comfort in being able to place things in boxes, to attach labels to them. And I don’t see that as being a negative, because my worldview allows for as many labels as are required. If your sexual preference is for left-footed people with a tilde in their name, or you identify as a queer Muslim elf from Lord of the Rings, I’m fine with that. No problem whatsoever. All I need is a word for it, so I understand how to deal with it/treat it respectfully.
The fact that for the longest time I didn’t know how to describe myself was therefore an almost insurmountable issue. Really. I found it extremely upsetting because the fact that I couldn’t describe myself meant that I didn’t know who I was, that I didn’t know my own mind, and that really hurt.
For a while, I went with ‘gynophile agender bisexual individual’. I know, snappy. Gynophile and bisexual because at that time, I saw myself as being attracted to femininity as opposed to ‘just’ females. And agender because I couldn’t work out my gender orientation one way or the other on a consistent basis. In fact, I couldn’t work out how I felt about anything, one way or the other, on a consistent basis. My gender identity, expression, sexuality, politics, fascination, relationship with cauliflower and everything else about me was a movable feast. And move they would sometimes more than once within the space of a sentence.
Once I’d described myself like that, the term ‘nonbinary’ seemed obvious, easy, and fully descriptive of every aspect of my personality – whatever alignment they may be in at the time.