By Evelien van Soldt
When I was very little, I used to look in the mirror in my father’s hallway and think to myself ‘I am not a girl’. When I looked to my father for confirmation of this fact, he shook his head fondly and said ‘of course you are a girl’. The doubts were banished from my mind for at least a decade. Then, with the rise of the internet came the dawn of self-discovery, and I learned of people who did not conform to the gender binary. They were neither, or both, or somewhere in-between.
It took a while for me to deconstruct everything in my mind that I had ever learned about gender. There were no longer two set categories that had their own specifics (Gender roles not included, that (at least) my mother had made quick work of when I was little). Conformation became a thing of the past, and even pronouns were no longer two sets of correct words, there were more now.
Of course, this was (and is) the internet. The internet moves at speeds unparalleled in the real world, so the concept of non-binary people was almost entirely unheard of in the Western world. Other non-Western societies had known about third-gender and gender non-conforming individuals for much longer, but we had not. I felt very much like a fish out of water, and truth be told, I still do.
On the one hand, I feel compelled to identify as I always have – a girl. A young woman with a masculine streak. She.
On the other, some of my friends have taken to calling me by the name I chose for myself, and one of them asked ‘would you like me to use they/them pronouns?’ – Yes. Yes, I would. Strangely enough, the thing I worry about the most is inconveniencing the world around me. I can alter my own identity as much as I want, but the rest of the world is not obligated to do so. That, of course, is difficult – everyone wants their personal identities to match up to their perceived identities.
Non-binary or gender non-conforming people, they’re everywhere. They exist, but without acknowledgement. An old riddle comes to mind, altered to fit this conundrum: if an individual’s identity changes, but no-one is around to acknowledge it, do they really exist?
Of course they do. They always will. Still, they – we – are very much caught between a rock and a hard place. To conform, and to live our lives according to who we truly are.
Thankfully, there’s always those who listen. To those, I say thank you.