My name's Arlo, and I’m transgender, which means that I don’t exclusively identify with the gender I was assigned at birth. I am not a girl. The thing is, I’m not a boy either. I'm non-binary.
Here are some things you need to know to understand who I am.
What is the gender binary?
The gender binary is this pesky Western concept with two rigidly fixed options: male or female. The most important thing to know about the gender binary is that it is bullshit. Gender identity, one’s own internal experience and perception of self, is incredibly varied, it's a rich tapestry of individuals’ experiences that pseudo-biology could never hope to capture.
What does non-binary mean?
A non-binary person is someone who does not identify as exclusively a man or exclusively a woman. Personally, I identify outside of the gender binary entirely- I am not a boy or girl at all. Some other non-binary people might identify partially with one or more of the binary genders, e.g., a genderfluid person (someone whose gender changes over time) who identifies as a girl sometimes and genderless other times. There are so many different ways to be non-binary, and we're all still valid and real!
So, how different are you now?
In a lot of ways I am same person –give or take – that I’ve always been. If anything, I am a more authentic version of myself now that I can be more open with the people I know. Like everyone, I'm still figuring out exactly who I am, and as I keep finding what works best for me, I'll ask my friends and family to change some things about how they treat me.
Here are some of the changes I've made. These might last for the rest of my life, they might not even last for the rest of the year. The important thing is that this is who I am right now, and although I know that linguistic shifts can take time to get used to, it means the absolute world to me when people strive to consciously change some of these habits to respect my identity.
Pronouns are, if you take a trip down memory lane to year three literacy class (I know, I know- I try to block out those memories too), the words that take place of a person’s name. Pronouns don't have a gender, but some people feel more comfortable with certain pronouns than others. For me, they/them pronouns fit best, so if someone was talking about me, they'd say, "This is Arlo, they're awesome." or "Oh, I know, I've met them before."
Want to know more about pronouns? Check out http://minus18.org.au/pronouns
They/them? Isn't that plural?
Nope! Although one use for they/them is to refer to groups of people, we also often use it to refer to just one person. You've probably done it before- when you don't know someone's gender, you might say something like "do you know who they are?" even if there's just one person there. Using they/them to refer to just one person has been around for a long time- even Shakespeare did it!
A lot of our language is gendered- mother, brother, boyfriend, girl, etc. I'm a lot more comfortable when people use gender-neutral language when referring to me, ie. person, friend, human, kid, adult, loser. I know that these can seem particularly clunky and odd at first, but it’d be super great if you could try. They mean a lot to me (and a lot of other non-binary people!), and they will start to feel more natural as you get used to them. Plus, some of them are quirky and fun, so win-win!
A lot of people knew me by the name my parents called me when I was born. Some people had known me by that name for a long time, and calling me something else felt odd to them. But there's the thing- it's my name, and it's important to me that I have a name that reflects who I am. I know a lot of people knew me by my old name, but I am Arlo, and inviting people to know me as Arlo, to know me for who I really am, is a step I'm so glad I was able to take.
These are just some of the things that might change when a non-binary person publicly affirms their gender. It can be difficult to work out exactly how you want to express yourself, and it can be difficult to adjust as people you know change. But it can also be a wonderful experience to celebrate your gender and support your friends and family in expressing theirs.
I've been lucky enough to know some phenomenal people who have supported me, and been completely excellent in using my pronouns and name, etc. I couldn’t have got this far without them. That's what it means to support non-binary people- making them feel as supported as I do.
There's more to learn, and our understanding of gender is continually evolving. Keep reading widely and listening to non-binary people as we talk about our identity and share our stories.
This piece was written by Arlo Carracher, one of our friends over at Ygender Go check out their website for more resources and events for trans and gender diverse young people.