When they were growing up in a Jewish family in Missouri, Mere (pronounced “mare”) Abrams, now 29, used to steal their brother’s underpants and covet their toys. Mere didn’t like to wear dresses to synagogue – not that that helped them much – and while shopping for clothes with their mother for their bat-mitzvah celebration, they were drawn to the tuxedos. “I gravitated right to that corner as I entered the shop. Unfortunately, that wasn’t really an option,” they say in a telephone interview from San Francisco.
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Until the age of 12, Mere enjoyed the privilege of being simply a tomboy, engaging heavily in sports and playing with the boys. But anxiety accompanied the onset of puberty. “As soon as I started developing breasts, I felt pressure to wear tight clothes, be an object for male attraction,” Mere relates. “In order to belong, I had to try to be a girl as much as possible. I definitely played the part well. I was a very attractive girl, I was popular, I had a lot of girlfriends, and boys were interested. I got all the confirmation that I was doing everything right, but it just felt so wrong.”
Missouri was not a place where Abrams could become acquainted with many gender options. It wasn’t until they were 18 and attending a college in California that they discovered that LGBTQ people could be “happy and healthy being themselves.” Growing up in the Midwest, they recall, “I had all these preconceived notions of what it was like to be LGBT. I had thought that if you’re gay you would never have a partner, never have a family. You would probably get kicked out of your house. Definitely you would be the target of bullying and harassment. That as a transgender you’d probably go into sex work. All the stories that I had read included elements of suicidality and self-harm. And I’d never thought about killing myself – so I thought that meant I couldn’t be trans.”
With their family, Abrams came out of the closet as a lesbian. They started to date a trans woman and through her became acquainted with the community. But they still felt that something wasn’t right.
“All these people were transitioning male to female or female to male, and that didn’t feel like me,” they explain. “With the trans men that I met, there was a sense of them wanting to disown their female selves. And with the trans females that I met, there was a sense of wanting to erase the male history of themselves. And that just wasn’t something I related to. Even though I didn’t feel like a woman, it wasn’t something that I hated, something I felt I had to get rid of. I never saw myself as a big muscly hairy person. My mannerism is female, feminine, the way I move my body, the way I talk, and I didn’t have any desire to change that. That stuff isn’t gender, it’s just me. I didn’t feel a need to be male or all male – I just wanted to feel that part of myself and be able to present someone to the world who wasn’t always going to be labeled as female, because that wasn’t all of who I was. And so for a long time I felt stuck.”
'Even though I didn’t feel like a woman, it wasn’t something that I hated, something I felt I had to get rid of.'Mere Abrams
After college, Abrams worked for an organization that provides education on gender-related issues. There they first encountered a new term: non-binary gender. It describes people who are outside the male and female binary, who, irrespective of the biological sex of their birth, feel like both a man and a woman simultaneously, or alternately, or feel gender-absent altogether. This was a eureka moment for Abrams, but one tinged with “anger at the fact that this was there all along and I didn’t know about it. How much pain I could have saved myself, if someone along the way told me: You know, just because you were assigned female doesn’t mean you always are.”
At present, with a master’s degree in social work, Abrams provides instruction and counseling on gender issues to, among others, adolescents and families. A panoply of selfies on their Instagram account (@Meretheir), which has about 12,000 followers, show their enhanced body (after breast-removal surgery, and with a low dosage of testosterone, they resemble an attractive, thin young man). They also publish texts about the non-binary experience and occasionally share photos from their former life as a smiling teenaged girl with cascading tresses of bright red hair.
“I used to wear my femaleness on the outside while my masculinity was hidden inside where no one could see,” they wrote in a caption to one photo, adding, “It feels amazing to finally have what lived in me for so long be seen by others and incorporated into their understanding of who I am.”
‘In the middle’
Mere Abrams is one of a growing number of people who in recent years have been defining themselves outside the male/female binary. A whole range of new categories has sprung up to accommodate them: gender-fluid, pangender, genderqueer, gender nonconforming, bigender and others. It’s not a matter of sexual orientation, but a basic element of our identity: What are we, boy or girl? Non-binary people find answers outside that dual rubric. Some, like Abrams, flourish in the indeterminate area between the genders, others shift alternately from gender to gender, still others term themselves agender.
In some cases, mainly among younger people, this is a stage in their development; for others it is a final identity, arrived at after years of feeling that they belonged neither here nor there. As Hanna, who identifies as non-binary, told me, “Years ago, if the choice for people like me was either to hide in the closet or go all the way between the gender I was born with into the other gender, now society is more accepting of the possibility of being in the middle.”
No precise data exist about the size of the non-binary population. In the United States, the estimates are that about 40 percent of those who identify as transgender – who themselves constitute approximately 0.6 percent of the American population – term themselves non-binary. But this estimate falls short, because some of the non-binary people don’t define themselves as trans. In any event, it’s a tiny minority, though in recent years one that has exercised a revolutionary influence on Western society’s attitude toward gender.
'I was a very attractive girl, I was popular, I had a lot of girlfriends, and boys were interested. I got all the confirmation that I was doing everything right, but it just felt so wrong.'Mere Abrams
In 2014, Facebook announced a revision in its gender categorizations: Rather than being limited to only “male or “female,” it was now possible for users to choose from among more than 50 categories, including “gender-fluid,” “intersex,” “androgynous,” “trans” and “pangender.” The following year, in Sweden, a neutral pronoun (hen) entered the local dictionary for use in reference to people who are non-binary or aren’t sure about their gender. In June, Oregon became the first U.S. state to allow residents to opt for a neutral gender on their driving license and other official documents. Oregonians can register themselves as male, female or X. California is considering a similar move. Last May, Canada announced that it was adding a neutral marker to passports. That already exists in Australia, and calls to emulate it are being voiced in England.
This month, for the first time anywhere, the Canadian authorities agreed not to specify the gender of an infant who was born to non-binary parents. “It is up to Searyl [the newborn] to decide how they identify, when they are old enough to develop their own gender identity,” parent Kori Doty said in a public statement. “I am not going to foreclose their choices based on an arbitrary assignment of gender at birth based on an inspection of their genitals.”
A report on the subject by NPR noted, “If same-sex marriage was yesterday’s battle to redefine gender roles and privileges, and transgender rights is today’s fight, American society may now be on the cusp of the most transformational shift yet – the end of categorizing people as either male or female.”
The driving force for this is, of course, social media – from Instagram accounts to blogs devoted to the life of non-binary people and celebs who add their two cents’ worth. Last year, the singer and actress Miley Cyrus told Variety about a visit she made to the Los Angeles LGBTQ center: “I saw one human in particular who didn’t identify as male or female. Looking at them, they were both: beautiful and sexy and tough but vulnerable and feminine but masculine. And I related to that person more than I related to anyone in my life. Even though I may seem very different, people may not see me as neutral as I feel. But I feel very neutral [in terms of gender].”
Two years ago, Tyler Ford, an agender social media personality with 50,000 followers on Twitter, published an op-ed in The Guardian titled, “My life without gender: ‘Strangers are desperate to know what genitalia I have’.” The accompanying photo shows them with a black afro, beard stubble, black fingernail polish and a glossy pink miniskirt.
Last April, the actor Asia Kate Dillon, from the television series “Billions,” and before that a regular in “Orange Is the New Black,” compelled the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to cope with a new reality. In “Billions,” Dillon is a non-binary actor playing a non-binary character, hedge-fund intern Taylor Mason, and when the Emmy Awards season approached, it wasn’t clear whether they should be included in the outstanding supporting actor or outstanding supporting actress category. Dillon explained the problem in a letter to the academy, which replied that every person has the right to choose which category is appropriate for them. Dillon eventually compromised on “actor” because it is a gender-neutral word.
In Israel, too, the non-binary option is slowly seeping into the public consciousness, not least thanks to pioneers such as the YouTuber Ender, who uploads amusing clips on a variety of subjects and terms, and is self-defined as agender. The clip “Are you a boy or a girl,” in which they explains their gender identity with charming forthrightness, has had nearly 160,000 views.
The non-binary essence is alive and kicking in closed groups on Facebook, too, and the greater the resonance that trans diversity achieves in Israel, as in the 10-part documentary video series “Spectrums” (Hebrew with English subtitles, available on Facebook and the Mako website) – the more familiar the abinary phenomenon is likely to become as well.
“The binary model of gender is very reductive, and many people don’t find themselves in it,” says Dr. Alex S. Keuroghlian, director of education and training programs at the Fenway Institute, in Boston. Founded as a free clinic for AIDS testing and for offering health care to the gay and lesbian population, Fenway today claims to be the world’s largest center for health and research related to the LGBTQ community. In recent years a conceptual shift has occurred among physicians and psychologists, says Keuroghlian, a psychiatrist: from thinking about gender in binary terms, to viewing it as a constellation that encompasses gender identity (the way in which people identity themselves: man, woman, non-binary, etc.), gender role (the roles we habitually attribute to men and women), and gender expression (sex indicators, attire, makeup, mannerisms and all the rest).
'Some just want to soften their masculinity, be a little more feminine or vice versa ... I have patients who just want breast removal, and that gives them a deep relief in psychiatric symptoms'Dr. Alex Keuroghlian
Keuroghlian argues that we are accustomed to relying on gender expressions to determine who and what the other person is, but nowadays it’s impossible to assume that just because someone looks like a man he also self-identifies as a man, or the opposite. Just as it’s impossible to predict sexual orientation on the basis of exterior anatomy, which is what we’ve been accustomed to do, he notes.
In 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), replaced the outdated term Gender Identity Disorder with Gender Dysphoria – that is, a feeling of inconsistency between the gender a person experiences and the gender assigned to him/her in childhood.
“Different people want to be affirmed in different ways,” Keuroghlian says about the patients who come to the clinic. “We have patients who just want to soften their masculinity, be a little more feminine or vice versa – so the doctors will work in hormone therapy. I have patients who just want top surgery [breast removal], and that gives them a deep relief in psychiatric symptoms We have resources to help doctors and the health-care system have conversations with patients, a dialogue between doctor and patient who is not clear about his or her gender identity, and just starting to think about it.”
At the end of the process, he says, some patients do not choose any medical procedure, but only change how they dress and how they identity within their surroundings.
Dr. Diane Ehrensaft, a director at the Child and Adolescent Gender Center in San Francisco, and an associate professor of pediatrics at the city’s branch of the University of California, laughs when I tell her that I don’t entirely grasp the differences between the various definitions of the non-binary condition. “Welcome to the club,” she says. “Everyone is trying to understand. The categories are constantly shifting. What’s politically correct today could change tomorrow, and not everyone agrees on everything.”
'The categories are constantly shifting. What’s politically correct today could change tomorrow, and not everyone agrees on everything.'Dr. Diane Ehrensaft
Ehrensaft was one of the first psychologists to deal with children who possess “gender creativity,” and last year published a book about them, “The Gender Creative Child.” I ask her the age of her youngest patient. “Two,” she replies, in a phone interview. Until that age, she says, children’s gender perception is fluid. They understand that their surroundings see them as a boy or a girl, but think this is a temporary identity that’s amenable to change. At the age of two, a perception of gender as a permanent state begins to take shape. For some children, a sense of incongruity appears in adolescence, as in Abrams’ case.
“Before that you can pretend,” Ehrensaft says. “But the moment your voice changes or breasts appear, the body starts to betray you.”
She adds: “We don’t decide what our gender is, we discover what our gender is – and that is not necessarily related to what we have between our legs. And then we decide how we want to apply that gender.”
Ehrensaft objects to the view, espoused by some theorists, of gender as merely performance. “I am with these children all day,” she insists, “and they are trying to tell us something that’s not related to socialization or to toys, but to a deep sense of self.”
The psychologist recalls the case of a boy from a family in the San Francisco Bay area who came to her. “He told his parents, ‘I am a girl and I want a Barbie.’ The supportive parents said, ‘Honey, you don’t have to become a girl to play with Barbies.’ The boy responded, ‘You’re not listening to me. I know that boys can play with Barbies, but I’m a girl and I want to play with Barbie.’ Listen to the child.”
Call me ‘ze’
Life as a non-binary person is a perpetual collision course with the dominant binary world. In 2015, the National Center for Transgender Equality, based in Washington, D.C., conducted a survey that covered about 28,000 participants from the transgender population in the United States. Some 35 percent of those asked said they were non-binary, and of them, 80 percent said they were assigned female at birth, while 20 percent were assigned male.
Overall, trans people tend to suffer from depression and anxiety more than the general population. There is a 40-percent likelihood that they will try to commit suicide at least once during their lifetimes – 10 times the rate among the general population. Thirty-nine percent of the survey’s participants reported that they were under intense psychological pressure, eight times the proportion among the total American population. But even as compared to transgender people, the situation of the non-binary people was worse: 49 percent were suffering from intense psychological stress, compared to 35 percent of the trans men and women.
The difficulties begin with the most basic question: Who are you? Many non-binary people prefer the use of the pronoun they/their. It’s not rare to get emails from people who are active in this arena, in which the signature is accompanied by the pronoun by which they want to be addressed. Recently the pronoun “they” was joined by the term “ze,” which originates in the German language, as a gender-neutral pronoun. Still, the non-binary survey participants noted that most of the people they meet don’t understand what they are and don’t use the correct pronoun, with the need to constantly explain oneself having the effect of making the process of coming out never-ending.
About a week after I spoke with Mere Abrams by phone, I received an email from them. “I am curious,” they wrote, “to hear from you about how you plan to approach/handle describing me and my gender in Hebrew. I know Hebrew is one of the most heavily gendered languages in the world and believe language is a key factor in education. Will verbs be conjugated using the male form or female form? Which Hebrew pronoun will you refer to me using?”
'We don’t decide what our gender is, we discover what our gender is – and that is not necessarily related to what we have between our legs. And then we decide how we want to apply that gender.'Dr. Diane Ehrensaft
In English, Abrams prefers “they.” I explained that in Hebrew it’s impossible to tell a story about an individual in the plural. They agreed that I would use the feminine, but added that it was a problematic choice. “Throughout history non-binary people have been erased from society, and it’s important for me that you explain that for the sake of the story we’re using language that doesn’t necessarily respect my identity. Asking non-binary people to choose a pronoun like that is not something I would recommend, it’s not something that should be done,” Abrams said, in a subsequent phone conversation.
How does this feel?
Abrams: “Very invalidating, as if the person asking considers their comfort and sense of clarity more important than who I am.”
Abrams’ life is studded with uncomfortable encounters like this. For example, the time when a college friend asked them to take part in his wedding. “He asked me, would you want to be a part of the bride’s side or the groom’s side, where would you feel more comfortable? I said, the groom’s side – I’m closer with you, I’ll be wearing a suit – feels like the most comfortable thing for me. I was really touched when I got an invitation to the bachelor party, and then – I start getting emails [about] what the party is going to be and the culture around it is starting to set in. I realize that going on this trip as one of the guys, I was expected to be a part of this ritual and traditions that were a part of bachelor parties... a very bro-oriented culture: objectification of females, smoking cigars, getting drunk and saying stupid things to women, just those types of stereotypical affirmations of masculinity that feel really uncomfortable to me. I just couldn’t go. He understood as a friend, but it was just another reminder of how our world is structured in a way, and if you don’t feel comfortable in the stereotypes, you don’t fit in.”
And, of course, there’s the matter of public toilets. “These days I get harassed or kicked out of women’s bathrooms pretty regularly if I go in them,” Abrams relates. “Based on how I look, folks feel like I don’t belong there... That’s hard for me because men’s restrooms don’t feel safe for me – there’s a culture and code of ethics that exists there and it will never be a part of who I am. I opt for gender-neutral restrooms when I find them... [It’s] not the highlight of my day.”
In addition, Abrams’ openness in the social media often results in verbal attacks on them. “I get hate messages, but I set very clear boundaries,” they say. “I will feel liberated to delete [a comment] if I feel like it’s bullying, harassment or not conducive to the kind of environment I’m trying to create on my page, to report every account that trolls. I don’t get scared. I’ve been exposed to threats and I found a way not to let it impact my mental health. I have never found a comment that hits me in a way that makes me question myself.”Even Abrams’ mother, Janet (who asked that her last name not be used), still gets confused occasionally and uses the feminine. “It’s just out of habit,” she says, “and because Mere doesn’t live with me. Had Mere lived with me I would have used the right pronoun, which is ‘they.’ Mere know that I’m their mother and loves them, and it’s not out of disrespect.”
Adds Janet, “At least in the U.S., it is very generational. I think that for us, above the age of 45, our whole thought process is very binary, the concept [of non-binary gender] is difficult to understand. The younger generation has the language and the exposure, for them it’s a non-issue. It’s a very different mindset. I don’t know when the switch flipped, but I’m glad it did, because I hope that young people who are very unhappy or in dangerous situations can find a comfortable spot, a community where they can belong.”
I became aware of the gender revolution during the Passover seder, of all occasions, earlier this year. After we’d read the Haggadah and eaten, and the kids were cavorting in the garden, the adults’ conversation turned to the brave new world in which their adolescent and pre-adolescent children were growing up. Two couples – one from Boston, one from Philadelphia – noted that in their children’s stomping grounds, male and female were only two possibilities of many, and just because some seems like a boy or a girl, you mustn’t assume that’s how they see themselves.
I checked out the issue with Lola, a smart, mature American of 13. “I’m not sure, let me think,” she replied when I asked her to list all the gender possibilities she knew of. “There’s transgender male, transgender female, gender-fluid, then – I don’t know if that’s the same idea – non-conforming/non-binary. Agender, which I don’t exactly understand myself. And then I guess male and female and – that’s pretty much it. Most of the students I know are cis-gender, which means that we are not in the LGBTQ community. Things are changing; people can transition, they can marry whoever they like. I live in a pretty democratic and accepting city, even if you’re not part of the community you can be an ally. But all the different categories are a little confusing.”
Even Abrams’ mother still gets confused occasionally and uses the feminine. 'It’s just out of habit.'
As Mere’s mother discerned, the gender revolution is being led by the young generation; more precisely, by high-schoolers and slightly older individuals, those who belong to what’s sometimes called Generation Z. In the survey of trans people from 2015, 61 percent of those who identified themselves as non-binary were aged 18 to 24, as opposed to 1 percent of those above the age of 60. In contrast, those above the age of 60 constituted 20 percent of those who identified themselves as cross-dressers, which leads to the conjecture that we’re possibly talking about different categorizations for the same basic feeling.
The generational disparity is very clear to Prof. Suzanna Walters, director of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Northeastern University in Boston, whose research work encompasses queer identity.
“My daughter is 23,” she says, “and I see in her generation much more ease with that kind of fluidity – an ability to live in spaces that are less binary-defined. But can we call this a revolution? The short answer is no, if revolution can be defined as paradigm shifting, a massive social-change movement. In most places, the binary order is alive and well. Enter any toy shop, any clothes store, and you see boy toys, girl toys. It is inherently built into so much of our daily lives and our consumption patterns, that the idea that the binary is a thing of the past is wishful thinking.”
Speaking by phone, Walters points out that, concurrent with her daughter’s generation’s greater comfort with non-binary spaces, there is “a rise of bro-culture and toxic masculinity that is just reinforcing gender. So I’m a little skeptical, not sure the idea of a generational change is borne out.”
However, she adds, “There has been in recent generations a profound challenge to binary structures – in parenting, in law, in daily lives – brought about by the work of the feminist movement, queer movement, trans movement.”
What does this mean for the millions who are binary? What are the implications?
Walters: “One of the things a radical minority can do is expose the falsehood, the artificiality of gender. Even if non-binary folks are a minority, they can model new ways of being – but also expose the constructedness of the mainstream, gender as a social construct.”
As for the plethora of definitions, she says, “These are the stumbling blocks of movements that are trying to break new ground. I think it will shake out less doctrinaire in the end. Sometimes it’s easy to parody – the differences are so tiny – but if it makes someone feel safer in the world, then what the hell. Language is a fluid, living thing. We make it.”
'It’s like all the females in the world are on one island and the males on a different island – and I am the driftwood in the middle of the ocean.'Kade
The generation gap is most vividly seen in the biographies of the non-binary people themselves – in the ability to discover what you are and the fact that there are others like you at age 13, in contrast to a discovery that occurs in middle age after a whole life of concealment and trauma.
A case in point is Kade, who’s 15. I meet them in a café in Boston, a few blocks from the plaza where a youth pride parade is about to begin. They have close-cropped hair and wear glasses and a T-shirt emblazoned with the inscription “Straight out of the closet.” At first glance you wouldn’t guess that Kade was designated female at birth and that until junior high, wore mainly the pink, frilly clothes that their mother bought for them. Opening the closet one day, they discovered they had nothing they wanted to wear. They took their father to buy a new, more neutral wardrobe, and cut their hair. That made Kade feel wonderful, but their schoolmates ridiculed them and called them “weird.”
Fifth grade was a rough passage. “I felt alone and I was mad at the world,” Kade says. Fortunately, around this time they became friends with a trans boy who opened the world of gender possibilities to them. “I went home and googled ‘gender-fluid.’ I got to a site with definitions and stopped at ‘non-binary,’ because that exactly matched what I feel.”
What does it mean to you to be non-binary?
“That I am not actually female and also not actually male. I am in a vacuum, sort of floating. You can be a woman with short hair and masculine clothes and still think of yourself as a girl – that’s something else. I don’t know exactly how to explain it.” They pause for a moment to think. “It’s like all the females in the world are on one island and the males on a different island – and I am the driftwood in the middle of the ocean. Sometimes I get close to one side, sometimes to the other, sometimes I’m far from both.”
Kade saved up money and bought a chest binder, an elastic undershirt that flattens the breasts. They looked in the mirror and “I felt that I was more me than I was five minutes before.” But the hazing by peers intensified that year. “One girl told everyone that I was trans, and started to call me ‘it.’ Even kids from the seventh grade laughed when they saw me in the corridors.” Kade decided to tell their parents about the harassment. They lodged a formal complaint, after which the school took action and the situation improved.
“And then I got to high school and no one was talking about it – it was old news,” Kade continues. “The new kids in my class don’t treat me any different than they do other kids.” They still haven’t had a talk with their parents about gender, but their father drives them to the pride parade without asking questions.
Compare that to the story of Bobbi Taylor, who’s 58. Taylor looks like a middle-aged man, with thinning hair in a bob cut, and asks to be addressed as “they.” In our meeting, they’re wearing hoop earrings and a necklace of blue beads. They speak slowly and in a quiet voice, and when they come to a difficult section in the story, they stop and lower their blue eyes, collecting themselves.
Taylor was designated male at birth in the suburbs of New York. In the middle of first grade, Bobbi’s parents realized their child felt distressed at public school, and transferred them to a private, boys-only school. There, everything went well until the third grade.
“It was then we started doing team sports and had to use the locker room,” Taylor recalls. “And from the moment I heard about it, I experienced anxiety and stress. I did not want to be naked in front of the other boys, I just didn’t want to be there. I had no conceptual framework or language for what I was experiencing, other than: I didn’t fit in with the other boys. I always identified as a boy, because that’s how everyone referred to me, but things didn’t click.”
Taylor began to be the butt of harsh and prolonged harassment in school. They became depressed and their grades plummeted.
“Incidents, trauma that I experienced as a result of not conforming to my assigned gender triggered a downward spiral,” they say. “Looking back, I understand that by the time I was in high school I was experiencing PTSD, acute social anxiety and depression. And my grades went from being a top student – I got my first F.” Their was no one to talk to about these experiences.
Around this time, a man who lived in the same town, a father, underwent sex reassignment surgery. The local media covered the event with sensationalist voyeurism.
Taylor: “It was treated as a media circus, horrific that it was happening to this family and how could he do that. What I felt was deathly scared. Looking back on it, it was as if some piece inside of me resonated with some piece of their story. But at the time I was just scared.”
In adolescence Taylor became depressed and started to drink, and attempted suicide in the last year of college. In high school they discerned that they were bisexual, and for years attributed the inner dissonance to that sexual proclivity. They married and were divorced, and then met their current partner, a woman.
“I took refuge in this cisgender, heteronormative marital relationship,” Taylor recalls. “It wasn’t until my early fifties that I started looking at the question of gender itself, and shifting how I thought about my gender. But up until then, loneliness was a very dominant emotion in my life, dissatisfaction and the sense of not connecting well with other people. And this sense that I had never got the owner’s manual for being a guy.
“A lot of people from my generation,” they continue, “talk about how when they were young, if they were born male they would dress in their mother’s or sister’s clothes. I never did anything like that. There wasn’t any sort of secret life – more just this very fundamental sense of being disconnected from myself, from the world around me.”
Enlightenment came only Taylor started to do volunteer work in LGBTQ organizations, about four years ago, where they met non-binary people. “It was – ah! – I’m not the only one on the planet! Oh, this is awesome! That’s when things really started to click and I started to share experiences and not be alone in my identity. A lot of people from my generation think in very binary terms, so the people that I first came in contact with – who were my age – were like okay, you can fit one of two categories: you can either be a cross-dresser and present as a woman, or you can be a transgender, in which case you go through the full medical transition, those are your two options. And I felt that no, that doesn’t work for me.”
Taylor notes that there are “aspects of my masculinity that I enjoy and embrace. I like having access to the power and the strength.” They pause, look upward and reflect. “I don’t know. The way where I most personally experience that, is coming into an intimate sexual relationship with someone else and being able to access the whole spectrum. The way I interact with people, the way I build relationships, it allows me to understand people who’ve been hurt by masculinity – I understand the cost of patriarchy from a special perspective. I can bring that into my other relationships and my advocacy.”
Immediately upon discovering their new gender identity, Taylor held a frank talk with their partner. “I said, ‘Honey, I don’t think my gender is what we’ve been assuming all this time.’ It was a shock to her, but after a while, as she reflected on it, she said, ‘Yeah, this is not entirely a surprise.’ Our relationship has actually gotten stronger and deeper over the last several years, there’s a greater sense of authenticity between us, our communication skills are much better. We have a long history, a loving history, a young daughter that we’re raising and very good couple’s counseling. But the nature of our relationship has shifted.”
Taylor recently became chair of the Massachusetts Transgender Coalition steering committee, and they feel free to show their identity to the world, though still somewhat on edge: “I live in a very nice part of the world, but when I travel I am still concerned sometimes. My gender presentation is somewhat fluid, and I watch older white guys look at me with my earrings and my long hair, my clothing, which is a little feminine – and wonder, ‘What’s going on, why aren’t you dressed like a guy?’ I know a lot of people who had had very bad experiences. The worst that I’ve gotten are dirty looks, a few passing comments here and there. But because of my childhood, I live my life hyper-vigilant.”