I’m non-binary, but most people assume I’m a woman. I often find myself in situations where I have to do something that reinforces the idea that gender is binary, and it isn’t safe, practical, or possible to demand an alternative.
As a die-hard feminist, I totally support self-identified women in finding power and beauty in their gender identity, but that isn’t who I am. I feel like I’ll never be able to fully separate myself from the gender I was assigned at birth, like cissexism and the belief in a gender binary are unbreakable chains that will lock me into the wrong category for life. Those paradigms are chains that hinder my sense of self, tempting me to chalk this all up to a “phase” and coming up with arbitrary reasons that I’m not “really” non-binary. When I’m feeling feminine, I struggle with how to express it. I worry that the physical evidence of makeup, skirts, swaying my hips will override the often-quiet argument of who I actually am. But would that be such a bad thing, not having awkward conversations about my pronouns, or avoiding the struggle to find masculine clothing that fits? I’m tempted to return to a state of self-deception.
In my photo, the images and words of gendered expectations that threaten to cover me completely are just paper. I can tear them down and throw them away. There’s even a door peeking out from behind me; I could walk away. Sometimes I feel that I have within me the power to liberate myself from the gender binary and continue unencumbered on my journey. But more frequently, I feel trapped by my own fear and powerless to resist social norms. It’s easier and safer to stay in the Devil’s cave, to accept the chains, to smile and nod when I’m misgendered and hide the truth in the shadows.
I’m not proud that this is where I currently find myself, in a place of weakness, but honesty with myself and others has to start somewhere. I have something to learn from the Devil. I have found the strength and wisdom to come out to myself and the people who matter the most to me, and one day I will find the ability to liberate myself further.