“I realized I was nonbinary last year. At 42. It was in the middle of COVID-19 social distancing. I hardly saw anyone except my partner and kids. For a few years, I had been learning about gender, gender identity, gender expression, being trans through several accounts on Instagram. I watched movies, and I worked on correcting and updating my language, how I saw people, and how I described them.
More and more I got a feeling of a glove fitting me better. If my gender identity/self was a glove. I had always ‘been a woman’ (I put that in quotes because, obviously, I was never a woman), because, well, I wasn’t a man, and ‘woman’ was what was left. I thought my genitalia and how I looked made me a woman. Binary genders were ingrained in me. I was not aware the boxes weren’t real; they were completely human-made, and I didn’t have to fit into any of them.
I cried when I told my boyfriend a month later and also when I told my two sisters a few months after that. I wasn’t sad. I was happy, emotional, confused, and frankly, a bit scared people were going to argue against it. It was huge for me. And would they understand that? I believe my exact words were, ‘I think I might be nonbinary,’ followed by a lot of sobs. Except for my boyfriend (who knew a little more from numerous talks, discussions, and ponderings), I had to explain what nonbinary meant and what cis and trans meant.
I didn’t get hate or anger or judgment from those closest to me. Most told me it was perfectly fine. Which was fine. But ‘fine’ doesn’t feel like enough in the long run. I didn’t feel there was or is an interest in it. I think most people continue to see me, talk about me, and talk to me as ‘a woman.’ ‘Oh, I keep forgetting you’re not a woman!’ There would be sighs and comments like, ‘Argh, this is so confusing and hard for me’. This made me feel like I was being difficult, just a ‘late bloomer’ in a trend, and I was too old to find this out now.
I had always been the straight one and woman/sister/daughter/mother…basically, I felt and still often feel like an imposter. Like I’m a fraud and a fake. Like I’m going to be proven exposed as a fraud…My ability for self-understanding, compassion, and love is greater now after a lot of hard, challenging, and fun self-work so I know deep inside this is not true. The mind can carry several conflicting thoughts and emotions at the same time though. Partly because of this, I still haven’t been able to feel like part of the LGBTQAI family either.
I think one of the reasons a lot of people have trouble understanding, following, and respecting my pronouns, use of non-gendered words, roles/titles, and my preferred name is my gender expression. It hasn’t changed much at all. A before-and-after picture wouldn’t show much visible difference. I don’t look androgynous. I don’t present in a way that tells you I’m not a woman, or rather I outwardly present as what society has chosen to call womanly or feminine. So I have to remind, tell, defend, and correct pretty constantly. I have lost count of times I’ve said, ‘I’m not a woman, I’m not a she, I’m not a mother. I am non-binary, my pronouns are they/them, and I’m a parent.’ It can feel exhausting.
There is one clear exception though. My daughter. My oldest cub, who is almost 20 now. It didn’t change overnight, but within a few months, she changed woman to human, mother to parent, she to they, Tora to Neel, mamma to mapa. We can talk about it, discuss it, laugh at how someone assumes I am her father when I sign with Neel (which is my preferred name, even though I still kept Tora).
My son is okay with me being me, and he respects it, but he still struggles to use the correct pronouns and titles. He tries and forgets. And tries again. I have accepted it will take time and maturing for these things to stick. He will need time to get used to these new changes and deal with and understand them. For my kids, well, I give them that time and growth. I respect his want for privacy and will not share recent photos of him.
My boyfriend has been encouraging from day one. When I told him, he thanked me for telling him and said he was totally supportive. He lets me discover myself and cheers from the sideline. I am not sure he always understands me (heck, I don’t always understand me), but he is always, always supportive, actively trying to use both my names and my pronouns.
I am still fine with being called mamma but would prefer it used interchangeably with mapa, the same with my names. If changing it up a bit is too hard, stick to Neel. What I am not comfortable being called is woman, lady, daughter, girl, sister, girlfriend, queen. Just no. It isn’t me.
It is also important for me to say I would rather you try, stumble, and try again than not trying at all. I understand something like this takes time. New ways of thinking and seeing, breaking habits, stuff like that takes time. When I correct or remind I am not saying you are bad or did it on purpose, I am just reminding you. And I will continue to do so. And it will stick, you will learn. There has to be a will to learn and change though. Your respect I deserve and expect, even if you haven’t understood what ‘I’m all about’ yet. You don’t have to understand fully to respect another human being.
I have met other nonbinary people live and face to face twice through my daughter (COVID-19 has kept all communication and information on the internet for me). So far, my support on this part of my journey has been following, listening to, and learning from other trans people on Instagram. I wouldn’t be where I am without wonderful people like Jeffrey Marsh, Ty Deran, and Deni Todorović sharing their knowledge, experiences, wisdom, and love. They will never know how important they are to me, but I need to express how thankful I am for them.
Although so helpful and wonderful, is a lonely substitute for face-to-face connection. Hearing, seeing, and connecting in person feel special. It made me giggly and teary-eyed the first time I saw and felt recognition, and insight is great. So great. I still get a twinkly, jittery sensation of euphoria when someone calls me by my name, uses the right pronouns, respects me like that. It makes me feel seen and respected in a way I never have before.
My main challenges during this ongoing journey would be the aforementioned lack of personal connections with like-minded nonbinary and trans people, my own ageism in relation to this (too old, too late, etc), internalized gaslighting regarding my own gender identity and gender expression, and continually being seen and defined as a woman. I also struggle to accept I am allowed to take up this space, be me unapologetically, and be treated how I want to be treated. There is a conflict between my patience for people needing time to change their habits, my weariness of having to constantly repeat and remind, and my need to be seen and treated as me. It is not too much to ask for!
This journey I’m on is wonderful, most of all, and I am so happy I have found the language and understanding to describe me, to be me. I am a baby enby in an old enby suit, and I can’t wait to live more freely as me, to keep learning, and hopefully, to connect with and maybe inspire others.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Neel Joye Munck from Bergen, Norway. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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