Living Non-Binary: Taking A Leap Of Faith

by Rev . M Barclay

When I first came out to my friends and loved ones as a non-binary trans person, I was forced to take a leap of faith I really wasn’t sure I wanted to take. I didn’t yet have the language to well describe my experience, who I was becoming, or how people could better understand what it meant for me.

I didn’t feel like I was intellectually ready to “make a case” for the right to be myself in a world that is largely unfamiliar with and unfriendly to trans people of all genders.

I didn’t have everything figured out yet and I tend to rely on my own ability and intellect instead of relying on and trusting God more often than I’d like to admit. Ready or not, however, I knew when it was time to come out (again) and live as authentically as I could.

Somehow, the Spirit provided me with just enough strength to overcome my fears of my inability to explain everything and yet speak my truth, “this is who I am.”

It’s been some time since that first timid leap of sharing my newfound identity publicly and as God does, God has proved faithful – not by making things easy but by sustaining me through community and the Spirit.

I have sense learned a lot of language that is very helpful in sharing my experience and place in the world. But I have also learned that answers, theories, and philosophies are secondary, they will come with time. God, however, is always there first – in the mystery, in the vulnerable, in the alone – inviting us to love and be loved in the confusion.

So now I am asking others to join me on this journey in faith by learning along with me and with others who are able to share their stories about gender.

I share my experiences because I know people have questions but feel scared to ask.

I know folks want to learn about diverse gender identities but often don’t know where to start. I know people want to learn how to be loving, understanding, and respectful to trans people but the language can be a challenge.

I invite others to give into these questions and put your faith in trans people and in our Creator even if all the language and concepts are sometimes confusing. I will continue to place faith in those who wish to journey with me and with others who are trans and gender non-conforming.

I have faith that the sharing and vulnerability will be returned with openness and with a desire to take new knowledge and make it into acts of love for trans and gender non-conforming people in the world.

My story and language preferences are only my own and don’t reflect the entirety of those who share my identity.

But I offer these explanations of my own gender experience in hopes that it will be helpful to those wanting to grow in love and justice for the trans community. I identify as non-binary meaning that I, along with many others, believe gender is much bigger and more diverse than the idea of man and woman as “opposites” on a binary.

Gender is not defined by any genitalia and thus, has no reason to be bound to two genders other than the fact that we have socially constructed it that way and work really hard to force everyone into living it. I believe there are more ways of doing gender than man/woman/or even “in between.” Genderqueer is also a fine way to describe my gender. It is one of many identities people use to describe the ways they do not fit in the binary.

I use they/them/their pronouns. I don’t use woman/lady/maam/she/lesbian or any variables there of – not because there is anything wrong with any of those words or identities in any way. I’m a feminist to the core and think being a woman should be a point of pride. That is not, however, the language that is most fitting for my experience in the world. Using it regardless makes me feel like my experiences are invalid and makes me feel like people think those of us who are trans are just making things up. Mistakes, of course, are totally fine.

I am trans, meaning that I do not identify with the gender assigned to me at birth.

In other words, when we are born people assume gender is defined by genitalia and thus label us accordingly. Those of us who are trans, in one way or another, feel that the gender label given to us isn’t congruent with our experiences. So, many of us (though not all) transition – by name/pronoun/expression/etc – to the gender we feel we’ve always been. Many trans people fit in the binary, meaning they are male to female or female to male. Many others do not fit in the binary, but we may transition nonetheless: male or female to neutral/other/fluid/none/etc.

For my transition, that has included name change, pronoun change, top surgery and testosterone. I share this not because I think it should be anyone’s business necessarily, but because I know it’s important people know who they can talk to if they have questions about their own medical needs. I’m indebted to the trans people who were public enough for me to know who I could reach out to when I need it. I have depended on others being publicly open and I know others will depend on my doing the same.

I know the concept of non-binary genders can be confusing and I certainly know there are many folks who are skeptical.

But gender is a big, beautiful, diverse range of possibilities. I am slowly learning from trans people of color the ways that colonization has played a huge role in other cultures’ understanding of gender, fooling us into believing our strict western gender binary has always been and is thus “natural.”

Since beginning my transition, I have felt so much more at home in my body and identity. It’s liberation from the inside out. At the same time, it’s obviously a socially challenging experience that comes with great losses. Still, it is easy to sense when people think it’s a flippant thing or when it’s attention seeking, a mental health issue, a joke, a made up identity, or simply not something worth taking seriously. But being trans is not a trend. Trans and gender non-conforming people have always existed. We are now using a shared language to describe our experiences but the experiences themselves are not new.

Our experiences and identities are so serious, in fact, so a part of who we are, that people have been killed and struggled with suicide throughout history because of the limited ability to live authentically as ourselves.

If our gender identities didn’t matter, it wouldn’t be worth the risk of violence and certainly not the anguish that comes with such intense social discrimination.

The murder rate of trans women, particularly trans women of color, and the suicide rate of trans men are so much higher than any other community. Statistics about non-binary trans people are more recent but suggest very similar data.

Though it should go unsaid, the American Psychological Association has declared that this is not a mental health disorder. Therapy has proved just as useless in “fixing” trans people as it has in “fixing” queer sexual orientations despite decades of effort and many abused lives/bodies. But I know many will remain convinced that it’s mental health issue regardless.

There are studies, there are histories, there are gender theories and theologies that can make a case for all of this and they are growing everyday as the mainstream finds our experiences study-worthy. More importantly, however, there are trans people thriving because they live as their selves and the crack in the window of gender, from a mainstream worldview, is allowing more and more people to embrace their identities and challenge our traditional thinking about gender.

You don’t have to be trans to be playful with your gender or to break from gender stereotypes.

Many folks defy gender stereotypes and always have. There is much good that can be accomplished for all of humanity the more we are able to let our understandings of gender grow and expand.

I am lucky to have a wife that supports me despite the challenges she faces by proximity. Friends who are willing to grow and learn along with me, and I have hope for the younger folks who are bringing new insights and liberation to the concept of gender, and the resources to be myself.

This is not an easy world to live in as a trans person. The challenges are myriad but difficult to even talk about in a society that’s so unfamiliar with them.

Nonetheless, I am finally getting to a place where I can say, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am so grateful for the Spirit’s guidance in the mystery and the initial leap of faith as well as on my continued journey of becoming, of making mistakes, and of learning better how to love people without need of explanation.

For allies who want to learn and are willing to put faith in God who created trans and gender non-conforming people and who created you, before having everything explained, thank you. For those who want to honor the lives of trans people by honoring our experiences, respecting our identities, and helping us shape a more free world together, God invites you to love and be loved – in confusion, in clarity, in togetherness.

Photo via flickr user Alexandre Ferreira 

Comments (2)

Lindsay Ritenbaugh

This is wonderful, M. Thank
This is wonderful, M. Thank you.

Kenna E. Fireheart

As a T-girl who is still
As a T-girl who is still living in the shadows, and struggling with coming out to those I deeply care about, this really hits home. The stories of those who have taken this leap give me courage. Thank you.

Comments are closed.