Identity is weird. I've spent most of my life knowing identity is weird without really being able to explain how or why. I didn't know how to interrogate the weird, crushing surreality of looking at a reflection that didn't feel like my own. I didn't know how I wanted to be perceived while navigating the world, and I didn't know how to put my orientation and gender together in a way that felt cohesive.
Let's fast forward.
I know how to do that now. I know who I am, and I'm comfortable with it. I feel at home in my own skin and in the identity I've stepped into. I'm a nonbinary lesbian, which is something I figured out for myself through reading (and talking about) Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues (seriously, if you've ever found yourself wondering "but how can a lesbian use [set of pronouns other than she/her]," SBB is good reading*). It's by no means a new or unique way of approaching lesbianism or nonbinary-ism, but stepping out of my circle of friends showed me just how hard it is even for well-meaning people to grasp.
This became obvious to me as soon as I started seriously editing my first manuscript.
Coming out is something I've done little by little, because it's a constant process. My friends are completely familiar with my pronouns and identity and because we're all LGBT+, there's no doubling back and explaining the orientation/identity relationship to them. Ever. Seriously. I know so many nonbinary lesbians. When I started branching out and finding additional beta readers for my manuscript, I hit a brick wall.
My first attempt to find beta readers was on Reddit. I know. But I can honestly say the prejudice I encountered was not overt. I enlisted a couple of beta readers from the site who were kind, patient people in every respect, and they gave me reader reports that were totally fascinating and totally cemented my fears about the way my characters were perceived.
The manuscript I sent to betas (and am currently querying) features two protagonists: an older teen girl and her adoptive parent, who is nonbinary. While it didn't surprise me when my beta readers misgendered my nonbinary character (hey, we're not all used to singular they/them right out the gate), it surprised me that both my initial readers misgendered them in the same way.
I later discovered that all my Reddit beta readers and my in-person writing group beta readers (months before the pandemic) unanimously misgendered my nonbinary protagonist by using he/him. Naturally, I love dissecting why this happened, and I should note that I don't think any of the misgendering was actively malicious—I would say 70-80% of the time, my cis readers used the correct pronouns.
So, why the consensus? Why he/him? Here's where my thoughts went:
If this seems like a short list, that's because it is. Honestly, it was a surprising but enlightening experience for me to see how people referred to Bennie when they stopped consciously trying to apply singular they/them. Most of Bennie's hobbies in-text are traditionally domestic or effeminate and while that shouldn't matter, none of it should really matter, you know? Clothes, hobbies, wife, name...ideally it'd all be water under the bridge and everyone would pick up on the subtleties of gender expression.
But that's not where we're at, so instead I'm sitting here writing introspective blog posts. And I'm cool with that. I see everything I'm writing in the future coming out full of gender nuances, and I'll probably be back with an update post once my fish book starts going out to bettas (get it? like the fish? and a misspelled version of the reader?). The fish book features a drag king who goes by he/him for the duration of the manuscript, but he's still regularly referred to as a lesbian. Because he is. And so's Bennie. And so am I.
Being nonbinary is a broad experience. It's not all they/them, it's not all one singular aesthetic of white androgyny, and it overlaps across orientations. There are nonbinary lesbians and nonbinary gay men, because gender is just like that. There are nonbinary people in all facets of the trans experience. There always have been, and I love writing about it.
Happy quarantining, stay safe, and have fun.
*Stone Butch Blues is a phenomenal book and I seriously endorse it for its depiction of the age-old lesbian struggle with gender identity and expression in addition to its inclusion of trans women in the lesbian experience, but it's pretty heavy. If you plan to read it, I'd recommend researching its content warnings first, which include police brutality and sexual assault.