As a queer, non-binary person, navigating online and offline communities comes with its anxieties. For me, being non-binary means that I do not identify with the traditional gender binary. I am a thin, conventionally attractive, white cis woman-passing person and therefore would like to acknowledge that I hold a significant amount of privilege in relation to others in the queer community. For clarity, 'cis' means that you identify with the gender assigned to you at birth.
This will be my first pride out as non-binary, an exciting but also terrifying prospect. Over the past year, I’ve faced discrimination from both within and outside of the queer community in Toronto. Despite this, I have managed to make close relationships with people through Bunz who have similar experiences and have been instrumental in allowing me to come into my own.
You don’t have to identify as a man or woman. You can use whatever pronouns you want.
I was introduced to the Bunz community in November 2015 upon my arrival in Toronto, having moved to the city alone from Vancouver. Having arrived in the midst of winter to no job nor support system to rely on, just a furnished sublet on the outskirts of the city, I sought refuge in various Bunz zones to help me navigate my new surroundings. As time progressed, Bunz allowed me to make friends, find jobs, an apartment, furniture, go on dates, throw parties and so much more.
Last summer, depressed after a long-awaited break up, I found myself posting in Bunz Mental Health Zone (one of many Facebook groups under the Bunz banner), finding comfort in the words of encouragement and the stories told by others with similar lived experiences. One night while at the Beaver, a queer bar on Queen West, I recognized one such person and proceeded to drunkenly introduce myself to them. They added me on Facebook and we became fast friends. Little did I know that this person would be instrumental in my coming out as non-binary.
By the fall, I more freely allowed myself to consider that maybe I wasn’t a cis woman after all. Six years previous, the idea that I was heterosexual was so deeply ingrained that coming to the realization that I was gay was a huge disruption to my sense of self. But having already come out once, arriving at the conclusion that I am non-binary was a swifter process. With the support of my new non-binary friend, I was able to move past my self-doubt. I was allowed to be cis woman-passing and have a femme gender expression. I was allowed to wear makeup and dresses and not have my outward appearance automatically equate to womanhood. It was the way I carried myself and the way that I felt inside that mattered most.
In the workplace, I’ve chosen not to come out as non-binary, as I find the prospect of having to educate dozens of my coworkers and police my preferred pronouns exhausting. I’ve battled internally with being misgendered for the sake of moving through professional spaces with supposed ease. Truthfully, while passing as cis affords me significant privileges, it is simultaneously painful to pretend to be something you’re not in order not to unsettle the status quo.
Shortly after coming out as non-binary, a (now-former) friend chose to police my gender via text to a mutual friend of ours. They accused me of fabricating a trendy trans identity in exchange for social capital and was in turn dangerous to the trans community. Having never identified as trans, these words confused me. For clarity, people can be both trans and non-binary but I myself had only ever identified as non-binary. People of diverse genders express themselves in a multitude of ways, and there often is a lack of understanding surrounding this.
Canada has passed Bill C-16, legislation which adds gender expression and identity to the Human Rights Charter of Canada.
Many people believe that having previous experience with gender-diverse people makes them a gatekeeper - which it doesn’t. You don’t have to change anything about yourself to live up to anyone else’s imagining of what queer and non-binary look like. It isn’t up to us to police one another and what matters is self-identification and mutual respect. I’ve moved on to friendships with people that accept my sexual orientation and gender identity without question.
This pride season, let’s remember a few things: You don’t have to come out. You don’t have to transition. You don’t have to dress androgynous. You don’t have to identify as a man or woman. You can use whatever pronouns you want. You can dress however you want. You can wear as much or as little makeup as you please. You can have hair everywhere, somewhere or nowhere at all. It’s all up to you to decide and others to respect.
In addition to not policing one another’s expressions of gender and sexuality, let’s also center the most disadvantaged amongst us. We have a long way to go when it comes to protecting queer and trans indigenous people and people of colour. During Pride Month and as we head towards the settler-colonial celebration of Canada 150, we tend to forget that it is also National Aboriginal History Month and that pride began not as a party but as a protest. Fortunately, for the first time in Toronto, we will not see the police marching in the pride parade. This is a huge accomplishment that comes from last year’s activism by the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter. As well, Canada has passed Bill C-16, legislation which adds gender expression and identity to the Human Rights Charter of Canada.
As I get ready for this weekend’s celebrations, I plan to keep the history of pride in mind as well as respect that there is still a significant amount of work to be done. I am excited to find joy in a renewed sense of self as someone who is both queer and non-binary. I will surround myself with people who respect my self-identification and do the same for them. If you are looking for a way to connect with the Toronto queer community this pride, you can do so through Bunz, other online communities or the 519 Community Centre. I can’t wait to see you there.
This is the first in a series of guest blog posts, written by the real people who make up the Bunz community. We're excited to share their voices in this format, and welcome submissions. Send your ideas or story to email@example.com