By Aviwe Tobi
Feature image obtained from Unsplash
I was assigned male at birth but currently, I identify as non-binary: a term used to describe people who believe their gender cannot be defined within the confines of the gender binary. Instead, they comprehend their gender in ways that go beyond simply identifying as male or female.
Non-binary people may classify as both male and female or neither. Non-binary includes anyone who does not fit the traditional narrative of a male or female. They may feel their gender is fluid, or they may never identify with one gender. Non-binary people frequently use the following terms: genderqueer, agender, bigender and many more.
I was born in East London, but after my parents divorced, I spent the majority of my school years in Peddie, a small town situated at Ngqushwa local municipality, Eastern Cape.
My gender expression has always been questioned from a young age. I was informed that I’m not like most boys since I expressed myself in a feminine rather than masculine manner. I was still young, and I had no clue what was happening to me. I grappled as to why it was a big deal for everyone.
I believed that gender was the same for both males and females; we just differed in terms of appearances. But when I started elementary school, I realised my viewpoint was incorrect and that there is a distinction. Most of the time, we were separated by gender and instructed to use different bathrooms. This is where it all started – the confusion and internal conflict.
It was difficult to comprehend why I was instructed to use a specific bathroom and not given a choice. I have often wondered why we don’t have a third option for those who don’t want to use such restrooms. It became a major issue when I refused to be labeled as male nor female during an exercise. My parents were informed and later invited to discuss the matter. I was obliged to obey the school’s rules because it only recognised two genders. To avoid being expelled, I obeyed.
Ulwaluko: initiation school
When I got to high school, it was a priority that every young boy of my age consider going to initiation school. During this time, I was facing discrimination at its high peak. I was termed as an abomination or a disgrace to society, simply because I was different. I only had a few friends to lean on. My family was still trying to figure out who I was. They offered me no help and only negative feedback. The school was not a haven from the atrocities I witnessed; rather, it was a daily nightmare.
At the assembly, one teacher even preached that God created a man and a woman, not something in between. That alone made me feel like an outcast, and I became a loner. I was living in a world that didn’t accept who I was.
In most cultures, initiation is a ceremony that transforms boys into men. I stood firm that because I don’t identify as a boy, I don’t see the point in being taken from something I’m not and transformed into something I’m not. It doesn’t make any sense. Despite being confused, my mother supported my decision and later informed the elders; some opposed it, but it never stopped me from following through. Soon after, I matriculated and set out into the world, hoping to find answers to my questions and clear up the confusion.
Embracing my gender pronouns
When I transitioned to varsity, a new world with better opportunities, I allowed myself to explore my gender expression. I opened up to cross-dressing, with no limits on what gender pronouns I used. By some, I was labeled as a man and a woman by others. Despite that, there was no sense of content with who I was.
It wasn’t enough being classified as a man or a woman. Inside, I felt like there was more to what I was. Due to this feeling, I stopped cross-dressing and decided to settle with a neutral dress code. It provided me with no limitations, as I could pick any clothing item without considering my gender. I had freedom but still did not know what identity I aligned with. It was then I opened up myself to researching gender identities.
I was introduced to a non-profit organization called S.H.E which catered to queer individuals. This is where I discovered that there are more than two genders. I was also interacting with individuals who identified with those gender identities that were different from the binary gender. This allowed me an opportunity to do an introspection and clear the confusion.
One day, I looked into a mirror and was content with not being a male nor female. I practiced how to use my gender-neutral pronouns while I continued using male pronouns. It was a discovery for me and I wanted to be informed about who I am before telling the world.
In 2022, I started introducing my new gender identity to the world and asked my friends and family to use my preferred pronouns which are:
Some people are still finding it difficult, but others are eager to learn. Following my realisation, I began to fully express myself from all sides. Unlike before, I can now focus on other matters and live my life without being confused. I naturally expressed my gender and wore my pride on my sleeve. I still face discrimination, isolation and name-calling. But I persevere in the face of adversity. And there’s nothing abnormal about my gender identity. In fact, we are all unique, and that is fine with me.