In recent years, dialogues about what it means to be a woman and how these definitions interact with the persisting intersectional feminist movement have moved from ivory towers to the red carpet, the streets, and living rooms nationwide. Yet still, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people’s lived experiences are erased. Nonbinary femme folk, in particular, confront violence and marginalization — as well as joy, love, and triumph — in their own ways. They exist not in the standard pink or blue, but in the lavender expanses of life. Here, we take a deeper look into the lavender.
Eddie Jarel Jonesx, 24
I can’t remember how young I was, but I had a love for my mom’s size-6 high heels. I’d come home from school and be all by myself — so I’d dance in them, hittin’ the runway, practicing walking up and down the stairs. It's funny because people nowadays say, “You know how to walk in heels better than girls!” and I'm like, “There's no shade, I've honestly been doing it a lot longer than most girls."
I started wearing makeup and clothes from the “girls” side of the store in college at Lincoln University. It was very cool to see that a lot of the Black men on campus really did not care about me presenting as femme. I was taken aback, because there’s a stereotype about homophobia being more prevalent among men in the Black community. I just expected to get all of this hate — to not feel comfortable walking from my dorm to certain buildings — and I really did not have that experience. Most of the pushback came from the girls. It was just so confusing to me. I thought they didn’t like me because their lashes were liftin' and mine were not.
There are some days where I wake up and I’m feeling really feminine, so I put on a full beat and wig. There are some days where I feel very feminine and I just have on a regular hat, no makeup, jeans, and a sneaker. For me, gender doesn't have anything to do with presentation. It's how you feel on the inside and where the spectrum lies that day. There's no one idea of man and woman. Once we all realize this to be true, I think the feminist and women’s movements will be more open to nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people and allow us into their carefully curated spaces. At the end of the day, if you are femme in any capacity, you deserve to stand and fight with your sisters.
Brooklyn, New York
I don't really think there is a way to define womanhood or manhood. I erased the idea of a gender binary from my heart and mind, because it didn't do anything but reinforce patriarchy. I thought for a long time that I was a transgender woman, but, through drag and the queer scene in Brooklyn, I realized I didn't have to adhere to the stereotypical traits of what society thinks is a woman. I know where my head is, but I feel like I have this mind-over-matter mentality, so I've never felt like I had to prove my identity to anyone through appearance. For a lot of people, drag is their art and their job. For me, drag is literally a part of my identity. It's me channeling my femme side.
There are some places where people really do look at being nonbinary as a joke, but I'm not in any way ashamed of myself. I do have privilege because I'm not constantly presenting femme. To society, I present mostly as masculine. I always have to remember that society's lens is so different from a queer person's, so I have no problem correcting someone who mistakes a pronoun. Five years ago, I would punch a bitch in the face, but I got to a place where I realized you can’t fight ignorance with being just as ignorant. I took a page out of Martin Luther King Jr.'s book and resisted. People expect and want you to be angry, especially if you're a person of color. They want you to do something for which they could easily antagonize you. But if you play calm and cool and walk away from a situation like that, you ultimately win the battle.
My message to young queer and nonbinary people is to not let society cookie-cut you. Don't let yourself become a byproduct of fear because society has taught you that monotony is needed. You don't need to be like everyone else to live. We can be ourselves — colorful, happy, or dark — and be at peace.
Jeffrey Marsh, 41
As nonbinary identity and gender nonconformity have become more mainstream, they’re sometimes characterized as a new phenomenon. This is not only insulting to people like me — who are over 40 — but it's also insulting to imply that young people don't know what they're doing, are formless, and not to be taken seriously. This is a double-edged sword because, yes, it's on the cover of TIME, but when it's on the cover of TIME, it's going to be a 13-year-old because that’s what’s palatable to the general public. The media wants to put the most digestable face on nonbinary identities so that they can sell more magazines.
But when I think about the feminist movement, I think of the special brand of really virulent anti-trans feminism — the TERF (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist) Movement. I tend to feel grateful that the feminism that I've encountered has been really welcoming. I’ve seen it refined to help the most people by including trans women and moving towards the inclusion of nonbinary or transfemme people. It's brave to go up against the deep programming we all have around the gender binary — because everyone (and cisgender feminists in particular) has been programmed to think that a vagina equals a woman, and we need to fight for women with vaginas to have rights. That last part of that statement is absolutely true, but we also need to chip away at that, having women and transfemmes who may or may not have certain parts be included in this movement.
One of the most beautiful things that transfemme and nonbinary people can offer the world is expressing ourselves without shame. We're such a beautiful group of people who can offer cis people the chance to let go and be whoever they are without shame, too.
Editor's note: The print version of this article published Aja's birthname in error. Out sincerly regrets and apologizes for the mishap.
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