We had an interesting thing happen to us this week. I suspect something like it has happened before, but this time it was more pronounced and inescapable.
Tippy, our almost-nine-year-old, failed her vision screen at her annual checkup so Kat took her to the optometrist. This particular doctor was chosen because one of Kat’s closest friends works there. With an early appointment, Kat slipped on a pair of sweats and a hoodie and ushered the little one out the door. Of course, they got there early and had to wait in the parking lot for the office to open.
Once Tippy was back with the doctor, Kat’s friend, we’ll call her L for this story, pulled her aside to relate a conversation that had happened.
One of L’s co-workers had come in and asked her, “I thought your friend was bringing her daughter in for an appointment this morning?”
L replied in the affirmative.
“There’s no one out there but this guy and a little girl,” the co-worker said.
L laughed, “Yes, that’s Kat!”
The co-worker didn’t understand. “No, it’s not a woman. It’s a guy and a little girl.”
L thought for a moment that it might have been me bringing Tippy rather than Kat, so she attempted to describe me to her co-worker. I think the word “old” might have been central to the description.
Again, the co-worker was insistent. “No, it’s a young guy in a hoodie with a little girl.”
“Yeah, that’s Kat!” L said.
About that time, Kat and Tippy walked into the office and the co-worker realized that no, it wasn’t a “guy” bringing his daughter to see the doctor.
For people who know Kat well, conversations like this are not necessarily new, though not always as pronounced. Kat is gender-fluid non-binary. Some days she feels and dresses more masculine. Other days she feels and dresses more feminine. For people who don’t know her well, this creates some confusion.
In fact, being gender fluid non-binary is confusing for many people, including the people who identify with that label. In the broadest sense, non-binary simply means that one doesn’t define specifically as either male or female. Beyond that, everything is different from one person to the next. Some non-binary people are genderless, but not all. Some non-binary people are trans, but not all. Some non-binary people are bi, but not all. Some non-binary people move back and forth between feeling male or female. There are dozens of options and combinations.
Non-binary people are some of the most censored people on the planet because they simply don’t fit into anyone’s gender stereotype. When someone doesn’t fit into the gender box we’ve previously prepared for them, vast portions of society, even among those who identify as allies, censors their identity to make it fit something more easily understandable. We understand male and female, and many of us don’t have a problem with gay, lesbian, bi, or trans. But non-binary, someone having that absence of stereotype, causes many brains to explode.
For a while now, Kat has wanted to do a shoot where we compare the two extremes of her identity and a few weeks ago we were able to carve out the time to actually do it. Kat hauled the stack of clothes into the room and we had fun with it, going back and forth between masculine and feminine looks and expressing the different moods that go with each.
What we created is a study in comparison and contrast. We used different processing methods to represent how dramatically different the two portions of her identity can be and, to some extent, how they overlap. She moves fluidly from feminine to masculine to somewhere in between all over the course of a day, or perhaps even a few minutes. While this confuses some observers, those of us who love her know that’s just Kat. She’s not defined by any gender stereotype. She’s not cemented into a specific gender identity. Any attempt to force pre-existing expectations on her is censoring a portion of who she is.
Kat was working a few days later when the optometrist let us know Tippy’s glasses were ready, so I was the one who took her to pick them up. As I’m standing at the window paying the balance on the glasses, L told her co-worker, “See? This is her dad. He was the only other option the other day so if it’s not him, it has to be Kat.”
L and I laughed. Her co-worker looked confused and slightly embarrassed.
By the way, the frames Tippy chose for her glasses are a broad spectrum of color. Why? Because she didn’t want to leave any of the colors out. See? Kids understand non-binary. Perhaps this set will help some adults move a little closer to that as well.
As always, click on any of the thumbnails to view the entire set full sized.