I lived most of my life thinking that my experience as a non-binary spirit worker was so unusual and shameful that I shouldn’t acknowledge it, not event to myself. In more recent times, I have had the opportunity to listen and hold space as I hear story after story from other people who are in those categories. While doing my best to help each of them, I also received an unexpected gift. I learned that my story is standard issue for people like us.
It is not the only story that can be told about the times and places where it happened. It is my story, and it was the one that was left out of the other stories being told about the same times and places. I offer a version of it here in the form of a dialogue with stage directions.
TODDLER ME: “That tree is my friend. I like water on my feet. I feel joy because I am alive.” Stands in water. Touches tree. Smiles.
WORLD “Kids are so cute! What’s he saying?” Looks down at TODDLER ME.
Kinder Me: “I want to wear a dress and climb trees so I can hear their songs. The music is so beautiful! I want to share in it. I want to learn to sing my part.” Opens arms wide.
STRANGE ADULT WORLD: “Boys want to be men. Men wear boots and chop down trees.” Goes into other room with the rest of ADULT WORLD. Stays there for a long time. Comes out with boots.
TWEEN ME: “I like bathing suits for girls. I can’t stop thinking about velvet. I also want to learn how to build my own house from things I find in the woods” Is often thought to be a girl by strangers. Others strangers think is boy. Maybe is both? Has no words for own feelings.
WORLD: “Boys wear shorts when they swim. It is better if boys don’t swim often. Boys want to be men and fix cars.”
JUNIOR HIGH ME: Feels confused. “Can I have long hair?” Gets mullet because of school dress code. Wants to be Boy George, Marie Fredriksson and Motley Crue’s next drummer.
WORLD: “NO! There is only BOY and girl. Everyone must choose the same option I choose for them. You are a BOY! If your aren’t a BOY, you don’t exist. Lighten up! Smile!”
JUNIOR HIGH ME: Asks self what BOY is. Has idea, but doesn’t know. Feels depressed. Starts writing poems. Learns is invisible if is not BOY. Learns not supposed to be girl, that is wrong. Learns there are only 2 choices. Asks self which choice is own choice. Still doesn’t know. Feels more depressed.
WORLD: You are a BOY! BOYS have short hair. They dislike like pink. Your music is evil. You are evil if you admit you hear it, because it doesn’t exist”
HIGH SCHOOL ME: Considers. Feels angry. Doesn’t want to be invisible. Doesn’t want to be evil. Responds. “Oh Yeah?! How about all of my clothes have pink?! Hot Pink!” Tries to forget tree music. Feels depressed and angry. Makes own drums and learns to play. Is told drums are evil. Wonders if joy is evil. Feels very confused.
WORLD: “Are you a BOY or a girl. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING!”
2ND HIGH SCHOOL ME: Tries BOY Stuff. Is good at sports. Feels depressed. Harms self. Medicates self. Best friend medicates self. Best friend dies.
WORLD: “Are you a BOY or a girl. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING!” Regularly threatens 2nd High School Me with physical assault. “Why aren’t you smiling? You’re too sensitive. MAN up!”
3rd High School Me: Wears makeup. Feels free. Is chased or threatened most days. Medicates self more. Takes risks. Wears spikes. Barely makes it to 18. Loses many friends.
WORLD: “Are you a BOY or a girl? THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING! I’m gonna KICK YOUR A$& ‘cuz I CAN’T TELL. You’ve got to be a people person. Why aren’t you smiling? You just need to get happy!”
AFTER HIGH SCHOOL ME: Finds new friends who also medicate selves and take risks. Mostly forgets tree music. Loses some new friends to medications. Gets romantic partner who is likely Borderline Personality Disorder. Is ok with that because BPD partner will go out in public while both wear skirts and Goth makeup. Is used to verbal abuse.
WORLD: “I HATE YOU because you won’t answer! ARE YOU A BOY or a girl!”
EARLY COLLEGE ME: I am so ANGRY! What?! That’s normal here? Ok. I want to make films.
WORLD: “Wait, where did HE go?” Looks angrily around. Can’t find EARLY COLLEGE ME.
COLLEGE ME: “I’m at work in girl clothes making posters for concerts!” Some friends with same body type who also wear girl clothes get beat up. Sees their bruises and scabs. Wonders when same will happen to me. Makes friends who can hear tree music and like it when wears mix of BOY clothes and girl clothes. Forms accepting family with them. Celebrates holidays with accepting family. BPD partner leaves. Travels. Falls in love. Graduates.
POST-COLLEGE WORLD: “MEN get jobs and earn money. You’re a MAN, MAN, MAN!”
LATE 20’S ME: Moves. Loses accepting friends family. Finds self with new people in new place. Sees MEN. Sees women. Tries to make friends with both. Men kick poles and hold beer. Women sometimes act like friends. Other times are suspicious. Feels isolated. Thinks maybe am a MAN after all. Still not sure what MAN is. Observes carefully.
Tries to MAN. Feels like is losing self, but also it must be done. Has tried other options. Didn’t work. Medicates self. Doesn’t admit to hearing tree music. Feels love of food is accepted by World. Feels might disappear if not seen by World. Overeats. Feels confused.
WORLD: “Good job. You’re getting better now. You just need to try harder.”
EARLY 30’S ME: Tries harder to MAN. Overeats more. Attempts to Workaholic. Succeeds. Feels terrible. Reads stories from ancestors’ times. Learns ancestors loved tree music and ocean songs. Tries to become parent. Succeeds. Feels happy.
WORLD: “You are almost there. You still don’t do it right. Are you a MAN or not?”
LATE 30’S ME: Gets depressed. Gets more depressed. Gets so depressed, can’t remember most of a year. Sees own death. Starts hearing tree music and ocean songs again. Learns to meditate.
WORLD: “I thought you got over that nonsense. I am disappointed in you. Don’t you know everyone else got over it years ago? By the way, what do you do for WORK?” Many friends appear to agree.
PARENT ME: Works at least 3 jobs. Is very tired. Feels confused. Most known parent examples look like bad ones. Makes mistakes. Loves child deeply. Decides to be there for child. Changes jobs so can read bedtime stories instead of work at night. Goes to park with child. Mothers at park move to get away. Fathers at park hide beer between legs and ignore children.
Is represented by paper necktie at child’s preschool. All MAN parents are paper neckties. No other option for children to make. Is quiet often, sometimes angry. Some friends buy iPhones. Some friends lose selves to medications. Stops medicating self. Wants to be in better health. Feels confused.
PARENTING WORLD: “MEN go to WORK to make MONEY! MEN talk about WORK or hobbies that cost MONEY when they are not at WORK. Women and MEN can’t be friends. They should not speak unless forced to if they aren’t at WORK. If you think you have friends who are women, you are wrong. Your imagined female friends will agree with me because you are a MAN!” Most imagined female friends appear to agree.
EARLY 40’S ME: Stands up straight for first time. Marches in parade in drag. Finds friends who love tree music and ocean songs. Feels free.
Sees own worst fears happen at Pulse Nightclub. Feels scared. Loses some friends to high cost of living. Gets quiet. Decides not to medicate self. Eats right amount. Exercises more. Gets better at being parent. Learns to process feelings. Starts spiritual tradition with others who hear same music.
WORLD: “What you’re doing is stupid. Don’t you remember what the MOST IMPORTANT question is?!!!! You ARE your GENETALIA!” Ignores all intersex and trans people. Most national government organizations agree.
ME: “I dislike politics, but find that my existence is itself political. Binaries are always weapons. I’m not either of those, I am both of those, I am one followed by the other, I am more than either alone can be. I am a third option that is peace and healing.
There are others like me. We are not new. We have always been here because we are a natural part of all the ways to be human. Each of us exists as we are because it is true. We didn’t choose this. We ARE this. We have value. That tree is my friend. I like water on my feet. I feel joy because I am alive”