Being outside of the framework of the binary system of gender identities (male and female), in which society constantly creates specific rules for behavior, manner of dress, speech and the appearance itself can be extremely harmful for mental health of young people. The underrepresentation of gender non-binary in media is a big problem nowadays.
TOC, as an organization that deals with the issues and rights of LGBTI persons, has decided to provide for more visibility of gender non-binary persons in the series of articles "Non-binary and proud". This series will in the coming months provide the necessary platform for gender non-binary persons to express their emotions, creativity and authenticity.
The variation of rainbow colors exists for a reason, so let’s allow it to show up here in all its identities and lights.
We are honored to start this series with a conversation with, as she calls herself, "Our very own gender non-binary lesbian" - D. - who lives and works in Tuzla. We talked about our fears, ideas, pride, feelings in this interview.
A common question - "What is gender, and how fluid can it be?" has a pretty concise answer: Gender is a social construct that changes its norms as society itself changes or evolves. Changes depend on the historical moment, geographical area and cultural customs. This is exactly what our D. told us at the beginning of the conversation:
"It is important to emphasize that gender is a social construct, so it depends on the social context in which the person exists. Gender identity differs depending on what historical time we are in. Each historical period brings new norms, and thus brings changes in gender identity or gender expression. Considering that the way we look and experience gender has changed historically, it is very easy to conclude that gender is fluid and depends on many external as well as internal factors. Gender is a very complex construct, and it is wrong to consider it constant and unchanging. Sometimes people may have gender fluidity in order to find a “permanent” gender identity, while other people may have gender fluidity indefinitely. Gender is not binary and cannot be placed only in the category of male or female. Gender identity is a spectrum and the way we experience it can change over time. ”
Gender as such is indeed interchangeable, it is influenced by many factors, and the most important factors are the internal ones. Our emotions, patterns of behavior, knowledge, ambitions and dreams make up our identities. Sometimes it’s hard to find yourself in all of this and label yourself with a certain identity, and sometimes the label is just superfluous. Precisely because of this, the only logical question was: "What was it like to find yourself and identify yourself, what did that process look like for you?"
"First I reconciled and accepted my lesbian sexual identity, and then I started questioning my gender identity. I understand that I was raised in the pattern of a woman, but that identity is not something I feel most comfortable with, but the identity of a man is not something I felt comfortable with either (trust me, I tried that too). I don't feel like a woman or a man, so which box should I put myself in? I set out to question my entire gender expression and the way I present myself to the world. I simply set out to read more and find available information on the whole concept of gender. I came across the term gender non-binary and I just felt like the last puzzle piece that was missing came to me. To be non-binary is to escape out of the already set male and female frames. And I think I've been striving for that before, I just haven't found the right word to describe how I feel about myself. I have come to the moment in my life where my gender expression is more androgynous than ever, and I feel the most comfortable that way. It is important for me to emphasize that androgyny DOES NOT DEFINE my or your gender non-binary or gender fluidity. We do not owe anyone that androgynous "look" in our gender expression in order to be validated as a gender non-binary or gender fluid person. "
Often, different vews of LGBTI persons are created in people's minds, and they usually arise from various stereotypical and discriminatory standpoints. We must note that gender non-binary people do not have to look more or less feminine, masculine or androgynous in any sense, just because they are gender non-binary. We all have our own ways of gender expression and that is what makes us unique. I would say that non-binary helps loosen the strict rules set for all of us, and it allows us to be exactly who we are. We also asked our D. about her fears, but also about some confusion that may appear along the way.
"Currently, what confuses and frightens me the most is the fact that gender non-binary encounters a high degree of misunderstanding both by the wider community and by the LGBTIQ community itself. Gender non-binary identities are often less validated or often taken lightly. This sometimes leads me to a state of confusion where I start questioning my gender identity again and whether I just imagined it to myself. So I believe that I am still in the process of finding what defines me the most and the best (although we are not obliged to put a label on anyone, I feel more comfortable when I have it). "
We must note that it is okay not to want labels, to reject them and simply be authentic without them. But one thing is certain in all of this, and that is - people always go towards the feeling of belonging, acceptance and they strive to be a part of the community.
D. then talked about the context of language through the prism of how important words are and how strong they can be.
"I am someone who believes that our words are our strongest weapon, with which we express our thoughts, desires, motives, but also our identity. We need to understand that words have their weight and that it is important to take care of how we express what we feel in ourselves. Our language is very binary and rigid. It simply does not allow the possibility of using pronouns other than male pronouns - he/him - or female - she/her. The inability to add gender-neutral pronouns in the bosnian language is something that leads to the absolute non-validation of gender non-binary persons. Although I am someone who likes to address myself with female pronouns (I also use they/them when talking about myself), I still feel the need to make a language change that would validate other pronouns that are not exclusively binary.
Words lead to action, and action leads to validation. How can we feel visible and validated if we do not have the opportunity to express our identity through our mother tongue. I am very aware of the fact that we have already started to use a more inclusive language.
For example, we have started using gender-sensitive language as well as "people first" language, eg. people with disabilities, people with mental health problems, etc.
All this proves that we can really change something, only if we want it enough. Until then, it is necessary to point out the difficulties that non-binary people face when using binary pronouns in our language."
We agree with D. that progress exists and that, although it will take a long time, language reforms are possible and necessary. Words come out of the mouth, go on paper, come out on the covers of books, then climb on our T-shirts, tattoos, forever etched on the body, visible and constant but their consequences are often hidden inside. Because after all this time, words enter our hearts directly. They leave permanent traces of scars or flowers, depending on the purpose. Gender non-binary must be linguistically accepted because only in this way is there a possibility of equality.
In the end, our guest leaves with this: "Solidarity from your own gender non-binary lesbian D."
See you again soon in the continuation of this series, and until then feel free to write us anything you want on this topic. Greetings from your own gender non-binary author Admir Adilović.
This article was written as part of the project "Access to Justice for LGBTI persons in Tuzla Canton", which is funded by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. The article does not necessarily express the views of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, but only the author.