I’m an almost 52 year-old pudgy white man with Cerebral Palsy who feels no need to trade my body parts in for others. Sure, I look in the mirror and wish various parts could be smaller, tighter, and larger, respectively, but I think everyone has a bit of that in their life. Yet, I identify as non-binary because that description best matches my emotional and psychological understanding of myself. This is a story about the journey from the internal knowledge of my truth to its public performance.
When I was about 8 or 9, my mother would take me to the department store with her, drop me off in the boys department so I could look around, and go off to get whatever she’d come for. Unfailingly, I could be found in the women’s clothing section. It wasn’t that I wanted to wear women’s clothes. As a kid who grew up on FREE TO BE YOU AND ME, I had no truck with the idea of gendered possessions. It was simple — I liked pretty colors and comfy fabrics, and the closest I could get in the boys department was the velour tracksuit, of which I already owned a few. In 6th grade my favorite book was DEAR GOD, IT’S ME, MARGARET by Judy Blume. I carried it everywhere with me for the entire school year. Looking back, it wasn’t that I wanted breasts, it was that as someone with Cerebral Palsy, the idea of negotiating the disobedient body, and the knowledge I was not alone in doing so, was life-affirming. In the mid 70's Therapeutic Horseback Riding Centers for the Handicapped (as the lingo went in those days) were just starting to become an option. I was signed up at age 8, discovered I loved horses, and rode for 10 years. Later in life, my hatred of my conservative small town led me to apply and be accepted at Sarah Lawrence College, at a time when the college was 80% female. While there I took Womyn’s Studies courses, as that was a program that was especially strong at Sarah Lawrence and difficult to find at other places — you wouldn’t order a veggie stir-fry at a world-renowned steakhouse, would you? — and was quickly adopted by a group of radical lesbians who did not talk to men. In their eyes, my disability made me “not a typical man” and therefore hopefully an avatar for a new type of maleness.
There are many more examples I could share, but the point is this: Although I spent the majority of my life in womyn-dominated spaces, or performing traditionally womyn-identified activities, there was always an intellectual or practical reason for these choices that allowed me to avoid confronting my natural gender duality. It was only four years ago, at a conference, when I saw a man in a kimono one day, and the next in a stunning dress with heels, that all of the intellectual defenses cracked and I realized “I can do this. No, wait, I need to do this.” Men’s clothes, with all of their stiff fabric and belting / tucking in, had always felt prison-like to me, but that had just made my internal identification with what was traditionally understood as feminine even stronger. My genderfullness was my precious secret, made more powerful by my need to hide it.
For the last 30 or so years, I’ve nibbled around the edges of full self- expression, clothing-wise. Broomstick skirts with elastic waists. Gender- neutral nail polish. As an actor in my 20’s I fell in love with what we called base, known to the civilian world as foundation, so when I added that to the lineup it was barely a step forward in self-acceptance. More recently, lip stains and glosses. Still, though, something was missing. I was terrified of what I knew was the necessary next step.
This week was Pride week where I live. I had planned to go to the parade, but my body decided to make that impossible. However, in preparation for the parade I had bought a caftan, and when I put it on I was so happy I immediately took an Uber to my local Starbucks to show out. The outside expression finally matched the internal conception. For the first time I feel complete. And ya know what? I rock that caftan. Years of fears have gone dormant, and on this day of my local Pride Parade I can finally say: I’m out and I’m proud!