‘Just please don’t be a cross-dresser.”
These were the first words I heard from my grandmother as I came out to her for the first time. She had no idea that I dress in women’s clothes to perform in drag. Her remark was crystal clear: Being gay was OK; being something else was not. I didn’t understand how something that felt right could be perceived as something so wrong. I didn’t understand why something so harmless should be attacked and taken away from me.
N.C. legislators are starting to sound a lot like my grandmother with the passage of HB2 – or the “bathroom bill.” But I wish lawmakers – and my grandmother – knew what it is like not simply being a “man” or a “woman.”
I didn’t let my grandmother’s words stop me. Though hurt, I still perform at local clubs and events. As I walk into an LGBT club, decked out in makeup and heels, I feel truly free to express myself in the collective body that I am. I am not always a “man” and not always a “woman.” I am collectively myself – a fluid expression of gender and identity, something unique, something me.
After performing, I can go into a women’s restroom and fix my makeup and brush my hair. As my body is padded down, the only thing masculine about me is my voice. It’s in these spaces that non-cis gendered individuals have the ability to walk into a room and not be asked, “What are you?”
I am a demi-fluid (partially fluid, aligns largely with one gender) individual and am fortunate not to face the issue of self-expression outside my safe spaces. My identity operates outside of the gender binary – the system that assigns certain traits either a “masculine” or “feminine” characteristic to their associated gender. Individuals outside of this binary are often questioned or shunned for their lack of conformity. And a cis-gendered individual is one whose characteristics correspond with their sex.
These spaces promote love and awareness about the gender spectrum. I can’t tell you whether I have ever witnessed a state legislator sitting in an LGBT bar talking to the individuals being affected by this bill. Or at the makeup counter. Or at the local universities. Or even in their workplaces. The truth is, there are individuals operating on a non-binary spectrum all around us on a daily basis. Some of us may be caked down in eye shadow and lipstick – and others may be authentically themselves, content with how they look and how they feel.
I’m not asking legislators to question themselves or to spend their Friday nights at a bar where they aren’t comfortable. However, I am asking them to think about the individuals this bill is affecting. Now if I go to a non-LGBT-friendly establishment while in full makeup, I must walk into a men’s room – a place where people will stare, poke and prod, spit derogatory remarks or even worse. Where do the lawmakers benefit? Non-binary individuals will not simply go away because of this law. Now I will have to wet my makeup brushes next to Mr. Smith and his son, leaving everyone uncomfortable and confused.
More than thinking, I’m asking legislators to talk. Talk to people like me. Talk to individuals transitioning on the binary. Talk to those who exist outside of the binary and throughout the spectrum. I’m sure many lawmakers will be glad to find there are many people eager to open up about their experiences and their thoughts.
Forward progress is scary. We all must move forward at some point, whenever we are comfortable. Progress takes time. Even today, I cannot talk with my grandmother about my performances or my gender identity as anger and confusion fill our conversations. However, we continue to have these conversations. We make ourselves vulnerable to each other in hopes of seeing different perspectives. And even though it’s not always easy, we still do it together – for each other.
And much like I did with my grandmother, I encourage state lawmakers to take the initiative to have these vulnerable conversations and to talk to those of us experiencing the aftermath of HB2.
Cole Wicker, a North Carolina native, is studying computer science and cultural anthropology at Duke Univesity.