I often think about the language we use in our attempts to educate cis-gender people around what it feels like to be trans and/or non-binary. I question what it means when I hear, “...born in the wrong body.” This narrative has always confused me. As a non-binary person, I don’t know if there is anything like a “right” body.
What body could I have been born into for society to see me as the person I am instead of the person they wish to see? I was born in the body I have and it’s the right body for the journey I am living. My journey has evolved over the years and it remains in constant evolution. I am constantly discovering what feels good to me.
A great portion of my life, I tried to blend into the binary world so that people would find me ‘normal’. I claimed to love my hips, my curves, my soft face, my high pitched voice - desperately clinging to a binary so I can lessen my otherness. I was trying to love the things that made me feminine while allowing others and myself to dismiss my masculinity. For most of my life, I attempted to be a woman, aggressively adamant I was a woman to any assumptions that I was “trying to be a man.” Nothing inside of me, either emotionally, spiritually or mentally, felt like a woman. And also, nothing felt like a man.
What do these binary genders feel like? I don’t know. I don’t have an understanding of what gender feels like. I know what the treatment of being perceived as a woman feels. Feeling the effect of womanhood, that’s one I know. My body is the only thing that felt concrete in what was ‘supposed’ to be my gender, so it made sense to align with being a woman. Doctors informed my parents they’d be having a girl so I must be a woman, right? Doctors never get these things wrong, right?
This assignment is what we base our likes or dislikes on. We paint entire lives from this assignment. What color she’ll like, what activities she’ll be into, what I will and won’t ask of her. I know these limiting expectations far too well. I broke all of them and when I did, I saw and felt the disappointment from my family. Although, their disappointment is my liberation.
For years I attempted to hold onto the label of being a woman against what felt good in my spirit. The awkwardness when asked if all the women in a crowd would stand, I only did it to be safe from judgement. I would say “I’m not a woman, I’m a Black woman.” In my mind being a Black woman was a gender on it’s own. In ways it is, right? There’s not an instance I can see where the two could be separate. Even that felt false in relation to my identity. The first time I felt seen was in 2017, when a coworker wrote me a note and called me a “wonderful human.” That’s all it took. Being called a human. A simple word that freed me.
The wonder in me is who I’d be if I was born in a world outside of the binary.
The gender binary never made sense to me. I wondered why some words were assigned to women and others were assigned to men. There’s this finite rule that to claim one means to reject the other. I never “wanted” to be a man or masculine, I am. I never “wanted” to be a woman or feminine, those were assigned to me. Femininity is an expression I’ve grown to love. It’s one I claim proudly but not one freely chosen. Being feminine was a socialization where masculinity was natural and denied to me. Now I’m learning to live with the two and with the wonders of who’d I be if I was born with the autonomy I rightfully deserve.
The wonder in me is who I’d be if I was born in a world outside of the binary. If I could be masculine and feminine without being a deviant in the lens of society. If our autonomy was not one we had to fight for but one that is given from birth. If I were allowed to discover who I am. I wonder what I’d choose if I presented everything and was encouraged to do the things that felt good to me. I wonder if I’d be so uncomfortable with this body if I weren’t so limited because of this body, if I weren’t so trapped by this body. But see it’s not my body that’s the issue, it’s society. It’s the binary limitations that's the issue not my body.
I dream of this world outside the binary. Beyond these limitations, beyond the expectations, beyond the rules and regulations. I was not born in the wrong body, I was born in the wrong world. My body, my spirit, my mind is far too much for this binary world. I’m everything and simply a human.
Erma. Ishara (Standley) is a trans non-binary artist, writer, facilitator, and community organizer. They are the creator of The FemmeBoi a trans non-binary multimedia company creating affirming, entertaining, and educational content centering the lives of BIPOC creators. Ishara’s work focuses on creating content and community spaces centering diverse queer experiences. Ishara has facilitated gender education workshops for nationwide brands as well as consulting and coaching. They have worked with Chicago-based Black LGBTQ+ organization, Affinity Community Services, and currently work at a Black youth political education organization.