Disclaimer – I have a chapter in this book, Triremes and Battered Pineapple, but have received no payment for it, or this book review
Growing up barely a week seemed to pass without the news media leaping on a new youth trend, with all the excitement of a predator spotting a lone gazelle by a watering hole. Punk, Ska, Skinheads, Raves, and many more, all reported on with sweeping assertions, pearl clutching and cries of “will no one think of the children.”
Currently gender identity seems to fill the space previously occupied by repetitive beats or bank holiday weekends in Brighton. Against this backdrop the series of essays in Non-Binary lives; An anthology of intersecting identities is a timely publication. The four editors, Kat Gupta, Meg-John Barker, Jos Twist and Ben Vincent understand that as soon as you make an assertion, about any identity, that it is X and only X then you have fallen at the first hurdle. So they have collected diverse thoughts, different nationalities, races, religions, ages,assigned genders at birth, life experiences and histories, to produce a book that is in itself, non-binary. By which I mean it challenges the idea that because someone has a particular identity they will have a singular, and simplistic experience of that identity. This is especially important as gender diversity and fluidity are not new, western or white. They are however often portrayed as all three, or else people appropriate other cultures, in order to somehow validate their own experience. By refusing to only have a simplistic narrative of what it means to be non-binary the editors have avoided both pitfalls.
The book is split into four sections, Cultural Context, Communities, The Life Course, Bodies, Health and Well being. In each section there are voices we do not normally hear in books about gender, or if we do, we hear them spoken about and over, rather than having the space made to let them speak. There are people of colour, older people, disabled people talking about how they experience gender. Each writer approaches this in their own way, some from an academic perspective, some intensely personal, inviting us into moments of grief, despair, euphoria and joy. Some of my favourite chapters combine the two, taking into an inner world with an openness which allows us to walk alongside the writer. My own chapter began as a brief of talking about sexuality, but I realised as I initially struggled to write it, that, part of the experience of those intersecting identities of the title is learning both what you are, and what you are not. This idea, or learning, and unlearning, flows through the book.
In his chapter No Easy Answers Daniel Morrison says ” the word non-binary is defined by what it is not”. Generally I think he is right, but not actually in this book. Just as the taking up of space is a positive act, so, by allowing different people to say for themselves what non-binary looks, feels, tastes, smells like, then a positive narrative of what it is to be non-binary emerges. At this moment, when there is so little positive representation of trans /non-binary people that feels so important.