In the next in the Southlands College Reef Reads series, Kat Gupta writes about the new book Non-Binary Lives: an anthology of intersecting identities (Jessica Kingsley, 2020). Kat co-edited the book along with Jos Twist, Meg-John Barker and Benjamin Vincent.
As a non-binary person myself, I saw things as if through a many-faceted crystal: here was something that was so much like my experience, and yet here was something startlingly, beautifully different.kat gupta
“Non-binary” is an umbrella term by and for those whose gender identity isn’t exclusively “man” and “woman”. There are many ways of being non-binary: some non-binary people experience a shifting or fluid sense of gender, some people experience a sense of being many genders, and some people don’t feel a sense of gender at all. It encompasses a lot of things! Some people find the term “non-binary” useful but not all people do – however, they may also find their experiences reflected in this book. One of the central difficulties we have here is language: I’m a linguist and I still struggle to find words to describe my experience. Sometimes the words don’t exist – or don’t exist yet.
Whether we are a woman, a man or non-binary, our sense of gender is shaped by many things: our culture, our ethnicity, the communities we belong to, our faith, our experience of different stages in our life course, and our experience of being in our bodies. Non-Binary Lives seeks to give voice to some of these “non-binary and…” experiences: of being non-binary and a parent, non-binary and disabled, non-binary and Jewish, non-binary and Latinx. We wanted to explore some of these ways in which our non-binary genders are shaped by our different experiences. We wanted to show that non-binary people are a wonderfully, magnificently diverse group: that we come in many forms, shapes, sizes, backgrounds and ages; that we come from many communities, countries, histories and families; that there is no wrong or right way to be non-binary; and that our communities are more vibrant and nourished when they embrace the diversities within them (2020: 15).
I came on board as an editor after Ben had to step back due to their other commitments. I had previously submitted a chapter (Chapter 1: The Me I Am When I Am Not Me) and was delighted to be asked to be part of the editing team. It was a great honour that people trusted us with their words and stories, often sharing things that they’d never spoken or written about before. I edited a section about non-binary people’s experience of growing up, relationships with families, and becoming parents. I was deeply moved by each contribution and by the determination, resilience and courage shown by each writer as they wrote about stubbornly carving out a space for themselves in the world.
As an editor, I saw my role as helping writers articulate their story. It was important that the writer’s unique voice and perspective shone through, and my editing was done in collaboration with the author. We’d work together to find effective ways of phrasing sometimes very complex concepts and in doing so, feel our way towards understanding.
Their words took me to underground leather dyke bars, and to dangling my feet off an Oregon pier in a stormy night, and to the harsh lights of a hospital waiting room. As a non-binary person myself, I saw things as if through a many-faceted crystal: here was something that was so much like my experience, and yet here was something startlingly, beautifully different.
That sense of familiarity and difference is where the value of this book lies. I think there are stories and experiences in it that anyone who has ever thought about gender can relate to, no matter how they identify. I hope that trans people, non-binary people and anyone figuring out their identity will find something that speaks to them here. You might find stories that resonate with your experience. You might find stories that offer an insight into a fascinatingly different life. That’s okay. There is no one way to be non-binary. There is no wrong way to be non-binary – and there is no right way to be non-binary either. There’s room for everyone who wants to shelter under the umbrella.
Ultimately, I hope that this book offers a sense of the diversity, variety and richness of non-binary lives.
Dr Kat Gupta is a Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics and the BA English Language and Linguistics Programme Convenor in the Media Culture and Language Department at the University of Roehampton.