Rise Above the Binary
12 Jul 2021
In the lead up to International Non-binary People’s Day on 14 July, we talked to some of the volunteer peer facilitators behind Rise, Thorne Harbour Health’s monthly peer workshop for our nonbinary, genderqueer, agender, and genderfluid communities.
Launched in November 2020, Rise offers a space specifically for non-binary people to share their experiences and connect with likeminded people.
“I’ve met so many amazing people since the group started, and I’m so grateful to everyone who’s shared their stories and their thoughts. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the group when we started!” said Rowen de Lacy, who has been involved with Rise since the start.
“I think that it’s nice to have a space where we can discuss the many ways we experience gender,” Rowen added.
Non-binary identities are diverse and varied, and the experiences of people who have those identities are equally varied. But it’s nice to have somewhere we can just be ourselves without expectation that we’re going to either fit, or completely reject, a binary gender identity.
Currently run via Zoom on the first Thursday of each month, Rise is led by a handful of volunteer peer facilitators. Zi Largiader is one of those volunteers.
“The workshops are structured around a very loose formula, which evolves throughout the session and is group dependent,” Zi said.
“Introductions are the only part of the workshop that are strongly encouraged, otherwise individuals can participate as much or as little as they like. Topics are selected by the group and subject content is participant driven with facilitator prompting only when necessary.”
While nonbinary and gender diverse participants are regularly a part of Thorne Harbour’s other peer education workshops, having a space without the gender binary creates a different atmosphere and a unique opportunity to connect with each other. Another Rise facilitator, SJ Matthews, spoke to this.
“Sometimes community can be difficult to find for non-binary folk, because like bisexual people, we’re kind of between binaries or totally outside of a binary experience, which makes defining our identity very individual. I don’t think there’s any universal experience.”
“There are other groups around that are non-binary specific, but they tend to be just online, like on social media platforms, or are US-based,” SJ Said.
“When we did start to get more participants, I was surprised to see a lot more people who were gender questioning and there was a large mix of identities, compared to other groups where people seemed to usually feel a bit more solid in their identity.”
There is no singular nonbinary narrative, or identity, or journey, and being a part of the Rise workshop can open up people’s eyes to that diverse reality and perhaps provide some comfort in affirming their own experiences and desires.
Hearing other’s journeys can sometimes be super reaffirming to your own existence and helps to build solidarity. Just having the opportunity to express yourself in a space without judgement where others ‘get’ you can really help bolster one’s sense of identity.
Rowen added, “You don’t have to be 100% certain and fixed in your identity to join us. Sometimes it can be nice to have a space to experiment with new names, pronouns and identities without having to explain yourself, and also to listen to other people and see if you have anything in common.”
Every year, 14 July marks International Non-Binary People’s Day. The Rise facilitators spoke to some of misconceptions about non-binary people.
Rowen explained, “Being non-binary isn’t a third gender, it’s an umbrella term that covers a whole range of gender identities and presentations. There’s a lot more variety than people might think.”
“If you’ve met one non-binary person - then you’ve met only one,” SJ added.
“Our experiences are different, our expression of our gender is very individual and nuanced, depending on the people around us and our internal gendered feelings - or lack of there-of. And that can vary quite a lot, day-to-day and week-to-week, or hour-to-hour for some folks.”
Zi explained further, “This is where the waters begin to cloud and the wrath of identity politics looms around the corner. It’s tricky to answer because there are so many ways of looking at this. Which inevitably conjures the most confusion, and thus directs us back to the core misunderstanding of what is ‘non-binary’.”
“I think because conceptually non-binary is so at odds with our fundamental understanding of gender there is still a lot of resistance to its acceptance. Likewise, because the lived experience of one individual is so uniquely distinct from another individual, creating some gold standard operationalisation of the term is equally impossible. So yeah, I think the ambiguity of it all is perhaps what keeps people so confused.”
SJ spoke to how the Rise workshops have informed their sense of identity.
“It’s been really humbling to be able to talk to participants and to know more about what it means to be non-binary for the whole community, instead of just me and my little box,” they said.
For me, I tried to fit into a binary understanding of gender and it didn’t make sense for me, and quite a few participants had that same experience of finding that binary trans experience not quite right. Discovering the amazing rainbow that fits under ‘non-binary’ means that you have a lot more space to play with — and be able to do genderfuckery!
For other non-binary people who are still exploring their identity, Zi offered some advice.
“Drawing from my own personal experience really highlights the need for strong support networks. I also understand that this is a privilege that not everyone has.”
“Places like Thorne Harbour or other LGBTIQA+ organisations that offer ways to connect with other likeminded individuals are invaluable. Hearing other’s journeys can sometimes be super reaffirming to your own existence and helps to build solidarity. Just having the opportunity to express yourself in a space without judgement where others ‘get’ you can really help bolster one’s sense of identity.”