Letter to Self

When Asked to Defend Your Position
On Why You Are Non-Binary

Trans Issue 2015

Dear Addie,

You are a twin. Make no mistake about that. In fact, you have written these words before. They are nothing new to yourself, and to the others who know who you really are. This fact — this twinning — is a kind of love relationship, a kind you will never fully understand, which will seal your fate as non-binary before you understand what that word means to others, what images it implies in the minds of others who hear it come out of your twinned lips, and before you understand non-binary doesn’t seem to mean anymore what you think it means. But, this is a fact. That you and your twin were bonded before birth. That you and your twin shared fluids, and hormones, and chemicals, and flesh. A discussion of gender inevitably means a discussion of sex inevitably means a discussion of sexuality. Does that mean that your being twinned trumps all of these other bodies? Of course not. But, of course. Because your body rubbed up against another body before your eyes opened to the morning air. Because your body kicked at another body before your legs felt the uncertain grounding of the linoleum floor. Just like any other love relationship, your body and your heart and your brain kicked and cuddled and fought against another body. Each body you choose to (or are compelled to) kick at and resist and hold in your future will be immeasurably be held up to this first love, this first war, this first body, even if you don’t realize it. Even if you do.

But, there is something else here. For once, your place and position in this question and in this life is not just about your twinned body, your twin bodies struggling to understand yourself(ves) in this weird single-d life. Although. It is a thing. A thing that the bodies of the world — of any world — experience themselves as one unit among many — and this is an expectation of the world of bodies. You do not have that luxury. This is a privilege not afforded to you. One of many.

This question — are you non-binary? — is not exactly meant for you. It seems meant for bodies that once saw themselves as belonging to one world of words, and finding their body did not quite fit that world of words. It seems meant for bodies that could not find clothes that matched their spirit, not exactly. It seems meant for bodies that were expected to be housed in different bricks and planks of wood than the ones most often given those bodies. It seems meant for bodies that want to forge a new path for themselves, one dictated by their own desires and ideas, rather than the desires and ideas projected onto them by others. This is not exactly the way that the question arrives at your own particular body. And this is, by the way, a question that doesn’t quite arrive at your twin at all, and certainly not the way in which it would arrive at your bodily circumstance. This is a relief afforded you and your brain as it departed from the path that your twin and your twin’s brain took. Thank god.

However, to say that you have nothing to do with this question in the way it was meant for others would be a mis-statement, a mis-performance, a mis-reading of your own place in this. To say that would be to call yourself an ally, would be to take on the role of the passer, would be to avoid the truth you know that you live with and dress with and speak with and perform with every day. You can no longer inhabit this body and this performance while saying this question is meant for someone else. This is because you’re saying it has nothing to do with you contains this question as only being meant for a certain type of body, a certain formation of idea of that body, and ultimately, that means that within this question creates a new binary, a new cage so carefully adorned so as not to see its bars. Perhaps your answering this question will do something, if not for the world, for yourself. Perhaps your answering this question will turn the cage into a squishy bubble that can change form based on its inhabitant, rather than a cage that gets straighter the more the same bodies answer it.

Judith Butler tells you that there is no original or primary gender a drag imitates, but gender is a kind of imitation for which there is no original. C.J. Pascoe tells you that one of the ways a queer theory approach can brings studies of masculinity in line with other feminist theorizing is to uncouple the male body from definitions of masculinity. Michael Kimmel tells you that privilege is invisible to those who have it. Michael Kimmel says that making gender visible to men means not only making gender visible, but also making privilege visible. Tim White tells you that white people are, unlike people of color, born to belonging, and have rarely had to prove themselves as deserving presence here, which means anywhere. R.W. Connell tells you that to be an adult male is to distinctly occupy space, to have a physical presence in the world. Diane Torr tells you that what a lot of women did was simply turn themselves into undesirable objects by not putting on any makeup and wear overalls that made them look lumpy and shapeless. Diane Torr tells you it reached a point where some feminists would look askance at you simply for wearing lipstick. Diane Torr tells you that men demand, women acquiesce. Diane Torr tells you that if you have a roomful of women sitting in a circle, they’re very likely to be sitting up or forward on their chairs, engaged with the group, wanting to show that they’re listening. That, too, is socially learned. Diane Torr tells you that a group of men in the same situation will probably be leaning back in their chairs, more defensively; there will be a lot of crossed arms and open legs. It’s much more awkward, Diane tells you, because men haven’t necessarily been socialized to be communicative in groups and they have issues such as who’s going to be the top dog in the pack.

Your body was formed of the double, that has already been established, through the two bodies in one body, through the exchange of body and liquid and breath and dance that is required of two bodies in one tight little womb. Your body was formed of the double when you were asked to perform two-ness, when you were asked to sing foreign songs and wear identical clothing and remain always in your bubble of two. Your body, however, was also formed of two disparate countries—a true double-consciousness that could not be defined in mere abstract terms — and those countries had their own doublings to contend with. Your father’s body was born of China and also of Taiwan, was born of privilege and also of losing face, and your father’s body was born of two political warring bodies within those same foreign bodies that are somehow familiar as they are misunderstood. Your mother’s body was born of America and also of Nashville, her body was born of a desire to rise above the country but also a desire to speak its tongue of distaste and bias, but her body was also born of a fetish towards foreignness, an escape from whiskey and blue-gray mountains and fried meat towards misspoken English and jokes poorly translated and cultural misunderstandings. Perhaps it would have been different for you if those bodies that formed your body(ies) were not outcast bodies, in form and function and spirit and condition, if those bodies had been within an economy of other relatable bodies. It’s hard to say. But, despite the struggle within the spaces of community in which you never quite feel stable, you have to admit that you like this part of yourself, this body between bodies, like heated milk just before it hardens.

There’s something else, though. That your father raised you, and for this you projected onto him a maternal form, like lavender-scented bathwater, like soft mattresses that form to whatever body falls into them, so that when he baked tiny cheesecakes for your bake sale in orchestra, you imagined his gut with child, you dreamed of the infants that would be raised with love, instead of with fist. His pregnant pot was cloaked in a thick, floral apron, and this brought you comfort. His manly legs taking up the space of masculinity, his round body draped in flowers, his constancy like motherhood, his fist a man’s fist, but the rage from which his fist was made a motherly rage, or the rage of the Chinese matriarch.

That’s not all, though. That you’ve never seen your mother in a dress, that you’ve always seen your mother in black — black spandex, oversized black t-shirt, black flip flops. Your mother bought that green lipstick that turns pink at the local Walgreens every week. The same place she bought her mascara and her Oil of Olay foundation and the safety-pin she used to separate her eyelashes once they got thick and knotty, the safety-pin that she once stabbed into her eye while she was driving and separating her eyelashes in the rearview, that caused her to have to tell everyone she got mascara in her eye when they asked why she was wearing a pirate patch over it. That you watched your mother dot-dot-dot her foundation on her cheekbones every morning before she left the house, and then her green lipstick, and then her mascara, and then her safety pin. That your mother told you to never wear makeup, that you should rely on your natural beauty. That your mother took up the same space your father did, spreading her legs, body, and arm on the couch to show that she could, that she never wore heels, or even blue jeans, or anything with flowers. It was your mother that was conquering men while you were sleeping, and it was your father that baked your cheesecakes for your bake sale and taught your sister to dance for her first high school dance and it was your mother who told you to keep metal bars in your purse in case boys tried anything. She was the conqueror.

There’s something else, though. Remember that time your father wore makeup with his hair in a bun? That time that was really like ten years of watching your father perform in Chinese plays with all of his friends, and that was your life. Because he was too protective of you to let him out of your sight, and what he wanted to do was be an actor on the side, and so that meant you were watching your father act in a foreign language and be a villain but also be in a Chinese opera and wear pink blush and dark eyeliner and a long white robe which looked at in a slightly askew way would be considered a dress.

And so you were birthed out of all that strangeness, which now seems kind of like a beautiful strange, but at the time you didn’t much like it. You wanted to be one thing. You have always wanted to be one thing. One body, one sexuality, one gender, one interest. But, that’s not the way you’re built.

So, how were you built?

You were built loving your father’s neckties and oxfords but also with a strong memory of being bullied and so you don’t wear either until you are almost thirty. You were built never wearing dresses, even when your father dressed you and your twin most of the time, and so you also fell in love with the ball gowns that the actresses wore on the red carpet. You fell in love with the tailored suits in mafia movies. And the costumes in period films. The space that the ball gown takes from the world because it can. The space that the mobster takes with his pinstripes because he can. When you do finally wear neckties and frilly skirts, pinstriped suits and cherry lipstick, you wear them because the man that you love wears skirts sometimes, and lipstick when he plays with gender with his students and even wants to be pretty most of the time, which included wearing blush when he was a high school basketball player, and because through this man that you love you realize something. That you have loved love, but particularly you have loved love the way a suitor loves love. You are terrified to be proposed to, to be asked out, to be conquered like perhaps your mother conquered those men in the other room when you were a child, or perhaps the way that your father conquered you with his fist and his possessiveness and his foreign tongue, or perhaps the way that your body was conquered and split before you got to defend yourself. And so, through this new man that you love, you do the thing you always wanted to do but never realized. You do the thing that you were kept from with boys when you were younger, and with girls when you were older, but that you have always wanted to be. You have always wanted to be Johnny Castle and Harry Burns and Mark Darcy (the Bridget Jones variety) and Dean (the Blue Valentine variety) and Lloyd Dobler and Duckie and Ronald Miller and Sam Baldwin and Ross. When you were a girl you would dream about your wedding day and you would get heart palpitations. Not the good ones. When you would dream about the day a man would get down on one knee, again, heart palpitations. Again, not the good ones. But, here was the man that you loved that wore makeup and gushed over teen girl television whose fingers trembled when watching basketball and who loved being the girl in the scenario. To say those words, the girl in the scenario, kind of makes you gag a little bit. But to say instead, the passive one, or the submissive one, or the receiver, or the bottom, makes you gag, too. There is no non-binary way to speak to these things. You could say it like this. You could say that you loved buying him flowers and you loved asking him out and you loved holding the car door open for him and you loved paying for dates and you loved showering him with gifts and adornments both verbal and material and you loved proposing to him with a setting of multi-colored sapphires shaped like a daisy that a girl would draw on her notebook and you loved to make him friendship bracelets that he would actually wear and you loved to buy him floral cardigans. It is never much talked about, somehow, that you and the man you love are not straight. That you and the man you love are circular, are squiggly lines, are zig zags. So, when you and the man that you love wed rainbow, rainbow, rainbow! no one is surprised, and no one says anything to you about it. Because they know it, too. That you are non-binary in a binarized world. You wear a rainbow ballgown and a bowtie and oxford flats. He wears a pink blazer and a rainbow tie and rainbow knee-highs and oxford flats.

Nothing is perfect. When your lesbian friends marry and one of them changes her name to her spouse, nothing is said of it. When the one that changes her name is the femme one, the one thought of as the woman in the couple, it all matches up. When your lesbian friends call each other wife, it is radical, it is changing the script, so it is okay. But isn’t it as binary as anything else? Is it only the body performing that changes the binary? Doesn’t that only prove that the body is crucial in establishing the body’s meaning? When do bodies cease to matter as codes to live up to? When you think of changing your name, or when you think of calling the man you love husband, you no longer get to be the squiggly line joining forces with your squiggly line counterpart. You are straight (in the bad way), you are passing (in the bad way), you are selling out to those parts of yourself and your history that you once were, to the time when you thought you were someone else, when you thought you were queer the way that others were queer. Why can’t you be in love the way people are in love? Why must only our boy-girl-bodied selves be held up to a different microscope in this conversation of binaries? You’ll admit, you jumped as far on that queer wagon as you could go once. You inhaled Adrienne Rich’s Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence, crying when she tells you that if women are the earliest sources of emotional caring and physical nurture for both female and male children, it would seem logical, from a feminist perspective at least, to pose the following questions: whether the search for love and tenderness in both sexes does not originally lead toward women; why in fact women would ever redirect that search; why species-survival, the means of impregnation, and emotional/erotic relationships should ever become so rigidly identified with each other; and why such violent strictures should be found necessary to enforce women’s total emotional, erotic loyalty and subservience to men. You thought, at last! At last!, a theory that makes sense combined with your quest to find yourself — to find yourself within your mother, within your twin, within your own body as repeated outside of your own. It didn’t quite work, because in those mono-gendered spaces you were still asked to be femme, still asked to be the recipient, still asked to be one thing. Oh, you loved the idea of being one thing, of not being hybridized, of having a single identity. You tried to force that on for size, you tried to live in a space that was so overtly determined.

But. But.

You have embraced the hybrid that you are — the hybrid in gender, in sex, in love, in race, in politic, in art. You have embraced the strange position in which you were born and in which you continue to live. You have embraced the thing you are most, and the thing which makes you the wild card in this conversation, among many wild cards, many beautiful, glorious, singular, wild cards. You are feminine and you are masculine. You are pretty and you are handsome. You are a courter and you are the courted. You are straight and you are squiggly. You are performed and you are sincere. You are yourself and you are your twin. You are joined and you are singular. You are expected and you are confusing.

For confusion, you fight.

For strangeness, you dance.


Yours (and Not Yours),



“And I piss on the great saguaro; with my / Lips split open and wide owl eyes.”