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An Adults Guide to: "What Is Nonbinary?" Written By A Thriving Nonbinary Adult

This is the most asked question I get on my TikTok account, Coach Alex Vaughan, where I dance, hang out with my magnificent wife, and we answer questions about queerness, overall just doing what we can to spread kindness and compassion in the world. That's our "queer agenda".

I almost always introduce myself with my name, pronouns and share that I am transgender and nonbinary. It wasn't always like that and in fact, in my 20 and 30s, I was the person who shouted and waved from a very rickety box how open and free they were. On the inside, I was running like hell, chasing after self-betrayal because it was familiar. Operating mostly from shame and suppressed anger conditioned as female, saying I was nonbinary and transgender was the last thing I wanted to do.

But, I knew it lived and breathed inside me. And I could view it how I wanted; a beast waiting in the corner to tear me apart or if I could just figure out how to walk towards it because maybe it wasn't that at all. Maybe it was a part of me waiting to be seen and loved and I had no idea how far it was going to actually take me.

I had to find out. Call me stupid, call me courageous...but please definitely call me curious.

I feel like people are really wondering more than just, "What is nonbinary?" when they actually ask. They might want to know what it is, what I am, but they are also asking, whether they know it or not, "How does it feel to be nonbinary?" I can give you the definition of nonbinary, you can Google it, and it'll make sense to a certain degree. I don't expect people to understand nonbinary if they are perhaps cisgender or even transgender in the binary way. And, I can only give you my experience as one nonbinary person in the world. I share my experience because it's important, my life affects your life, and I think people ultimately need to know what others are feeling so they can find a way to connect; it makes perfect human sense.

Identity is known and felt by the beholder; it is felt, embraced and embodied. It's a whole lot of, "Hey Brain, get out of the way, I need to feel something that is real..." From what I've witnessed "feeling" is something we're just finally beginning to discuss, acknowledge and practice how to do. We're built to feel as humans. When we ignore feelings, disaster hits.

Considering the dominant lens we are looking through is cisgender, disaster hits when nonbinary people's experience is, either intentionally or unintentionally, erased from the conversation. Thus, nonbinary people being erased. I've been in a place where I felt like I didn't exist. It's a very lonely place to be and no one deserves that. Ever. It took years of practice to not feel so hurt and angry when people (sometimes literally) waved their hand and laugh in my face when I would share with them that I am nonbinary and use they/them pronouns.

With every experience, I gave myself an incredible gift; building my ability to witness them struggle without giving them an out. I could lovingly watch how much internal work they had done themselves as they behaved in such a manner to justify dismissing another human being.

It wasn't like I just woke up one day and decided to be nonbinary. It was an entire spiritual awakening that happened over a long period of time that was facilitated by Self and many people around me.

  • It was my daughter coming out transgender when she was 6. Being in space with her made it impossible to not also shift. I knew enough that my kids would see right through me and at some point, perhaps resent me if I didn't work on myself. Looking at all four of my kids' faces, I couldn't stomach what that would do to them.

  • It was my wife who one day lightheartedly called me a lesbian and something primal rose up from my under regions. Pointing my finger (sorry babe), "I am not a lesbian", I began asking myself how my gender informed my sexuality and how my sexuality informed my gender. It was being with her and finally, for the first time ever, felt safe within my body. Her love was medicine and affirmed my every step of finding words for my gender.

  • It was being a drag king for decades. Feeling the pull to show a very specific kind of masculinity on stage in a way I was not comfortable with, I use music I am very emotionally connect to, makeup, and costumes to change the narrative around what people may have assumed they'd see with a drag king. The dominant conditioned idea of masculinity was exhausting. I wanted out.

  • It was being pregnant twice and remembering how that experience completely redefined how I viewed my assigned female at birth body. I was carrying life and that was extraordinary. I stopped self-harming, calling my body names, restricting it, treating it like it was unworthy when it was clearly ignoring all my internalized hatred, and continued to lead with love. It was when my body told me to sit down and shut up because I knew nothing of its capability beyond training it to do heavy squats, perfect push-ups and pulling a kick ass 500m row.

The word nonbinary is a label I use for other people. I don't necessarily need to use it for myself...not anymore because I finally can feel me in my body. That process took years to complete. And I do wake up everyday knowing there's more to come. I just have become more agile now when it comes to using the tools of my mind, body and spirit.

When I first got the word nonbinary, I carried it around like my new favorite toy, giddy with excitement about what I'd discovered, wanting to share it with everyone whom I felt needed to know. Close circles first and then further and further out. More importantly, I wanted to share because I wanted people to know how being nonbinary was not something people needed to fear-- at the same time reassuring myself I was exactly where I was supposed to be. My transition facilitated love to come in as I came out. I wanted to understand why I had so many people around who seemed irritated and angry with me at the changes I was going through. I wanted to be able to share, "I am love in human form. I'm not trying to fool you. It's just that I didn't know myself. I've been running like hell for years towards this specific truth and this is what I found. Here I am."

Holding the word close to my heart, nonbinary was a sign pointing towards home. As I wrapped my heart in its velvety letters, it felt like the coziest, warmest, softest sweater on the planet. It shed light on how scratchy and rash-inducing being called cisgender felt for me. Knowing the word, by its simple presence, soothed the ache, relieved the longing, and rocked the desperate cries to sleep.

In my minds eye, I see my gender as luminescence; a glittery prism but not everyone can handle being told that. So, "nonbinary" is the closest English language word I have to describe how my gender feels. The nuances of how my gender identity hits other people is fascinating. A cycle of energy extending in all directions; I can disrupt one's internal chaos and become a polarizing magnet. For me, knowing I am nonbinary brings me peace and balance into my life.

As more and more people share they are outside the binary of what was assigned to them at birth, we have to get better at asking certain questions:

  • How does [insert shared identity] feel for you?

  • How does this affect your life?

  • How does that love live in you?

Gender is only assigned by the person who is living it. The more people who can acknowledge how they feel in their body, the better chance we have at living in greater harmony. The "chaos" of being nonbinary brings growth, union and opportunities for connection.

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