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Why my non-binary gender identity matters

WORDS BY JONTI RIDLEY

“People can wear whatever they like, look how they like, sound how they like and act however they like, and their identity is still 100 per cent valid.”

For International Women’s Day, Converse launched its My Story collection, a female-designed reimagining of the classic Chucks. Inspired by fearless, bold and independent womxn, My Story helps give you the words and colours to tell your own story. To celebrate this release, we’ve given Fashion Journal readers the opportunity to have their own story published in our pages. Here, Jonti Ridley gives us an intimate look at their journey of realising they were non-binary.

My experience of being non-binary was an unexpected one, largely because I didn’t even know what that was until I was 19. At this point, I’d already moved away from home and into the big city on my own, and I was already well acquainted with the fact I was queer.


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Looking back, it feels like the universe threw me a gender-curveball to teach me a lesson for being so smug about discovering my sexual identity early on in life (teenagers can be the worst). Sidebar: I didn’t learn my lesson whatsoever, which probably explains the late autism discovery as a refresher course in humility.

Like a lot of non-binary and genderfluid folks, I originally questioned if I was transgender. Prior to discovering I was non-binary, I thought that was my only option. I was either cis, or I wanted to identify as a trans man – the only other possible explanation I had for my biological discomfort. I’ve reflected on this question a lot over the years, and probably will again in years to come (who knows!) But frankly, the concept of committing to gender binary has actually been the source of my biological discomfort.

Discovering the term non-binary was a godsend; things just clicked inside me. I didn’t feel broken anymore and suddenly an entire community of people not only understood how I felt, but they felt the exact same way. The internet can be amazing – shoutout to Tumblr for having this singular positive long-term effect on me.

Writing this is a mildly surreal experience because I wish I could go back and talk to 19-year-old me and let them know that hiding this part of themselves from friends and family just isn’t worth it. Of course, there’s going to be people in your life who don’t get it, or don’t ‘believe’ in it. There are people in your life who don’t think you should’ve gotten tattoos either, but holy SHIT none of that matters.

I’m a little older now, maybe not a whole heap wiser, but I do know that other people not ‘getting it’ is never a good enough reason not to do something. Nor is it a good enough reason to shove this part of your identity back into the closet (didn’t see that analogy becoming relevant to your life, teenage me, did ya).

Dating was a weird one. Part of me never wanted to put my gender identity in my Tinder bio because I was worried people would swipe no because of it. I can now say this confidently, with some glaringly obvious hindsight, that anyone who swipes left on you because of your gender identity is obviously not someone you want to be with. If I remember correctly, I told my current partner over Messenger because I’m a scaredy-cat. It didn’t really bother him to be honest, it was all very anticlimactic. Almost as if the right person for you would never care about something like that…

I’m fortunate enough that most of my friends are queer or queer-adjacent so the most I’ve had to do is to explain the concept of non-binary to them before they were on board. I’d love to say this is reflective of all my friends, but unfortunately, that’s not the timeline we exist in. It is what it is – romantic love and platonic love are really just a hop, skip and a jump away from each other. Any friend in your life who can’t accept this part of you isn’t worth having in your life.

Saying all of this doesn’t eradicate the tears I’ve shed mourning relationships that ended because of my gender identity. It’s absolutely a super shitty feeling – I’m not going to pretend I’ve had this all-or-nothing approach to the company I keep my whole life. But once you reach this destination (therapy and self-love is a great place to start) your world is simply going to explode with genuine, enthusiastic and authentic love. Because that’s what you deserve – why on earth would you waste your energy on someone who doesn’t believe in your gender identity, like it was the tooth fairy or something?

In this stage of my life, I find myself existing in largely male-dominated industries, and the femme privilege is real. Like a lot of folks, my appearance is my primary source of gender expression. Right now, I’m exploring my high-femme fantasy to make up for the femininity I rejected in high school because of my internalised misogyny and gender dysphoria. Because of this, men are nicer to me. There’s the occasional asshat obviously, but on average when compared to my experience living on the masc side of life, men are simply nicer to me. We can thank misogyny and racism for that fun patriarchal cheat code, but being femme comes at its own price within the LGBTQIA+ community.

Because I was born biologically female, and because I enjoy makeup and dresses, there’s a select few out there that consider my identity as a non-binary person less valid. A weird mutation of the concept of ‘passing’ requires non-binary people to avoid either traditional aesthetics of either binary gender label, in particular those of which align with their biological sex. This isn’t limited to the LGBTQIA+ community, of course. I hear it from cis people plenty, but what a stupid fucking concept that is.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: people can wear whatever they like, look how they like, sound how they like and act however they like, and their identity is still 100 per cent valid (and frankly, it’s none of your business to suggest otherwise).

I think how much has happened in the past five years, and it just breaks my heart to know how very long 19 years of unexplainable dysmorphia truly is. I’ve spent a lot of this time rambling about the past, possibly to my own detriment, but I think it’s really important to share these stories within the LGBTQIA+ community. Especially the shitty parts. It probably would’ve meant a lot to younger me to see someone existing in the world as non-binary, and even though I can’t change my past, maybe I can help shape someone’s future for the better.

View Converse’s My Story range here.

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