nonbinary person wearing pink barbie sweater and gold chains

Photo by Cory Timmons

Letter to my nonbinary self

Last updated: July 31, 2021

In 2018, you changed the sex listed on your Oregon driver license from an M to an X. It took 30 minutes and cost $26 at the DMV.

You shaved your beard that day because you worried the DMV people would scrutinize your look and call you out as an imposter. You didn’t think about how the photo on your license wouldn’t look like you. How that clean shaven person would end up being the imposter, a stranger occupying your own ID.

But your imposter syndrome didn’t end with changing your license.

You struggled to talk with people about your gender and your pronouns: they, them, and theirs. You found that most people — especially those closest to you — just weren’t that curious about it. They saw you as an M — a rather queer M, but an M nonetheless. They didn’t ask, and you didn’t insist.

So over the past three years, you have heard your pronouns used maybe half a dozen times, usually by other nonbinary people. But you have heard people use he, him, and his to describe you on a near daily basis.

You don’t relate to he, him, and his. Those pronouns take you back to 7th grade gym class when you were separated into gender binary groups. The Fs had lessons in dancing while the Ms were forced to do wrestling. WRESTLING!

There you were, the kid getting pinned every time, barely able to breathe under the weight of competitor after competitor. There you were, averting your eyes in line, while the jocks taunted you by whispering “faggot” under their breaths. There you were, holding back tears, as the PE coach shouted during one match, “Try, Watters, try! Why won’t you just try?”

There you were, wondering what was wrong with you, wondering why you felt so powerless and out of place, wondering why you weren’t allowed to dance.

That’s how it still feels when people call you by he, him, and his. All that weight pinning you down.

You have often justified people misgendering you. You don’t want to be mad at people. You love people; you’re a people person.

So you said to yourself, “Mike, you are too masculine for people to remember your pronouns.”

Or, “Mike, you are too old to be nonbinary.”

Or, “Mike, you are too privileged, too powerful, too fill-in-the-blank to center this conversation on yourself and your pronouns.”

Or, simply, “Mike, let it go. It’s no big deal.”

But you are finally realizing this self-talk is damaging. You would never say this stuff to another nonbinary person.

It is a big deal. Your gender is not about how you look or how old you are or any other status. It’s about how you feel inside.

You changed your license and your pronouns because you are not an M. You never chose to be an M; society made that choice for you and reinforced it with constant threats of violence and trauma.

You aren’t writing this because you’re angry at anyone. You are not thinking about that time you were misgendered last week by a friend or colleague. This is so not about them!

You are doing the daily work to let that shit go. You are going deep into meditation to release your frustration at being called he. You are constantly reminding yourself of the love and compassion you have for yourself and those around you. It’s exhausting.

You are writing this because you are an X!

Mike, you are an X, and you are many other things.

You are a writer, an artist, a seamstress, a coder, a gardener, a pet parent, a human rights activist, a workers’ comp nerd.

You are a friend, a cheerleader, a caretaker, a seeker of truth.

You are a control freak, a perfectionist, a compulsive, a depressive.

You are a perfectly imperfect whirlwind of a person.

You deserve to be all those things without being judged for them. And, Mike, you deserve to have your pronouns used.

Most of all, though, you deserve to be allowed to dance.

Mike Watters is a writer and artist living in Salem, Oregon.