By N for Cake:
When living in a big city like Karachi, one tends to come across all sorts of things. But the expectation to conform to what society wants and fit into neat little boxes (whether it be your sexual orientation or gender) really messes with the substance of what one finds.
You see, I am non-binary. Essentially, that means that I don’t relate to or connect with the conventional definitions of being a ‘man’ or ‘woman.’ It is both a personal label and an umbrella term, but I tend to use it somewhat in both senses for myself. However, the lack of open discussion regarding being non-binary made it that much tougher to figure out how much this term applied to me.
To start with, I grew up in a joint family system. And while in some cases that would mean that there are more people to shove gender roles down your throat, fortunately for me that didn’t happen. See, I lived with my father’s side of the family and on this side the women were known to be fiery and determined while the men were meeker and relatively more sedate (very binarist, I know). So growing up I saw my paternal grandmother and aunt being successful and treated with respect, and my mother and another aunt who were stay-at-home-moms were also equally respected.
As a child I didn’t really register it but there certainly is a benefit to living in this kind of variety, because at a deeper level I became aware that the roles played in the household and at work aren’t necessarily better suited to one gender over another. Though, it wasn’t as though my family recognised gender roles and consciously avoided them; it would be more true to say that my grandmother set an example, both by working hard and having a no-nonsense personality, that ended up preventing certain mindsets from really taking hold in the first place.
So while I escaped family pressures to be “girly”, the media I was surrounded by more than made up for it. It was very rare for me to find any characters I could personally relate to because “girls” were always reduced to mere love interests, or sexualised to the point that you wonder why being a girl has to be so uncomfortable and restrictive.
Having been inundated with this limited and claustrophobic version of being a “girl” I decided I wanted to rebel against… well all of it.
My father really loved watching James Bond movies, and by extension so did I. However, I never wanted to romance James Bond (or his Bond Girl for that matter), I wanted to be James Bond. Because at that point the only girls I could relate to were “The Powerpuff Girls,” and that was entirely rooted in how it was a show centered on how cool these three girls were, despite being so different from each other and having no outright love interests.
So I began shaping my identity around what wasn’t considered “girly”. I took an interest in playing sports and watching wrestling. For most of my childhood I used to wear shirts and jeans for special occasions like Eid, when it was expected of little “girls” to wear colourful shalwar kameez. Amusingly, despite wanting to consciously be as non-feminine as possible, I still played with Barbie dolls and loved shows like “Winx Club.” I even enjoyed wearing my mother’s heels and using her makeup. Thinking about it now, I’d say that I engaged with a mix of “boy stuff” and “girl stuff” because I had enough room to pay attention to what I personally liked as opposed to only focusing on what society wanted me to conform to.
And as I got older I did continue to cling to my dislike for using gender to put people into boxes, but I also refined these views as my understanding of feminism evolved. But in my A Level years (basically some time last year) I began to realise how I am, in fact, quite queer. I began evaluating my gender. But at the same time my identity was rooted in breaking all the norms girls were expected to follow. Not to mention the fact that the world isn’t the most accommodating to those who aren’t cis. There came a point where it felt uncomfortable to keep denying it and I began engaging with the “queer” side of the internet to learn more about terms that describe gender. In the end, I discovered that bigender was the term that resonated with me. And within that scope the two genders I related to were “female” and “non-binary”.
After accepting the truth of it, I spent a lot of time going back and forth with this because I suddenly wasn’t a girl anymore and my sense of self needed to be reimagined to suit that. The big question remained though, how would I reimagine my entire identity?
Thankfully, due to the internet, I was surrounded by positivity and reassurance regarding my gender, which gave me the support I needed to straighten things out. With time it began hitting me, more and more, that the best way to challenge what is expected of one gender is to question why a binarist dichotomy exists in the first place.
And as the pieces fell into place, everything began making sense. A lot of sense. It was like the answer was right in front of me all along yet up until now my eyes were closed so I had no idea. This epiphany ignited something within me, where I began analysing what aspects of femininity appealed to me and what aspects of masculinity appealed to me. The answer as it turns out is that I actually like “feminine” things and no longer had a “reason” for consciously rejecting them.
Even though in a more general sense I personally see both “masculine” and “feminine” as gender neutral, it is pretty liberating to base my whole identity on what I actually like as opposed to being influenced by what’s around me, whether I’m conforming or rebelling.
And I won’t lie, as someone who’s very securely located in the closet, it does make me feel uncomfortable to think that people will look at me being at ease with being feminine and perceive it as “You finally became a girl.” But this is one of those things I know I’ll be able to work through with time. I mean, I’m only 19, and I’ve only been at this for around a year, so I’m in no rush to be at peace with everything. This is part of why I didn’t really worry when “bigender” (at least how I defined it before) didn’t seem to fit as well it used to. I stick to non-binary for now for convenience, because going with the flow guarantees the most ease and comfort.
All in all, while the journey has been demanding and daunting, I’m glad I took the initiative to reflect over who I am. And sure, the world has a long way to go before it’ll fully accommodate those who aren’t cis, but we’re getting there. And in terms of myself I’m just relieved I got the room to explore who I was instead of spending my life feeling as though something just wasn’t right.