Art by Ivan Grasparin
I have spent all 22 of my Valentine’s Day celebrations in the company of family or friends. This year is no different. Sometimes a really cute selfie will have me thinking about how I too deserve romance — and a gift made of Pepero and Ferrero Rocher. But rather than wallow in the fact that I’m a Cancer Venus starring in a less cringe-y Drew Barrymore rom-com, I try to look at February as another month to check off another year-round campaign of loving myself. It is quite the challenge, one that got a little easier when I started identifying as non-binary.
Let me give this disclaimer before proceeding. If you’re looking for an article that will give you a technical definition of non-binary, this is not it. It’s easy to look for LGBT resources that can help broaden your vocabulary. If you are looking to invalidate the LGBT+, do us both a favor and kindly close this tab. Identity is personal and fluid because it shapes and is shaped by our experiences. What non-binary means for me might not be what it means for others. My story may not be identical to someone else’s but its a similar journey towards kindness to yourself and the skin you live in.
Being born female has been a wild ride for me. I was thrust into a cycle of desperately needing to come to terms with who I am just when I feel like I’ve built enough confidence in the knowledge of who I wanted to be. When I was in grade school, I thought I was a cisheterosexual girl. It didn’t matter if my opinion on real-life boys often led to yuck. Surely, I was a cishet girl if I wanted to be a Miley-Demi-Selena-Taylor hybrid and was vaguely obsessed with the Jonas Brothers. If my attention was on Bella Swan and Alice Cullen, that was because I wanted to be them. Right? I had my chaleco and Total Girl power with me as I set out to prove to the world that I was unstoppable.
It was in high school that I realized how self-empowerment could mean demanding to be respected not just for my abilities but for who I was.
It was in high school that I realized how self-empowerment could mean demanding to be respected not just for my abilities but for who I was. I wasn’t asking to be given a place in this world despite being a girl anymore. I knew I deserved to feel seen regardless of whether I was good at anything. I shouldn’t just matter when I’m getting good grades and being a pleasant little “yes” girl. I was in that phase that’s made out to be an angsty teenage fantasy: feeling very strongly that a person’s value is their capacity to love (even though they might not show it and seem allergic to receiving it). I inevitably got a rude awakening that destroyed the foundations of my parents’ dreams for me. It would have been the perfect time to listen to My Chemical Romance before they broke up, but I was too focused on Glee.
Not that I regret growing up with that show. It was one of the first series that I loved which had an LGBT character as one of the leads. Remember how I said I ogled at Kristen Stewart? Well, it all came back to me then. But the weight of my coming out seemed only discernible to me. I remember how conversations were focused on sexuality at the time. I wasn’t aware about how it differed from and came together with gender expression or identity. I regarded pansexuality like my shield against being made into an object of affection for men, being judged for not acting in accordance with how I looked while not having the financial capability to present otherwise, and the despair that I felt about having my body signify anything about who I was.
I regarded pansexuality like my shield against being made into an object of affection for men, being judged for not acting in accordance with how I looked while not having the financial capability to present otherwise, and the despair that I felt about having my body signify anything about who I was.
Understanding that attraction doesn’t have to be based on sex, gender, and gender identitiy also helped me unlearn internalized misogyny. Occasionally finding a straight boy attractive and wanting their attention stopped being a cause of self-loathing. Believing that it meant that I was allowing myself to become who I was programmed to be used to make me so defensive and resentful in the face of possible romance. It took a long time for me before I was able to really open myself up to falling in love.
A straight (if my memory of past conversations serves me right) ex-boyfriend I met in college told me once that he would still fall in love with me if I was a boy. I don’t think that either of us knew what that could mean for me. I was a member of my university’s chapter of Gabriela-Youth and women’s rights was a cause that was particularly close to my heart. I talked and wrote about it to the point of being mistaken for a radical feminist. I didn’t consider myself one but it was undeniable how my newfound sense of womanhood and nationalism visibly strengthened my character. I was proud to call myself a Filipino woman. I’m still proud to be a Filipino but I stopped turning a blind eye to the distress that racked me sometimes when I’m perceived as a woman.
I used to think that gender dysphoria is something exclusive to trans people. Impostor syndrome gripped my neck tighter every time I internally referred to myself as a boy. It felt like I was committing a betrayal that turned me into a pawn of heteropatriarchy. I wanted people to recognize that I’m a boy on days when I was one but I didn’t want to associate myself with the negative connotation that I have come to pin on the word “boy.”
I wanted people to recognize that I’m a boy on days when I was one but I didn’t want to associate myself with the negative connotation that I have come to pin on the word “boy.”
I struggle with mental health problems and this constant shouting match in my head about gender and a lot of other things aggravated my tendency to dissociate. Consciousness became an all consuming burden. I would fantasize about removing my face to be nothing more than a mound of flesh devoid of recognizable features and inflections of emotion. I wanted to be a formless tear of silent peacefulness, a reluctant not-exactly-nothing existence for someone who made an oath to live in defiance of misery.
Identifying as non-binary was a lot like getting a tattoo. It was an act of reclaiming my body and gaining control over the direction of my thoughts. To get over my insecurities about my appearance, I had to stop trying so hard to fit into the mold of a commodified standard of conventional beauty and androgyny. Identity and sexuality isn’t about conforming to a certain look and set of aspirations. Receiving love shouldn’t be reduced to a marker of adulthood or a status symbol to prove your desirability and virtue. I learned what love is by learning who I was. Love is sharing and sharing in the happiness of others. Love is celebrating the courage in living another day. Love is affirming in order to close the gap between self-image and self-constructed ideal. Loving is liberating.