The world has only slowly begun to accept the fact that classic gender markers don’t fit everybody and that the label of “male” and “female” don’t necessarily help clearly demarcate the world. Somewhere along the spectrum, you will find a large group of people who identify as non-binary. Just like no male or no female is alike, no non-binary person is alike. Those with non-binary genders self-identify as: Androgynous, Intergender, agender, genderfluid, and many other myriad terms. Some may identify as transgender and/or transsexual. Some non-binary people choose to transition, have surgery or take hormones, while some choose to remain with the bodies they were assigned at birth. Non-binary people have the same range of preferences as other people.
As per a 2014 Trans Media Watch survey, 80% of non-binary people felt that media coverage showed them in a bad light, while 74% felt that the media knew or chose not to know about their experiences. Of course, over the past three years, not much has changed. Ignorance and bigotry run rampant, as mainstream media continues to sensationalise non-binary gender identities. However, today, young people feel far more confident about challenging gender stereotypes and embracing their reality. Social media websites such as OkCupid and Facebook offer custom gender identities to allow people choose other options such as “androgynous”. The news that Searyl Ali Doty born in British Columbia becomes the first child in the world to be assigned a health document that doesn’t specify male or female, thanks to the efforts of their parent Kori Doty, makes us believe that a future where gender identities are no longer pushed down our throats from the minute you take your first breath is a possibility.
However, we still have a long way to go. In India, where the TG Bill still hasn’t resolved the conflict between self-identity and the need for certification by the government, this future may seem very distant. It is, therefore, very important to have non-binary role models that children, and young adults still grappling with their identities, can look up to:
Chicago-based Abhijeet is a visual artist and drag performer, who uses the pronouns “they/them”. They are best known for the #BadBeti campaign, inspired by the Pakistani-Canadian artist Maria Qamar, who started the series as clap back at the societal expectations on what a good South Asian girl should be like. Abhijeet, in their series, decided to pay a tribute to South Asian femme icons through drag recreations.
Alok Vaid-Menon | Transfemme
Alok is a poet, writer, artist and co-creator of Dark Matter, a non-binary trans South Asian performance artists’ space that was recently closed. Born and raised in Texas, Vaid-Menon has been using their talents to create new perspectives with respect to non-binary gender identities across the world. In 2017, DarkMatter came to a close but Alok has continued their work as a solo artist, media personality, and social justice educator, creating change one performance at a time.
Coco Supreme | Trans femme
Coco is a South Asian trans femme DJ, born and raised in Buffalo, New York, and currently rising in the DJ scene in Toronto. One of their biggest dream is to create a dance floor that is safe for everybody. One of their most popular track is a spin on the Powerpuff Girls title track, made as an homage to HIM, a gender non-conforming villain from the cartoon. They also co-curated a Pride Toronto showcase, which was aimed at creating “those sorts of spaces that people say exist for queer and trans people of colour in Toronto but don’t actually.”
D’Lo | Transgender Queer
D’Lo is a queer/transgender Tamil-Sri Lankan-American actor/performer/writer/comedian and community activist who goes across the world dissecting gender norms, alternate sexualities and breaking the stereotypes associated with them. He identifies as “boi”, a term that embodies a sort of soft masculinity. He is a co-producer for DisOriented Comedy, which is a largely female Asian-American nationally-touring stand-up comedy showcase. He has appeared in short films such as The Legend of My Heart Shaped Anus, Lock Her Room, Recession Lemons, Emmy-Nominated mini-documentary series THIS IS ME, HBO series LOOKING as Taj, Amazon series TRANSPARENT and the Netflix series SENSE 8 to their credit.
D’Lo is the creator of “Coming Out, Coming Home” writing workshop series which provide a transformative space for workshop participants to write through their personal narratives and share their truths through a public reading.
Gopi Shankar | Intersex and GenderQueer
Gopi Shankar is a Tamil activist, who has been helping hundreds of people from the LGBTQIA community through an organization ze set up called Srishti Madurai. Ze was one of the youngest, and the first openly intersex and genderqueer candidate to contest in Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly election, 2016. Ze even wrote a book, Maraikappata Pakkangal (Hidden Pages), the first book on gender variants, in Tamil and even coined new terms in the language for the variations in gender identity.
Johanna Hedva | Genderqueer
Johanna Hedva is a fourth-generation Los Angelena on her mother’s side and, on her father’s side, the granddaughter of a woman who escaped from North Korea She is a writer and performer, who also moonlights as an astrologer and tarot reader. They are the writer of the Sick Woman Theory, which is written as an attempt to provide people who tend to be written off by the society, a language and an identity.
Kareem Khubchandani | Queer
Kareem Khubchandani, who hails from Pakistan, is a Boston-based academic, artist and a drag performer who goes by the stage name LaWhore Vagistan. Their climb to fame came with the YouTube performance #Sari, which is a spoof of Bieber’s “Sorry” complete with flamboyant lyrics. As an academic, Khubchandani documents the experiences of South Asian immigrant gay men who experience gay nightclubs as safe spaces.
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha | Queer Femme
Leah is a queer disabled non-binary femme writer and cultural worker of Burger/ Tamil Sri Lankan and Irish/ Roma ascent, who co-founded and co-directed Mangos With Chili, North America’s longest running queer and trans people of colour performance art tour. She is an author who mainly writes about survivor-hood, disability justice, transformative justice, queer femme of colour lives and Sri Lankan diaspora. She has several publications to their credit, such as Dirty River: A Queer Femme of Color Dreaming Her Way Home, Bodymap, Love Cake, and Consensual Genocide. She is also co-editor of The Revolution Starts At Home: Confronting Intimate Violence in Activist Communities. Currently, she is working as a lead artist with the disability justice performance collective Sins Invalid.
Naveen Bhat | Non-binary Trans
Naveen Bhat, a California-grown actor and director, who rose to fame after starring in the documentary Escaping Agra, which shows Bhat, who is trapped in India after their parents find out about their gender and sexual orientation, and their following journey to battle them in court and piece their life back together. They have been on the forefront of the Body Positive Movement as part of their efforts to encourage everyone to practice self-love and being comfortable in a body that society has encouraged you to hate.
Vivek Sharya | Bisexual Transfemme
Vivek Shraya is an Indo-Canadian LGBTQ activist, a published author of fiction and poetry, and the creator of children’s picture book, “The Boy and the Bindi.” After years of struggling with her identity, she came out as a transwoman on her 35th birthday in February 2016, asking people to refer to her by the pronouns she and her, and wrote a song, “Girl, It’s Your Time” to mark the occasion. She was featured on the cover of NOW Toronto last year for being a person who “pushes gender and creative boundaries”.
Vqueeram Aditya Sahai | Queer
Vikramaditya Sahai, who is known as Vqueeram Aditya Sahai on social media, is a writer and queer activist. They teach at Ambedkar University, Delhi. To them, androgyny offered a sort of compromise between the “rule-bound femininity and masculinity.” They use their writing to create awareness and sensitivity to the problems faced by non-binary non-conforming people.