Fellow Toastmasters. Have you heard of the term, "nonbinary" before?
It's used to describe someone "outside" of the gender binary of either male or female. I came out as nonbinary last year. I use they/them pronouns, which are considered in English to be genderless. You can use them in a sentence such as, "they went to the store," or "they are my friend."
Many of you may not be able to relate, as there is a small percentage of us in the world's population. But what if I asked you...
Have you ever felt disconnected from yourself?
When I was eleven, I weighed 96 kilograms (211 lbs). My parents worried about my weight. My doctors told me I was too fat. I wore baggy, androgynous clothing and I was bullied at school because of this.
"Ewww! What is she wearing?!"
"That's not a she. That's an it."
"It" is something neither male, nor female. "It" is something non-human.
"It" is a monster.
I hated being called it. That word made me hate my body. It made me hate myself.
When I was sixteen, a new, more positive word was used to describe people like me—a curvy girl. A curvy girl is someone who is fat, but who is also confident and sexy. They had thick hips, large breasts, and are the definition of powerful femininity. While I admired women like that, I admit that wasn't my reality. When someone called me a curvy girl, I felt neither confident, nor sexy. I felt like I was wearing a nametag that had my name misspelled on it.
(CJ attaches a nametag labelled "she/her" to their lapel.)
Even though it wasn't my name, people seemed to think it fit. I guess it fit. And really, I thought to myself, "someday, this nametag will feel like it's my own name. Someday."
Something happened to me last year that turned my world upside-down.
"You should try this weight loss app," my friend said, showing me her phone. "I'm losing weight for my wedding."
"Just for your wedding? If you're going to do that, why would you pretend to be someone else?" I thought to myself.
Noticing my silence, she said, "Well, you don't have to, but I'll send you discount." So, out curiosity and a coupon, I tried it out.
When I first started using the app, I was 87 kilograms (191 lbs). Within half a year, I dropped down to 65 kilograms (143 lbs). I rediscovered new hobbies like cycling and painting my nails. With every kilo I lost, the application told me I was going to be happier.
That happiness never came.
My clothes didn't fit anymore. The fat on my body that once made me feel feminine had shrunk down to muscle and bones. And, instead of my skin being stretched and plump, because I'd been overweight for so long, it sagged. If my weight was gone, how could I pretend to be a curvy girl? How was I going to get this nametag to fit? In my mind, I looked—and felt—like an alien. My experience of being an "it" came back to haunt me.
But this time, I looked in the mirror and faced "it."
And this "it," this part of me that always felt androgynous, looked back. "It" has worn baggy clothing not because it wants to hide its body, but because it's comfortable. "It" has never been ashamed of being neither male nor female, but proud. "It" has never felt conflicted about wearing suits or dresses, because it was comfortable in both.
(CJ opens jacket to reveal a lace dress.)
In that moment, I reconnected with who I was. Who I am.
And I realized in that moment that this "it," this thing I'd been running from...was me. And "it" was not a monster. "It" was a human.
(CJ pauses for a deep breath, tears in their eyes.)
My life is so different now. I may not present as androgynous as I'd like to be and yes, people often use "she/her" for me instead of "they/them." But instead of looking for a "perfect girl" in the mirror and finding disappointment, I instead look in the mirror and find a perfect nonbinary person staring back at me and find joy. For the first time in my life, I actually feel confident and sexy. I'm now the kind of person who winks at themselves in the mirror.
Though the bullies at my middle school were mean, perhaps they saw something in me that I was too scared to admit. That I am someone who likes living in the in-between. Fat, thin, ugly, beautiful. Male. Female. These are but a few nametags that we use to describe ourselves and others. Every time we put one, it comes with a set of expectations that some of us are happy to fulfill...and others wish we never had.
But when you were conceived, you had none of these. You were born human.
As was I.
Fellow Toastmasters, consider the nametags you wear today. Do they connect to who you are? Do they make you feel strong, confident, sexy?
If not, remember...
(CJ tears off the "she/her" nametag and rips it apart.)
You can always tear them off.