There is blissful freedom in being totally, unabashedly yourself.
That’s the message in Ben Pechey’s The Book Of Non-Binary Joy — a book that celebrates the power of self-expression and self-love for non-binary people.
In an era when transphobia dominates our timelines and mainstream media outlets fuel dehumanising conversations about trans and non-binary people, finding joy outside the gender binary is something that gets very little — if any — airtime.
Pechey — who is a social media creator, LGBTQ advocate, and all round source of joy — has written this book that aims to help non-binary people to be themselves outside of the confines of other people’s judgement, prejudice, and unsolicited opinions.
All too often, books about trans and non-binary people’s experiences don’t speak to the community they’re written about. But this book speaks directly to non-binary people who are on their own journey of individuation and provides tangible advice on expressing yourself, and taking those first steps outside of the binary.
One of the first forays I had into visually distancing myself from binary gender was through earrings. It is a very small thing, but at the time felt very groundbreaking to me. I chose to buy a pair of U-shaped silver hoops that dropped 3 cm from my ears. I still have them, and today they are something I would choose for a dressed-down look, but at the time they felt so feminine to me. The boldness of my choice sent electricity through my body, and it felt so huge not only to have the thought to try something different, but to give that thought approbation. That positive experience would be the one I would use to justify other perceived risks in the future. I would say the hoops were my very first shaky steps on my journey to visually expressing myself fully. So this is your reminder to give yourself permission, darling. It will all work out great!
I am a fussy eater and have always been like this. When I was younger, my mum would never force me to eat things I didn’t like, but she would ask me to try them for her. Obviously it meant in the long run that she was right, I would end up liking what she had put so much effort into, but also it meant that I didn’t miss out on the majesty of shepherd’s pie. Negotiation in this sense is something that I have applied to other questions that arise in my head, usually pertaining to my visual identity. I never knew what it would feel like to wear heels until I did it, but had I not tried, I wouldn’t know. The risk associated with the hoops is far less than the perceived risk the first time I wore heels, but had I not tried the hoops, I would never have had the courage to try heels. Now I feel so at home in 6-inch platforms, that I can’t imagine a life without them.
Thanks for all the effort and love, Mum, you taught me such a good life lesson. We should all try things at least once. We will find the things that we love, and you were right, shepherd’s pie is truly wonderful!
Self-doubt is normal – how to ignore it
Throughout this book I have attributed so many of the responses that we face as a community to others around you. However, this one is something that we all do to ourselves. Self-doubt! It is normal. It is expected when trying new things for the first time. Intrusive thoughts are something that you should know about. These are unwelcome thoughts that can distress us. Doubt is a very mild form of this. It is something you should watch out for, because over time, left unchecked, doubt can alter the relationship you have with yourself.
Doubt can be dealt with in a very similar way to the way that we dealt with our inner saboteur. Acknowledge it, and then choose to honour a different approach by using the positive affirmation of how wonderful certain actions can make you feel. This can be seen as a technique of reasoning with yourself. Remember how great you felt when you did XYZ? Apply that to the next thing you want to try! Continuous application of this method, and the more risks you take, will make doubt so much easier to overcome. It will turn up less frequently to try and derail your progress.
On paper, it makes sense that not every avenue in life may work out for us, and eventually we need to find our own spaces. At the same time, I know that all those forays are necessary to figure out what works for me. I still would like the opportunity to do those things even if they don’t work. At the end of the day, it will guide me to something that will. And honestly, there also needs to be room for avenues to change because we may not necessarily stick with one.
Initially, I saw dance as the way to express my non-binary identity. As I have delved deeper, I have realised that fashion can do that also — so dressing up helps me too. Filmmaking is helping me as well. There are all these different mediums, and there shouldn’t need to be one definitive thing because we are not one definitive thing. Not just as non-binary people, but all people, we constantly evolve. When people say to me that I am living my most authentic self, I always think that the person who I am after that interaction will not be the same.
The person who I will be tomorrow is not the same person that I am today; I am constantly evolving, changing, adapting and growing. Making peace with that is very helpful for me because in knowing that I don’t need to stick to one form of self-expression, I can have that multidisciplinary aspect to myself. The essence of being non-binary is the rejection of anything rigid, allowing yourself to be in the moment, and feeling what is right for you!
Don’t solicit opinions from those who don’t support you fully
One way to decrease the power that doubt can have over you is to block out the opinions of naysayers. I spoke about not soliciting opinions from other people earlier in the book. I would like to expand upon this. Opinions are wonderful, because we all have them, and they show the variation of the human experience, which is marvellous. However, some people confuse their own opinion with the only way someone or something can be. This is why it can derail your own progress. Obviously the types of people who think like that are the ones that offer their opinions for free. We cannot stop that, but we can ensure that we aren’t subjected to their toxic thoughts when we don’t need them! It is nice to be buoyed up by supporting advice, but unhelpful negative opinions are not what you need to hear when you are trying something for the very first time. In this kind of situation, I would either not engage in conversation, or, if conversation is unavoidable, change the subject.
I used to be a nail technician, and keeping a conversation flowing with clients is key to making them like you and tip, but this can be tricky. I found that the weather was always a passive and comfortable topic to talk about, and I spent many a manicure talking about rain! So, if you are trying a new look, and someone tries to crash into your great day with their truckload of self-righteous opinions, just ensure you mention just how bad/good/wet/cold/dry/hot the weather has been, and halt that negative conversation before it even starts, darling.
Take your self-development at your own speed
If you know any non-binary angels, or perhaps follow them on Instagram — cough, @benpechey cough, follow me — then you will witness other people’s magical metamorphosis, or you will come in on their sixth year of self-exploration. I urge you not to feel pressure from other people’s beauty. We are all on separate paths. Although these paths can converge, you are a separate human being. Your timeline is just for you. There is no rush to do anything. I want you to know that you can take all the time in the word, or go as quickly as you want to. You shouldn’t make that decision based on anyone else, anywhere.
I am sure that I am not finished working out who Ben is. I am really happy in who I am right now, but there is no finished destination that plonks me in a neat, specific box. The goal has always been freedom from binary ideals placed on me. So, I have no expectations or strict ideas of my trajectory, more that I want to continue to honour what brings me joy and seek out happiness by expressing exactly who I am in the moment. This is something I urge you to pay close attention to. It is key in being self-aware, my darlings. Make sure that you work at your own speed. Take your self-development one day at a time in the best way that makes you happy!
We are all on separate paths. Although these paths can converge, you are a separate human being. Your timeline is just for you. There is no rush to do anything.
How to navigate comments like ‘you’re so brave’
If you asked me to compile a list of things that sound like an insult, but are supposed to be a compliment, then “You’re so brave” would come straight in at number one. I understand the sentiment behind comments like this, because the other person in the interaction feels like they are being nice. However, take it from me, this is not a compliment, Cheryl! When hapless cases like Cheryl say that to you, it signals that the way you present is very extreme to them — bless their fragile view of the world — hence the bravery! Yet, for you, it’s just another casual Wednesday afternoon. This is a prime example of our community being singled out. These comments are super frustrating and, when they catch you off guard, can be derailing.
As with so many of the concepts covered in these pages, I cannot stop this happening, but I can give you a thought process to remedy a situation like the one Cheryl has put us in. It isn’t bravery that Cheryl is witnessing. It’s the realisation that she has never been able to pinpoint exactly who she is visually. You are not brave, but Cheryl’s approach to life seems less exciting. So, to cover her cowardice, she must ‘other’ your experience. When cishet people try to compliment us in this manner, they simply enhance their own mediocrity! You can take this comment in your stride, and turn it on its head. Cheryl basically told us that she is ‘oh so bland’, and isn’t that sad?!
The power of makeup. Makeup is magic!
My mind cannot be changed on that fact. I have no idea why recent history has made makeup a femme-presenting person-only item. Everyone can enjoy makeup. Who wouldn’t want to make their face look the best it can, and play with colours and textures? The day I began to explore makeup was a truly great one. I think I started with eyebrows at a press event years ago. Then, over the next 18 months, I began to explore different parts of my face and where make worked for me, what I could change and where I could enhance. If you are thinking of getting into makeup then I would like to share some tips with you.
Before you know it, your winged liner will be sharp enough to cut through the crap we face in society!
Remember the words of Helen Hayes, “Every expert was once a beginner.” My first attempts at winged liner were, thankfully, not documented. Key were incredibly shaky, and looked like plans for a rollercoaster! Expect the first time to be the worst. Build on that! Before you know it, your winged liner will be sharp enough to cut through the crap we face in society!
Gradually trying things will help you learn as you go along. Watch other people apply makeup — this is the best way to learn. Dutch trans icon Nikkie de Jager — a.k.a. NikkieTutorials — has taught me pretty much everything I know over the years.
Start cheap — expensive products work just the same as more budget-friendly ones when you are new at makeup, so start with budget brands and build up to pricey items when you’re more experienced. Once you have mastered certain skills, invest in good products to help you hone that skill – black eyeliner and red lipstick is my signature and I spend good money on my cult items. Key give the biggest boosts.
Trial and error is the best way to approach it. Not everything will work. Some things will be a happy accident! You will only find that out through experimentation, darling!
You are still you with makeup on, and vice versa. This is not about changing who you are, but more about refining and honing how you want to present to the world. Use that energy to own the day.