Win­ning as a non-bi­nary per­son.

Non-bi­nary au­thor Ali­son Evans has writ­ten ex­ten­sively about gen­der non­con­for­mity. But a re­cent award win and the mis­un­der­stand­ing and trolling that fol­lowed has high­lighted how much so­ci­ety still has to learn.

The Saturday Paper - - The Week Contents - Ali­son Evans

Be­ing non-bi­nary is ab­so­lutely the best. It’s fun, it can be re­ally weird, and it’s a play­ful iden­tify you can con­tin­u­ally mould. But the thing is, not a lot of peo­ple know what it is. They know what women are and they know what men are, but the rest of us re­main a mys­tery.

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, non-bi­nary peo­ple are peo­ple who are not men or women; we iden­tify out­side that bi­nary. Some­times we can iden­tify as both, or nei­ther, or any com­bi­na­tion in­side or out­side those two la­bels. Non-bi­nary peo­ple also fall un­der the trans­gen­der um­brella, but not all non-bi­nary peo­ple iden­tify with the word trans­gen­der.

There are in­fi­nite pos­si­bil­i­ties, and it’s a won­der­ful, di­verse com­mu­nity.

By writ­ing non-bi­nary char­ac­ters and be­ing a non-bi­nary au­thor, all I re­ally want is to in­crease vis­i­bil­ity and un­der­stand­ing. I did con­sider pre­tend­ing to be cis – that is, ba­si­cally not-trans – and maybe if my book had come out when I was younger I would have. But I know that it would be sti­fling. Be­ing vis­i­bly non-bi­nary can be scary, and there is a lot of ha­rass­ment that comes with it. Be­ing one of very few non-bi­nary Aus­tralian au­thors is scary. It can be very re­ward­ing, too – peo­ple are learn­ing a lot just by our ex­is­tence.

I was wor­ried that I wouldn’t find a pub­lisher for my young adult book, Ida.

It re­ally only has six char­ac­ters in it, and four of those char­ac­ters are trans­gen­der. Three of them are non-bi­nary. I did find a pub­lisher in the end. Work­ing with my ed­i­tor, An­gela Meyer, and Echo Pub­lish­ing has been per­fect and I was ex­tremely lucky.

Very few re­views have been trans­pho­bic. I’ve read lots of re­views by teenagers say­ing that this was the first book they had read where they had come across non-bi­nary char­ac­ters and that in them they had seen them­selves. In­ter­view­ers have re­marked that the char­ac­ters have changed the way they think about the lan­guage they use, and that they’re be­ing more in­clu­sive.

When Ida was nom­i­nated for the Vic­to­rian Premier’s Lit­er­ary Awards re­cently, I could hardly be­lieve it. Ida was nom­i­nated along­side two other beau­ti­ful books, Liv­ing on Hope Street by Demet Di­varoren and Be­cause of You by Pip Harry. The au­di­ence for these awards is mas­sive, and to have so many peo­ple aware of my book and its char­ac­ters – its non-bi­nary char­ac­ters – is amaz­ing. The book has had a big­ger chance of find­ing its way to some­one who re­ally needs it, maybe a teenager who is hav­ing a lot of feel­ings they have no words to de­scribe.

Last week, my book won the Peo­ple’s Choice Award. On the morn­ing of the cer­e­mony, all the win­ners did a photo shoot. The other win­ners are women and so the pho­tog­ra­phers kept call­ing us all “ladies” and “girls”. To a lot of peo­ple, I look like a woman. A lot of my work is try­ing to get peo­ple to re­alise that you can’t tell what some­one’s gen­der is when you look at them, but I know most peo­ple as­sume I am a woman.

I had a mo­ment of panic: I was imag­in­ing ev­ery­one that night call­ing us all women. When I ac­cepted my award, would the premier call me a woman? I asked one of the awards staff if they knew I was non-bi­nary. They as­sured me they did, and they could cor­rect the pho­tog­ra­phers if I wanted. I knew the photo shoot wouldn’t be that much longer, and I let it slide. Of­ten try­ing to ex­plain these things is tir­ing and a lot of peo­ple won’t un­der­stand the first time you tell them. The awards cer­e­mony wouldn’t re­fer to me as a woman, and that was enough.

In my ac­cep­tance speech, I talked about how thrilling it was to be a non­bi­nary per­son win­ning such a big award. Es­pe­cially when my book fea­tured a whole bunch of trans peo­ple.

The next day, the me­dia uni­formly wrote about how all the win­ners were women. A lot of peo­ple read­ing this might not un­der­stand ex­actly why this was so hu­mil­i­at­ing and hurt­ful. I am con­stantly mis­gen­dered in ev­ery­day life. Un­less we know each other, most peo­ple I en­counter will call me a woman. But the me­dia should know bet­ter. I know the Wheeler Cen­tre, which ad­min­is­ters the awards, didn’t tell them I am a woman. Noth­ing on my in­ter­net pres­ence says

I am a woman. I write con­stantly about gen­der iden­tity. My en­tire body of work deals with gen­der. In my speech, I spoke about how I am a non-bi­nary per­son. To know that I was not lis­tened to, or to have peo­ple lis­ten and not care or try to un­der­stand, was aw­ful. Other writ­ers were say­ing I was a woman as well, and this hurt the most. These peo­ple are my peers, and I wanted them to see me for who I am.

It felt as if every­thing I had done up un­til that point was for noth­ing. I could talk about how I was non-bi­nary for days, but no one would lis­ten.

One of the au­thors was Ben­jamin Law, who had seen an ar­ti­cle and then tweeted about how great it was that women writ­ers were be­ing cel­e­brated. Sev­eral of my friends let him know that I was non-bi­nary, and he quickly wrote a pub­lic cor­rec­tion and sent a pri­vate apol­ogy. He acted per­fectly, and I thought that was that.

Soon af­ter, I started to get a few trolls in my men­tions. At first it was just a few, and then an in­flux poured through. I quickly re­alised that the Bri­tish tabloid ed­i­tor and broad­caster Piers Mor­gan had shared an im­age of Law’s tweet with his six mil­lion fol­low­ers, mock­ing the sen­si­tiv­ity of his apol­ogy and call­ing my gen­der a “farce”. From here, the trolls poured in, des­per­ately try­ing to per­suade us we were de­luded and men­tally ill and that we were all man­ner of non-hu­man scum.

I put my Twit­ter on pri­vate and a lot of the trolls stopped, be­cause they got no sat­is­fac­tion: they couldn’t see any replies that they imag­ined I might type out.

The Aus­tralian lit­er­ary com­mu­nity is tightly knit and in­cred­i­bly sup­port­ive, es­pe­cially the young adult com­mu­nity, and they pulled through im­me­di­ately. A few peo­ple tweeted about what was hap­pen­ing with Piers and the retweets be­gan to roll over, and de­spite me be­ing on pri­vate I gained about 250 new fol­low­ers in the space of a few hours.

Two ma­jor book re­tail­ers, Read­ings and Book­topia, sold out of Ida that night.

This could have been a ter­ri­fy­ing time, but the peo­ple around me made it a safe, com­fort­ing few days. The hope­less­ness I felt with me­dia re­port­ing me as a woman van­ished, re­placed with peo­ple re­al­is­ing who I ac­tu­ally was. I don’t know how many peo­ple didn’t know about non-bi­nary gen­ders be­fore this, but I know that be­cause of Piers’s tweets try­ing to ridicule Ben­jamin and me, more peo­ple are ed­u­cat­ing them­selves and lis­ten­ing to peo­ple like me.

Of course, I re­ported Piers’s tweet to Twit­ter. Of course, they replied say­ing there was “no vi­o­la­tion” of their rules. They help­fully sug­gested I block him and ig­nore the peo­ple in my men­tions, ef­fec­tively telling me to stop be­ing a baby and move on with my life.

I’m sure Piers has for­got­ten he even tweeted about me, but I do won­der how he can jus­tify this be­hav­iour to him­self. Send­ing his six mil­lion fol­low­ers af­ter me when my life lit­er­ally has zero im­pact on his is baf­fling. This is not the first time I have been at­tacked by trolls, but it is the largest scale.

So, it has been a strange week. I went from feel­ing com­pletely hope­less and won­der­ing if I would ever get peo­ple to ac­tu­ally lis­ten to me about be­ing non-bi­nary, to be­ing at­tacked by a very in­flu­en­tial man and re­al­is­ing that my ex­is­tence scares him. If who I was didn’t mean any­thing, he and his fol­low­ers would leave me alone. But, clearly, I must be do­ing some­thing right to get such a re­sponse from peo­ple I don’t know and

• will never meet.


ALI­SON EVANS is a non-bi­nary writer. Their book, Ida, won the Peo­ple's Choice Award at the 2018 Vic­to­rian Premier's Lit­er­ary Awards.

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