Young non-binary person opens up on their journey to embracing their identity

"For me, coming to terms with my non-conforming gender has been a beautiful thing."

Non-binary person smiling toward camera wearing glasses and trans flag
Image: Eddie Penney

Eddie Penney shares their own journey of discovery that led them to embrace their non-binary identity.

I first discovered the term non-binary when I was about 12 years old. At that point in time, I thought there were only two options: gay or straight. I assumed you had to pick one or the other, and that was just how it was. I discovered that there were other options completely by accident, while watching a YouTube video about Pinkie Pie from My Little Pony. I have absolutely no idea what the main point of the video was, but I do remember that it had a section explaining what pansexuality and asexuality were. This was all news to me.

So I began my search for more information, realising that there must be other identities I had never heard of. Being that this was around 2014, I inevitably ended up on Tumblr. The self-described “hellsite” was a cornerstone of online queer culture at that point and actually had quite a few good posts about understanding LGBTQ+ identities. Placed between conversations about the new episode of Doctor Who, of course.

Not only did Tumblr have blogs dedicated to defining and explaining queer identities, but it also had representation of the lives and experiences of other queer folks. It was a brand new world for me. Between Tumblr and LGBTQ+ pages on Instagram, I finally could put my feelings into words. When I first learned about they/them pronouns, it just sounded right. I felt excited to use those pronouns for myself, even if it was in secret for a long time.   


I was out to my small group of friends when I was 13, but the following year I went back into the closet out of both denial and fear. I was entering high school, and most of my old friends weren’t going to the same school as me anymore. I felt scared, and knew that my life would be harder if I lived it as openly non-binary. So I didn’t. I repressed it, told myself I was just being a silly kid, and ignored it for years.

When I started university in August 2020, I was deeply unhappy with the way I looked. I had started hyper-feminising myself to attract the male gaze, and spent most of my time inside of my student accommodation as there wasn’t much else to do safely. I was living outside of my parents’ house for the first time, and was left alone with my own thoughts and the freedom to express them.

The guilt I felt when I started dressing masculine eventually dissolved, and I began dressing for myself, not for others. I went from using she/her pronouns to she/they, from they/she to they/them, and finally to where I’m at now with they/he.


It’s still hard for me to describe my gender identity in simple terms. It exists beyond words. It’s a feeling, a colour, a sound, a song. While I’d rather be perceived as masculine, I also don’t feel entirely like a man. I’m just kind of, well, me. The closest I can get to describing my gender are the umbrella terms I use, transmasculine and non-binary.

I often feel like I have to simplify or “water down” my gender identity when I explain it to people, especially if they’re not queer. Sometimes I’m forced to take my non-binary gender and force it back into a binary for people to understand me. The experiences of people living outside of the traditional Western notions of gender are still greatly misunderstood by so many people.

There is no one way to be non-binary. It can mean so many different things to different people. While the term non-binary refers to gender identities that exist outside of the binary of male and female, it can also be used as both a singular identifier of someone’s gender or an umbrella term for a more specific identity label. Non-binary genders can exist in a variety of places on the gender spectrum and are determined by the person experiencing it.

For me, coming to terms with my non-conforming gender has been a beautiful thing. I feel so much more comfortable in my own body, and have a sense of peace I never experienced before. I know that not everyone will understand that, especially now. But that’s okay. I’ve learned to stop listening to what people want me to be and focus now on who I am.

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