By A’liya Spinner
As an activist, a community leader, and a queer person, I am often asked why. “Why are you non-binary?” “Why do you subject yourself to this?” But every “why” is missing the point; there are a thousand whys, each with a different answer. The real question is what— what grabbed you by the throat and forced you to acknowledge that you were living in gender denial. For me, there is only one “what”, a single moment that forever changed my life.
It was my sophomore year of high school; I had questioned my gender, but I didn’t dare express it. My sapphic-bent bisexuality was enough, I thought, to land me in the “gay jokes and rainbows” category without the grit of being more openly queer. Not, of course, that there is anything “less” about being “only” bisexual— rather, I was expressing just the part of myself that fit a cisheteronormative mold. Everything else I shoved down and pretended not to feel when I looked in the mirror. And it was because of this that I avoided my school’s bustling Gay-Straight Alliance, knowing that joining them would force me to wrestle a veritable dragon of gender dysphoria.
I was successful in my disconnection until one day, unable to resist investigation of anything new, I took a detour on the way to class towards a display case in the hall. It was then I found myself before the GSA’s latest project— a shrine, and a gravestone.
In that little glass case were fake blue and pink flowers and plastic candles, shining dimly from years of draining battery. Someone had written Trans Day of Remembrance on printer paper tacked to the top of a corkboard. Beneath it was names and ages and places— hundreds of them, stapled to the wall, wrapping around the entire display. They were the names of transgender people who had been murdered around the world that year. Hundreds of lives. Hundreds of people. People.
Beneath it was names and ages and places— hundreds of them, stapled to the wall, wrapping around the entire display.
I did not get to class on time. I stood before that altar as students surged around me. I felt my heart beating in my chest and my cheeks beginning to burn. My eyes blurred until I could no longer read the names— the text was already so small to fit them all— and I began to cry. My glass shell shattered— the dragon burst free of its prison. The shards fell away and left me open and raw and bleeding from the heart.
That was the moment that radicalized me.
I went solemnly to the next GSA meeting, thinking that the sadness and anxiety would never go away. But I began to see it wasn’t true; I was listened to, I was comforted. When I wanted to try out a new name, I was met with kindness and immediate support. Every time I was asked for my pronouns, I became more confident with my answer. My peers offered tips on how to dress, where to go for help, what to say to administration; they’d been through it, too. It was the first time I’d been so fully accepted by a community; it was the first time I felt safe being fully, authentically queer.
All that time I thought the key to queer euphoria was something I had to find on my own. I was wrong. What I needed was a community, a place and a people to share my load and celebrate my joys. High school is a vulnerable time for everyone, but especially LGBTQ+ students who feel isolated. It took a painful awakening for me to realize I wasn’t alone, and it changed my life forever. Now I use that life to help others, to lead them towards a gentler moment of self-acceptance and a community that loves despite all it has lost.
All that time I thought the key to queer euphoria was something I had to find on my own. I was wrong. What I needed was a community, a place and a people to share my load and celebrate my joys.
Even several years later, there’s a wound from that day that never quite healed; I feel it still, when I think of that shrine. All those names— I can’t bring them back. I can mourn for them. I can honor them— not by burying my identity to stay safe and quiet, but by embracing my gender queerness. By protecting my peers and the next generation, and doing my part to change the world until there are no more names on that little altar.
Until we are all accepted for who we are, inside and out.
– A’liya Spinner (he/him & she/her) is a non-binary activist, author, and aspiring paleogeneticist. Most importantly, his favorite dinosaur is the Allosaurus fragilis. Talk about magpies, dinos, and queerness with him at her Twitter @cladist_magpie or on Instagram @cladist_lammergeier.