Agender and agnostic: On non-binary and spiritual identity
By: S.V. Plitt
I’m in my early forties, and I feel too old to abandon the gender I was assigned at birth. It’s April 2022, and I’m sitting in a waiting room with standard white walls and grey carpet, wondering why my gender realisation took so long.
Deep within Melbourne’s second major COVID-19 lockdown, an epiphany had been brewing in the northern suburbs. It surfaced from my subconscious like a narwhal piercing an ice sheet with its horn.
“I am not a woman,” I said to the mirror. The white face looking back, framed by long mouse-brown hair, revealed no visible evidence of the announcement, which petered out into the silence of the bathroom.
Image by: Akira Hojo
In my early twenties, I’d fallen in love with a woman for the first time, and was trying to make sense of my orientation. Having forgotten that the existence of queer people signalled the apocalypse to some of my family members, I asked one of them for their thoughts on same-sex relationships.
“Gay people are spiritually sick,” they said matter-of-factly, without looking at me. “It’s sad, but that’s the way God made them.”
I had argued: “You believe God is infallible, so how can gay people be sick if God made them that way?” But my protests went ignored. By then, I was accustomed to defying my family. I swiftly claimed a bisexual identity, ignoring their tight-lipped disapproval.
Two decades on, living with trauma-related mental distress, I have decided it’s best to keep the tender truth about my gender – or lack thereof – from my family. For the time being, at least.
“When you can’t tell the difference between a man and a woman, that is a sure sign Satan is among us, and the End of the World is coming.” I remember when a relative delivered that proclamation with fervour, long before I knew the term transphobic. It was a deeply planted seed.
During my late thirties and into my early forties, I experienced a series of attractions to openly transgender people. One of these people was AFAB and non-binary, and they reflected my own experiences back to me.
The penny dropped. My prolonged discomfort with gender roles, the feeling of disconnection from my body, the moments of rage when people placed gendered expectations on me, the persistent feeling of not belonging to either ‘female’ or ‘male’ groups: it was all there.
The epiphany had been suppressed beneath fear.
During the lockdowns, some family members began stockpiling food in preparation for the End. This stirred up memories of the old homophobic and transphobic indoctrinations that my family no longer speak about.
The vacuum-sealed dry goods spoke for themselves. The growing piles of flour, wheat and canned goods: a reminder that who I am – neither man nor woman – continues to be an embodiment of evil, in their eyes.
As an agnostic, I believe that the existence of God can’t be proven or disproven. Much like gender, it is experiential. I draw parallels between being agnostic and agender: both are non-binary. I feel that my agnosticism is my non-binary nature manifest on a spiritual level. This intersection has made coming to terms with being agender more challenging.
If I were atheist, it would probably be easier to banish uncertainty.
My gender epiphany followed the same pattern as realising I’m gay – through attraction to another person – but felt more complicated. Over time, I came to find the roles, rules and expectations placed on me through perceived gender increasingly abhorrent.
To me, gender is a performance, not a reality.
While I don’t think I’d lose my family if I came out to them, it might increase in the frequency of undesired conversion attempts. The pain caused by the transphobic narratives is strangely amplified by the recognition that my family genuinely intend to protect me. Their love has never been in question.
So, back to where we began.
It’s April 2022 and I’m waiting in the plastic surgery clinic for a breast reduction consult. I’m thinking that maybe no breasts and no nipples is a truer aesthetic for an agender agnostic? If God exists, they probably don’t have nipples. I like to believe, if God is real, they would transcend binaries. Maybe then I’d have a God worth praying to.
The surgeon appears and calls me to her consulting room. I sit in the chair next to the desk.
“I want a small A cup,” I tell her. “A, for agender.”
S.V. Plitt is a queer Melbourne writer and student of the Associate Degree in Writing & Editing at RMIT University. Their writing has been Highly Commended in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards Unpublished Manuscript competition 2022, shortlisted in the Odyssey House Short Story Prize 2018 and published in the Darebin magazine n-SCRIBE 2022.
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