Looking Beyond The Gender Binary #IWD2020

Looking Beyond The Gender Binary #IWD2020

Have you ever felt the pressures of predetermined design, as if who you are was never a choice? Wallis has. This International Women’s Day, Wallis shares what being gender non-binary means for them and how they’ve found comfort outside the confines of gender.

Society, stigma and stereotypes are weighty, expectations are restricting, and visibility is lacking to say the very least. It can feel as though the four walls of the box you are placed inside are caving in. 

I didn’t fit the mould

As someone who identifies as non-binary, I learned pretty quickly that I wasn’t designed to be someone else’s expectation. I didn’t fit the mould; I didn’t do what I was told. I didn’t see myself on the streets, in advertisements, or in movies. I spent many years shrinking myself down, wanting to go about my days unseen. 

Now I play in a band with some of my best friends; an all queer, female and non-binary band representing diversity and inclusivity. So why were we excluded from opportunity? Before moving to Melbourne we were turned away from venues and often only put on lineups to tick the ‘diversity’ box. Men in the industry spoke to us as if we were lost. I mean, we certainly weren’t asking for directions, but they felt it was necessary to give them regardless.

Wallis and their WMN band mates | Source: Wallis Prophet

I started to question my place 

I would remain silent as I sat in the barbers, I wouldn’t want the tone of my voice to give me away. I tiptoed through uncomfortable experiences and I apologised for almost everything. If I wasn’t being misgendered and getting dragged out by my collar (true story), I was walking out of public bathrooms and apologising to anyone walking in. Why did I feel as if I didn’t belong?

Coming from a female-dominated family and growing up in many male-dominated communities, I felt I was left sitting on the bench when neither team wanted to pick me, so I batted for myself. 

I chose to work in male-dominated professions, on navy ships, submarines, working machinery in factories and on construction sites. I chose roles that would push the ideas of gender to prove to not only myself but to those around me that I wouldn’t allow my gender to restrict my capabilities. 

It was hard work, and not just the physical labour, but the toll it took on my mental health, the constant prodding and probing. I felt as though I was a spectacle out on display. The ‘lads’ would often ask questions, with no other motive but for their own entertainment and curiosity. Invalidating my relationships as if I were the punchline to their tedious jokes. I struggled to find a balance on the tightrope between lady-like and one of the boys. Most days consisted of being patronised, cornered and asked inappropriate questions as if I was there to educate my colleagues, often feeling othered and on display.

After years of pent up frustration, poetry became my outlet. It was something I could do for myself, something that didn’t require an explanation, nor could it be criticised. I turned to the little pockets of Adelaide where I felt most heard and accepted. Together with a pal, we created a spoken word event called Draw Your (S)words, a safe and inclusive space for others to come along and share their stories freely without judgement.

Wallis performing poetry at Draw Your (S)words event | Source: Wallis Prophet

What makes a woman?

This is a question I still don’t have the answer to. Perhaps ‘woman’ is just a word that was manufactured by society, one with a definition that tries to keep some down and empower others. Perhaps it’s something that attempts to envelop and include us, but often fails to do that justice. 

What I do know is that the word ‘female’ puts people like me under the microscope and scrutinises us for how we feel and how we express ourselves. In fact, the more I questioned it, the more I wondered why anyone would want to limit themselves to just one thing.

To me, the idea of the female role is dated and we as a malleable society feel much more liberated to express fluidity and to go against the grain. It feels we are more accepting of diversity than we once were, but we still have a long way to go and it can feel like an uphill battle because the fear of the unknown prevents people from taking the steps from even wanting to try to change.

I’m finding more and more that the constructs of gender are no longer one or the other, but more of a spectrum, and it’s only up to the individual to decide where on that spectrum they sit.

Perhaps your place on that spectrum is interchangeable, perhaps you are content and confident where you are. I wonder if the world would collapse if we were stripped of the binaries of male and female and just existed as beings?

I redesigned a place for me 

A version of myself with less pressure. I surrounded myself with a support network that understood what I was experiencing. I tried to speak out to help others. 

Whatever you wish to do, wherever you sit on that spectrum and however you identify, we are far more kaleidoscopic than our anatomy, and there is always room to immerse yourself in the fluctuating ebbs and flows of gender. I don’t think gender should ever be the deciding factor in determining whether or not you can accomplish anything.