Sometimes I Change My Mind.

I found myself at times having an immediately skeptical reaction to this new thing of coming out as “nonbinary.” But I’m coming to see it differently.

The idioms that queer people use to try to pin down, to name the things that are different about us, that feel different, these idioms evolve, shift, change, but they still describe phenomena that are essentially mysterious. The evolution of the language doesn’t move in a linear progression toward clarity; I think it changes for more ordinary reasons: words get tired, we get tired of using them, labels that were once neutral accumulate negative connotations, words that were negative get reclaimed as expressions of pride, new generations need to set themselves apart, create their own way of speaking, create their own lens to see the world and themselves through, assert their newness.

The current lexicon (transgender/non-binary/genderqueer/pansexual, etc.) is no more accurate or “correct” than the gay/bi/lesbian/butch/femme/transsexual lexicon that I grew up with, or homophile/pederast/invert/trade/fairy/Mary Ann/sodomite/urning/Uranian/Sapphist/third sex/intermediate sex, or all the way back to Plato, a bunch of Greek words that are hard to translate, which is not even to get into the various ways indigenous peoples all over the world have understood and described unconventional sexual and gender expression.

We still have no earthly idea why there are variations in sexual expression and desire. And is “why?” even an interesting question? We know these things are “natural,” or we safely assume they are because we see them echoed in myriad species and persisting in our own over the course of history.  

When a younger generation coins new terms, invents new language and metaphors, paradigms, rubrics (is there a word that includes all these things?), they might think they are offering new information, or believe that they are getting closer to objectively describing queer lives or queerness, and sometimes to their elders it feels like — and this is what I realize I’ve been so defensive about — they are, in imposing this new language (and the set of beliefs it implies), rejecting OUR beliefs about ourselves, our ways of describing ourselves and our experience, telling us we were wrong, that we misunderstand ourselves.

But I think I’ll try to stop being defensive. It is the prerogative of the young, not to mention a longstanding European tradition, for people to give things new names and tell us they’ve just discovered them. I’m okay with that.