9 – Shania Howells

AFAB Non-Binary/A Little Queer/A Little Gay (they/them) // Colorado Springs, CO // Queero. Weirdo. LGBTQ+ Scholar. Gender Alien. Drag Husband.

Where do you identify within in the community?

“I’m definitely AFAB (assigned female at birth), Non-Binary. I’m a little Queer in there, I’m kind of Gay. Don’t know what that means necessarily, but I’m working out that the sexuality label kind of changed with my gender identity so I’m figuring that out as I go along.”

With the infinite possibilities of gender identity and expression, when did you know?

“I think the first time I had gay thoughts, I was five. I used to watch Buffy with my mom when I came home from school. I remember the Bad Girls episode, where Buffy and Faith are dancing in the club, and I was just obsessed with it. Those were my first gay vibes. Also, I would watch Sailor Moon when I was young, and Sailor Uranus is Non-Binary. I was like “I could not be a man or a woman?! That’s crazy!”. I grappled with that a lot as I grew up. That was my first recognition of it…”

On pronouns?

“I mainly use ‘they/them’ pronouns, but I’m not pushy about it, because I know no one is going to see me and say “That’s not a woman…” I’m always going to read, at best, as a butch woman. So ‘she’ is also fine. It doesn’t cause any dysphoria or anything like that. I’ve kind of gotten past that point. I think when people are disrespectful towards singular they, I get kind of defensive about it. Not for me, but for younger people who are figuring out their identity, and people who are trying out new pronouns… If people being really dismissive, and they’re being unnecessarily negative towards the way that somebody might be identifying…. it’s not great. I definitely think, I would love to be in a place where we are in a space… that we just ask what everybody uses, and we all respect it …and there’s no questions about it. That would be the most ideal.”

On their coming out experience…

“I came out three times, I think…. ‘Big Coming Out’. Because you come out every day, to an extent. The first time I came out to my mom, I was 16. I came out as Gay, and I was like ‘Well maybe that doesn’t fit… Maybe I’m bi, maybe I’m gay.’ I didn’t come out to my dad for a while. My mom kind of knew I had queer vibes going on, so she had that in her mind. I really came out as Queer when I was 19, in terms of sexuality, I was like, ‘I’m not a straight person… I can’t do it… I’ve tried to do it… it just doesn’t work.’

I came out in terms of my gender when I was 20/21… that’s when I really started to explore that. I’m just more recently getting more assertive in saying, ‘This how I present… and it’s totally fine. I can have femme days, and I’m still a Non-Binary person… This is just my feelings, this is who I am.’ I get super excited when I see gender creative kids and gender fluid kids, it’s the best. Just exploring the world. I feel like I would have been more comfortable with who I was, especially if I had that exploration young. It’s our job to make it easier on those growing up now.”

Celebrity crush?

“The way that Ellen Paige presents as a masc-woman. I would love to dress like Ellen Paige every day. Just button ups and grandpa sweaters, that would be the dream. I think especially watching her come out, and watching her be like ‘This is who I am, I don’t care what this means to my career. I would rather live as a happy, healthy person, than continue to lie’, was super powerful. There’s not a lot of queer representation for non-binary people, so I had to find it in unconventional ways. I think sexually fluid people who haven’t found a finite term, that didn’t exist for a while either. So, growing up, you were either gay or straight and that’s all you could be. So, when that didn’t fit, because my gender didn’t fit in that, it was a whole thing…”

What do you feel was your biggest fear/concern with coming out?

“My dad is pretty conservative. He’s always been conservative my whole life. He’s like the Sean Hannity guy. He loves Sean Hannity. He thinks Trump is our savior. Which is really kind of toxic for someone who is figuring out their identify… I definitely remember in 2015 he was really against gay marriage. So, when I came out to my dad, I had to be sure that I was 100% stable to the point that if I needed to pick up and leave and support myself, that I was there. That I had the ability to support myself and say you can either come on this journey with me, or I’ll just leave you behind and live my life. Because I definitely decided that living to fulfill myself was more important than being who they wanted me to be. Which that would never happen, even if I tried, I would have failed. It wouldn’t have worked. It just doesn’t work. I feel like I was living dual lives. I was living my ‘gay life’ and was out in the workplace and around friends I was queer. And I’d come home, and my family would be like ‘Maybe you’ll find a nice guy someday…’ No, No I will not.”

What is your favorite part of our community?

“When I first found other non-binary people that were also AFAB, it was like, the greatest day I’d ever had. I saw people that respected me. My favorite thing is circles of five people, and we all use they, and we’re all talking to each other and respect it and there’s no questions. And the fact that I can have people who support me through struggles and we’re all varying identities. One of us might present femme ,and one might present masc, and one of us might be the stereotypical androgynous person… but it doesn’t matter because we all know that our presentation has no connection to the way that we feel about our gender. I think that’s the best. Even when we show up for each other, that’s the best. Queer people know how to show up for other queer people. Totally. That’s the biggest thing. I think when I found a chosen family, it was the most acceptance I’ve ever had. They’re like, come as you are. I don’t care what you’ve got, I don’t care what you have going on, we’ll be there. And I think that’s the best part of being in the queer community and being a full member of it, it’s great.”

Most frustrating thing?

“I think a lot of that surrounds my gender identity. Being non-binary is disruptive almost equally in queer spaces as it is in cis-normative and heterosexual spaces. Because it’s just something that’s new, something that’s different. I think there’s so many people who, before, would identify as non-binary if that language was there. There’s a lot in labeling that a lot of women don’t identify as butch anymore because they’re just gender fluid… Their gender is just different… genderqueer. That’s fine. I think it’s just been thought of that you’re only one or another and that’s all it is. I think there’s a lot of tension around trans identities that aren’t trans women, because for so long there’s been a focus on trans women and needing to give them visibility. And they do have a larger health disparity and larger death rate than other trans people. But it’s almost like, being a person that was born female that isn’t traditionally trans in the situation where I want to be male, I have no guideline. I’m just making it up as I go along. I think it’s a little bit frustrating that I’m always assumed, even in queer spaces, that I’m a woman because I look like a butch woman. And no one thinks to ask me my pronouns unless I look really trans that day. And I think it’s something as a community that after gay marriage passed, there was like “Oh we reached this point…” and they forgot that trans people are struggling and literally dying. So, I think that’s a big barrier and that there’s not equal support from just queer people for trans people. I think we need to pick each other up better and support each other better.”

Advice for your younger self? Advice to anyone out there who feels they can’t come out, or don’t have a community to be a part of?

“To younger me…. I would just tell myself to come out sooner, even though I didn’t have the language. Even just saying I’m not straight to my parents and my friends. I think it would be so much better, because being out feels a million times better than it ever did before. Before, I was living this crazy life and it was just unhappy all the time and coming out was great…

For younger kids that are struggling to come out or not feeling like it’s safe. I think even if you come out to your best friend that you think is going to support you, that’s a step… You don’t have to come out to your family all at once. I definitely know that you’re dealing with a bunch of things. You might have cultural boundaries that you’re dealing with, or social boundaries that you’re dealing with… If you’re afraid that your parents are going to disown you and you’re not going to know what to do, come out to the people that are going to show up for you. The relationships that are a little more turbulent, it’s totally fine to put that off to where you feel comfortable. I think you’ll find a community, for sure. You can even walk into a queer space and most people just pick you up and are like “Here, come hang out with us!” I go to drag shows by myself, and then random people are like, ‘Come sit with us because you’re alone!’ And that doesn’t happen in a lot of spaces. I think there’s a lot of support, and you’ll find it. I think if you don’t have it and you live in a small town where there’s only two queer people there, you can find it in online spaces now. You can find people who are literally just going to hype you up everyday and be there for you every day…”

What in your life are you most proud?

“It was when I decided to start doing work with queer people and start doing research that’s queer focused. So, my senior thesis for my undergrad was on LGBTQ Visibility & K-12 Sex-Ed, and I submitted that for publishing this week. I really hope that, with my masters, I can do more to make young non-binary kids feel more seen. It’s so scary because nobody has done this before. No one has even looked into it and I’m here just paving my own way. I think that’s going to be super exciting once I get it out there, and it’s going to help somebody in the long run. I think that’s super great. Doing something rewarding to myself in figuring out my identity and helping somebody later is amazing.”

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

“I just want somebody, literally anyone who has power, to recognize that trans people are just trying to exist. We’re just trying to live our lives. I think there’s a little more tolerance for gay people in terms of male-male relationships and female-female relationships, but that’s not what it is. That’s a small percentage of queerness… Gender is not binary. We need to recognize that there’s a bunch of people that just want to exist. No matter what your moral fiber, or compass, is and what you might disagree upon… that doesn’t really give you the means to undercut someone’s life and how they’re just trying to live. So, I would just want someone to recognize… Someone that has the power and platform to speak to people, that will listen to them and say ‘These people are just trying to live their lives.. they’re not trying to recruit your kids…’ or anything like that. All of those narratives that are really harmful, especially to young people. I just want them to be squashed and replaced with positive stuff. Just give everybody more space to be seen.”

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