As a newly out non-binary queer person, it’s been a little harder moving about in this new world than I had anticipated. It reminds me of the difficulties of standing firm in my bisexuality in my college years, but it just feels different this time.
It was as confusing for me now as it was then. I knew I was attracted to more than just cisgender women, but the default for not being straight, as it is traditionally understood, was being gay. All I knew is that people’s parts weren’t as important as their humor, their smile, or the way they liked my food when I cooked for them.
Close friends and family have jokingly referred to my process of stepping into my sexual orientation publicly as a “glass door closet case.” Even though I tried my hardest to hide it, it was pretty obvious to most that I wasn’t straight. However, the vast majority of people were set referring to me and thinking of me as strictly gay.
“Gay” and “straight” both feel equally as inappropriate to me personally, and I’ve had many a conversation with fellow bi folks who feel similarly.
Through the art of drag, I’ve been able to express parts of myself that have been tucked deep inside of me for years. Those beautiful genderless presentations, along with those more feminine and even more masculine than my daily life, have reawakened the baby Bentley that thrived in the fluidity of gender in child’s play: Frequently switching back and forth from different gender roles in the school yard, wearing a beach towel as a makeshift wig, twirling amongst the tomatoes in the vegetable garden.
There’s always been something inside of me that found power in the ether that lies above binary gender, and I’ve recently allowed myself to step into that power.
Still, I don’t think I was ready for the bullshit that I would encounter from every circle when I came out as non-binary. Even after reminding folks of my preferred pronouns (they/them), people still insist on always using he/him.
I find myself wiping off eyeshadow in the morning because I’m too worried about the negative attention I might get in the walk back to my car after the workday. The building I work in has no gender-neutral bathrooms, and I’ve yet to find a single-use restroom either.
So I hide behind a man-body and present myself in a way that makes it less dangerous to move about the world. I save up this energy for drag performances as “SHI” where my gender fluidity is appreciated and celebrated.
I’m not the only one who feels and lives this way. Countless trans folks and gender-nonconforming people hide the beauty inside of them, just to feel safer, but doing so chips away at the soul inside of us.
I don’t know what’s next for me in my journey. I want to celebrate every part of myself, but sometimes it isn’t safe for me to do so, and I don’t know if I’d survive another assault. I don’t have all of the answers, but I do know a few things:
If you are in the position to hire people, employ more trans and GNC (gender non-conforming) people and pay them what they are worth. Give them a safe work environment and benefits.
If it’s late at night, offer to give people a ride home. Public transit and rideshares can be dangerous alone.
Check in on us. Make sure we know that we are valued and cared for.
Make sure to use people’s preferred pronouns and correct people who don’t, even if we’re not there.
Queer activist Bentley Hudgins also performs as their drag alter-ego “SHI.” Reach them at [email protected]. Photo Credit: @MARKMORINii // Instagram.com/markmorinii
This column originally appeared in Q magazine. Read the full issue online here:
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