In this essay, I will be focusing on two nonbinary writers’ poetry, spoken word, essays, speeches, and music. I will explore how their works are directly affected by society’s expectation of gender that is placed on them, and how their own bravery has helped them step outside of their comfort zone to inspire other nonbinary individuals. In addition to being an inspiration to nonbinary youth in their search to explore their own gender identity and support them in a society filled with a culture so embedded in homophobic values, these nonbinary leaders challenge our current political system and help create a more supporting LGBTQ+ community.
I am exploring this topic as a nonbinary English major who wants to learn more about famous nonbinary writers and leaders. There is a severe lack of nonbinary content in the media, entertainment, and literary worlds. This is mostly due to the lack of support for nonbinary people, in societal norms, laws, and social or community spaces. There are those who are incredibly hostile and opposed to those who identify outside of the gender binary, and who are unwilling to learn. Homophobia and transphobia exist worldwide, but especially in the United States, these are particularly problematic issues.
I come from a city deep in the South, and was unable to access resources that would have helped me realize my identity and become the nonbinary person I truly am. Only by moving to the North and living in a very liberal space was I able to truly recognize and accept my own identity, including going by a different name and pronouns. If I had nonbinary activists and models to look up to, perhaps I could have had better support in order to fully realize and explore my identity more. Ivan Coyote and Angel Haze are speaking out against the homophobia that exists and are actively releasing media that inspires and educates others. These nonbinary leaders are paving the path for a safer world for nonbinary youth, like me, in the future. I hope to learn more about these leaders, as well as other important gender non-conforming individuals. Hopefully, these incredibly nonbinary leaders will inspire me to get myself out of the comfort zone and write about my own experiences in the future.
Nonbinary individuals often have a hard time making a name for themselves, mostly because that name is tarnished by overshadowing arguments about the validity of their gender identity. Often, nonbinary folks have hatred, hostility, and just plain confusion following any sort of education on the matter. I have experienced this personally as a nonbinary individual working in the deep South—I was misgendered, insulted, and questioned constantly. That kind of hostility can not only affect someone’s mental health, but also their ability to hold jobs and be successful in whatever endeavors they may be trying to face and accomplish. It can be difficult for nonbinary—or gender non-conforming individuals at all, for that matter—to separate the controversy from their work. For example, the usage of they/them pronouns in public or job-based spaces is incredibly uncommon so far. In some states, it is actually still legal for an employer to fire or not hire an employee because of their gender identity. Because of this, it is hard for nonbinary individuals to get or maintain jobs. In this way, nonbinary individuals are essentially barred from making progress in their careers and academics as cisgender individuals would.
Gender non-conforming folks have existed for a long time, but they are only now being introduced into leadership, activism, and advocacy roles. So, now more than ever, the acknowledgement of nonbinary and gender non-conforming individuals is necessary and needed. This essay will highlight two influential nonbinary writers and discuss how their writing and activism has been shaped by society, and how their writing, in turn, inspires other gender non-conforming individuals to seek out their dreams and goals proudly and without fear.These two nonbinary writers and leaders are very different in the style and approach that they take when voicing their experiences (speech versus music, for example), but each make powerful statements that inspire, educate, and help others.
The first nonbinary leader I’d like to talk about is Ivan Coyote. Ivan is an amazing transgender and gender non-conforming author, short film creator, storyteller, and poet, who explores gender identity as it concerns relationships, class, family dynamics, and queer liberation. Ivan also has been visiting schools for the past 15 years to encourage not only youth but also adults on how to safely and positively promote the acceptance and security of LGBTQ+ youth. Ivan has written eleven books, created four short films, and released three musical storytelling albums. These are mostly storytelling works: focused on telling Ivan’s story about their own gender identity in work, family, and life in general.
In a Ted Talk by Ivan Coyote, Ivan talks about the controversy of allowing transgender and nonbinary individuals to use the bathroom that they feel most comfortable in. Ivan shares their own anecdotes of why gender neutral public bathrooms are a necessity, while arguing and pleading to the population who might not agree that giving this one liberty to trans people will make the world for them a much safer place. While talking about their experiences using public bathrooms, Ivan tells us: “I’ve often been verbally attacked behind their [public bathroom] doors. I’ve been hauled out by security guards with my pants still halfway pulled up. I’ve been stared at, screamed at, whispered about, and one time I got smacked in the face by a little old lady’s purse that from the looks of the shiner I took home that day, I am pretty certain contained 70 dollars of rolled up small change and a large hard candy collection.” I believe Ivan displays incredible leadership qualities in performing this Ted Talk. According to The Student Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner, there are five commitments of exemplary leadership, which are to model the way, inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, enable others to act, and to encourage the heart. I believe, especially in this Ted Talk, Ivan displays these leadership qualities.
Primarily, Ivan shares his heart. They tell their story in order to prove a point: that no matter what sexual orientation or gender identity, everyone should be able to use the bathroom that they feel comfortable in. They share their path and use their experiences to inspire others, which follows in the second commitment, inspire a shared vision. Ivan is also an activist and participates in events to spread the word about LGBTQ+ activism in the world. In doing this, Ivan enables others to act, following another commitment.
The second nonbinary leader is Angel Haze. Angel is an agender rapper, singer, and poet. Their work explores extremely deep and painful topics, such as sexual assault, self-harm, and loss. Their words are passionate, emotional, and powerful. Angel Haze raps mostly about their experiences and how they have affected them on their search to understand their own gender. Haze has made a place for themself in the rap and hip hop community and continues to be a paragon of bravery for other genderqueer artists.
Angel, like Ivan, displays leadership qualities found in The Student Leadership Challenge. They share their story using their musical medium and set an example to other nonbinary individuals to explore their identity. Additionally, since Angel covers such deep topics as self-harm, they help release emotions that other nonbinary individuals can relate to. There are so many obstacles a nonbinary person must face in their lifetime, and having someone like Angel speak out against these obstacles is comforting and inspiring.
In fact, LGBTQ+ youth contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth and are at almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth, according to the Trevor Project. Not only does Angel Haze help and inspire nonbinary youth, but they speak out in order to support depressed and suicidal individuals.
Ultimately, there needs to be more nonbinary representation in the media, and these leaders are working hard to share their story and become incredible inspirations to nonbinary youth everywhere. Angel Haze and Ivan Coyote are perfect examples of leaders in the community who are following tenants of exemplary leadership. They are modeling the way for others with similar values by inspiring youth and challenging the political processes that prevent nonbinary youth from living their best lives. In this way, they are encouraging others and enabling others to live truly and fully.
Kouzes, James, and Barry Posner. “The Student Leadership Challenge: Five Practices for Becoming an Exemplary Leader.” Jossey-Bass, 2014.
Ivan Coyote. Ivan Coyote. ivancoyote.com. Accessed 11 February 2019.
“Ivan Coyote – Why we need gender neutral bathrooms.” Ted, Nov. 2015, https://www.ted.com/talks/ivan_coyote_why_we_need_gender_neutral_bathrooms/discussion
“Preventing suicide: Facts About Suicide.” The Trevor Project, https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/preventing-suicide/facts-about-suicide/#sm.001x8e8d9175fd8vr391bcfq64srq