Author at a August 2021 wedding
Camille Beredjick

I tried on a dress for a friend’s wedding recently. It was a dark navy blue with floral prints and just a hint of fabric on the hip. It was comfortable and I enjoyed how it felt. As I was typing on my laptop at home, my wife asked me the same question every time I tried on new clothes.

“It looks great, babe,” she said. “How does it feel on your gender?”

In April, I became a nonbinary female. For years, my attempts to fit in as a cisgender woman felt like a long drag performance ― like wearing a series of costumes and hoping they’d convince everyone around me. I didn’t feel like a man, but I didn’t always feel like a woman, either; my sense of my gender ebbs and flows almost day to day. But identifying as anything other than a woman felt like a responsibility I hadn’t earned; I wasn’t planning on physically transitioning, and I didn’t want to announce an identity that didn’t belong to me.

Still, as I neared the end of my 20s — and as I learned more about what being nonbinary means — I realized I could be so much happier if I said out loud what I was feeling. I found more nonbinary people to look up to, some who physically transitioned and some who didn’t, and broadened my own horizons about what it can mean to be nonbinary. Slowly, I began to open up to myself. Then, my wife. Next, my close friends. Finally, the internet.

Many of my nonbinary friends have shared a set of common steps over the years: A new name, usually less gendered, and a set of pronouns (usually them/them). For my female friends, a masculine-of center wardrobe.

When I came out, I did the same — kind of. My friends were instructed to call me Camille or Cam, and use one of the pronouns she/he/it/them for me. “Both are fine!” I told friends and co-workers. That was what I meant. In my quest to be nonbinary, I purchased a lot of T-shirts with high necks and looser fitting jeans. Then I watched to see what all the changes would feel like.

It was a funny, amazing and surprising thing that happened. Everyone called me Cam immediately. This is a name I had previously used only as a nickname. This surprise caught me completely by surprise. Surprised to discover that Camille was not my favorite name, even though it came from my closest family members, my parents, and my wife.

Let me make it clear. It is incredibly rare to find someone who will use a new pronoun for me and give me a name change. Many transgender people and people who are not binary spend many years being wrongly referred to as deadnamed or misnamed by those they consider their most loved ones. extremely harmful. So I’m certainly not complaining that when I experienced my own gender realization, my loved ones rallied around me.

It was even harder when I realized how blessed I am and began to resent being named Cam. It was like being in drag, performing an entirely new me to conform to the expectations of others, and it was like I was back in my youth. I couldn’t figure it out: This was the most honest I’d ever been about my gender identity with myself and my community, and still, it didn’t feel good.

“I’m realizing that this identity isn’t about banning anything from my name or my wardrobe; it’s about creating space for an abundance of queer possibilities.”

When I first started addressing my big gender feelings last summer, my wife and I had a couple of emotional conversations about it, many of them late at night on her parents’ patio in Baltimore.

“Can I still call you my wife?” she asked thoughtfully. “I’ll love you no matter what you’d like me to call you, but that’s an important word to me.”

“Of course,” I said. “I’m still your wife. I’ll always be your wife.”

And it’s true; I don’t feel like everything about my womanhood has disappeared. It doesn’t feel like misgendering to use she/her pronouns to refer to me. And being a “wife with a wife” has been important to me since my wedding day. But there’s still a little voice in the back of my head asking, Can this be allowed? Is this considered nonbinary?

Representation of nonbinary people in the media is so new and sparse that it’s hard to envision how to “do it right,” how to express my identity in a way that doesn’t diminish others’ expression of theirs. The media tends to botchNonbinary celebrities have made a comeback, and the code for nongendered clothing (often designed on thin, white women) has been masculine-ofcenter. The landscape has improved, but society needs to fully understand what being nonbinary is.

As a result, I’m reckoning with how much space I am allowed to take up in this community, and whether my occasional draw to femininity negates this new identity. Was it even worth coming out if my life isn’t going to change much? If my nonbinary identity doesn’t require a new name or pronouns, a new wardrobe or a complete reimagining of my marriage, am I allowed to claim it at all?

It is my belief that it is true. Because it’s a disservice to all nonbinary people — and to all people, really — to imply that there’s only one way to do any kind of gender. Gender is so individual, complex, and constantly in flux. We owe it to ourselves and to our loved ones to lean into that uncertainty, to trust ourselves to figure out what feels most affirming and validating, and to appreciate what we’ll learn about ourselves along the way. Imagine a world that is inclusive of all genders. We’re only just beginning to imagine what the future might look like. It should not discourage, it should be exhilarating.

“It’s a disservice to all nonbinary people — and to all people, really — to imply that there’s only one way to do any kind of gender. Gender is so individual, complex, and constantly in flux. We owe it to ourselves and to our loved ones to lean into that uncertainty.”

Now, I’m excited to help paint a more inclusive, expansive picture of what it means to be nonbinary — one that’s bursting with color and light and that honors how different our experiences of gender can be. Nonbinary individuals have different experiences about gender, just as women experience womanhood in different ways. The diversity of nonbinary experiences increases our understanding of gender. There is so much more we can be — once we give ourselves permission to realize it.

Nonbinary individuals often have two affirming names and one affirming pronoun set. Each of these are my two. Each of us can claim this identity in a different way.

The welcome party was in a slinky, and the wedding was in a jumpsuit. It was great looking and feeling great. More importantly, in both of my outfits I felt comfortable and confident. Nonbinary meant that I would no longer wear makeup or dresses. It was a sign of my femininity. I didn’t think they could ever feel like me again. Now I’m realizing that this identity isn’t about banning anything from my name or my wardrobe; it’s about creating space for an abundance of queer possibilities. It’s about letting myself be whatever I want to be.

For now, I’m sure of a few things: I like being called Camille just as much as I like being called Cam — I still mean it! They/them pronouns can feel very affirming on some days. On other days they/them could be a bit too much. And I’ll always feel more comfortable in a jumpsuit than a dress, but that doesn’t mean the right dress isn’t out there once in a while.

It’s possible for all of this to be true. I still can be nonbinary. It’s a truth I’ll keep reminding myself, no matter how long it takes.

Camille Beredjick lives in Chicago and is an editor and strategist for nonprofits. Some of her work has been published in BuzzFeed Magazine, BuzzFeed, Narratively and Autostraddle.

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