Non-Binary and Invisible
I have a British accent. I may not sound like Giles in Buffy, but you can bet your bottom ten pound note that everyone thinks I drink tea. When I first moved to the USA, I thought my accent would never let me blend. Now, since I've come out as non-binary, my accent seems to shield me. It's the first thing people recognize, while my gender lies quietly behind it, quietly unseen.
So. There we are in AT&T, having just moved back to the USA, setting up a phone line. The guy runs J's social security number and finds there's a lock on it— it seems we'd forgotten that J set this up after some company accidentally gave his data away. The lock, it turns out, takes 24 hours to lift. "Well," says the AT&T guy, "I can set you up for a pay-as-you go plan, if you like?"
J has a couple of questions about that.
I remain silent.
It's an old and familiar story. I arrived in the US over fourteen years ago with a partner who was on an H2 visa. My own visa, the dreaded H4, only entitled me to be a dependent. I wasn't allowed a social security number (which, in case you don't live in the USA, is the key to everything financial—you can't even call about your gas supply without being told to give the last four of your social). I wasn't allowed to work. I couldn't be self-employed. Even collecting my prescriptions was a problem at the time, because if you don't have a social, are you really a person?
So I worked at home, unpaid, and did voluntary work at MAB in Cambridge, helping to record audio for blind readers. I also took writing classes and wrote stories and books. I built up my list of fiction publications. My marriage was crumbling, but all the same, I did my best not to feel alone. But when you can't earn, and your immigration status puts you at the mercy of a cis guy who is pissed off at you for being you, it's enough to drive you bonkers. Especially, when you're beginning to realize you're sexually attracted to basically everyone except the majority of cis men.
It was easy to feel invisible. Easy to fade away.
As a childhood sexual abuse survivor, who was abused by my primary caregiver, I spent most of my childhood feeling invisible. I'd sit in front of the mirror and watch my facial features swim around, as if they were floating on oil, trying for a better fit. When I'd look down, my hands seemed as if they were made of putty. They didn't feel like mine. They refused to look real. Sometimes, everything felt so fake that I'd try spinning around suddenly, thinking the real world lay just behind me, out of sight but close enough, waiting to show itself. So of course, since I didn't feel real, it makes sense that I believed nobody saw me at all.
The first essay I wrote as a fifteen year-old was called "Can we rely on our senses, or is life a myth?" My teacher marked our pieces out of 40—she was a hard marker. For that particular essay, she gave me full marks, and she told me she'd only given that score once before in her decades as a teacher.
In that area, I really knew my stuff.
But the closest I have felt to dissociation—which I still experience, though only when I'm triggered—is in coming out as non-binary. People "she" me constantly, but I fear coming out as "they." Perhaps I will grow stronger at this, but right now, in terms of my identity, I am an infant. I walk down the street, and feel unseen. Everyone who passes me likely believes I'm female. Being queer and pansexual was one thing, but this is quite another.
I have to learn, all over again, to not give a damn, only this time, no stranger seems to see my identity. I instantly read as female, which is a blending privilege, for sure. It is time for me to grow, and grow I will.
Anais Nin taught us, "We don't see things as they are. We see them as weare." And this occurred to me, sitting in AT&T.
"I suppose," I told J and the AT&T person, "we could run my social." I looked at J and shrugged. "Is there any reason why not?"
J was affirming, of course. "I don't know why I didn't think of it!" Turns out, he was caught up in the whole stressful situation with the social security number. Plus the fact the account had been in his name, when we last had phones in this country.
But what was harder to explain was my reaction. Why had it taken me so long to offer? Why had I felt like my social wouldn't be valid? Why, now I'm finally a citizen of the US, did I not feel my own power?
Because invisibility, it seems, comes naturally to me. It's an old friend. A place of retreat, where my face is not my own. Sure, my power is sometimes a stranger. Even so, I have privileges that I am lucky to have. Slowly, but surely, I take my steps into the light.
I'm present. Run my social.
I'm right here.