INTERNATIONAL HERO(INE): Left, Katje van Loon with her mother Eva van Loon. Katje is the inspiration behind International Non-Binary Day, celebrated July 14. Eva owns Wolfy’s Book Den in Cranberry, and Katje will soon be opening a store nearby.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
When I was young, Socrates’ words were an oft-repeated mantra from my mother. She encouraged me to “know thyself.” To be “true” to myself.
Philosophy dots most of our conversations at home. Late-night philosophy benders are common. We stagger into bed at 3 am, heads swimming with ideas.
My background means I ask questions — of the world around me, but also of myself. I learned to examine my life and my being. I learned to ask myself what I wanted. I learned to listen to the little voice inside, the one we so often ignore and push away.
Early on, that little voice was insistent: something was different.
Each time life reminded me of my girlhood, the little voice would pipe up. Something didn’t fit.
For years I thought I was ‘bad’ at being a girl. It had nothing to do with stereotypes about femininity. I’m more a girly-girl than people expect.
It was a pervading sense that something was not quite right. That I was not quite right. I wasn’t a boy, either. When I tried that thought on, the little voice was even more vehement.
In my 20s, I came across the definition of non-binary gender.
“Yes! This is it!” the little voice shouted.
Oh, I realized. This is what you were trying to tell me. But you didn’t have the words.
Not a girl, not a boy. I am the checkbox labeled “other.” That was 11 years ago. I’m still “other”.
I make it a habit to check in with myself. I ask myself the hard questions: did I want to be “other” because being female can suck? Is this me running from womanhood?
Again, and again, the answer is no. I’m other. My sex may be female, but I am not a woman. I’m not a man either.
In July, the BBC interviewed me about International Non-Binary People’s Day. They wanted to know more about why I created it.
One of the questions that came up was, “Why is this important?”
At first it was hard to answer. I don’t care if people use female pronouns for me. I’m not concerned with a third sex or gender option on government ID. Activism doesn’t interest me.
Why is it important that I’m non-binary? Why does that label matter?
I keep coming back to Socrates. “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Since my BBC article came out, I’ve gotten emails from complete strangers saying “thank you.” My article was a catalyst for them learning something about themselves. It was a catalyst for self-examination.
When I examine myself, I get closer to a sense of peace. Knowing who you are is a powerful magic. Having the words to describe it, even more so.
No matter what others may say of me, I know who I am. If they don’t understand what I say, it’s okay. I do understand.
And that makes life worth living.