By: Ben Stimpson
I’ve been on quite a personal journey the past few months and I’d like to invite you along. I went on a seven-day retreat in Haliburton and came back with realizations about myself that caused an avalanche of understanding.
Many people see retreats as going to ‘find themselves,’ but in my case it was a letting-go of the clutter in my inner landscape. Through that decluttering I found clarity and in that clarity, I discovered a huge part of myself: I am non-binary.
I can’t lie and say I had a lightning bolt moment of understanding, but the realization was like a mist parting. I looked at myself in the mirror one night and all the pieces came together in understanding that my personal gender identity was not male or female but something else. I think I’ve suspected for a long time, but I never knew what to do with it. When I identified as a gay man, I always felt oddly connected to the trans* community and more comfortable around trans* folk than cisgender folk. Within the various spiritual traditions I follow, I gravitated towards those aspects that were outside the binary of gender.
Upon reflection, I can see the experiences progressing towards this understanding. As a teenager, I never felt comfortable with my body and often wore baggy and neutral type clothing; my personal style has often been to hide myself and fit in (a pattern I’ve shifted the past few years). For a long time, I even felt uncomfortable being called ‘man’ and preferred ‘guy’ or ‘boy.’ I think for a long time I accepted the narrative that because I was sexually attracted to men but didn’t feel like I was a woman, I must be a gay man, and that was that. When non-binary folk started to really make themselves more apparent in the community and more celebrities came out, I remember being completely confused but secretly intrigued.
A couple of years ago, I intentionally switched from using only ‘LGBT’ to using the word ‘queer’ more, and I think that intentional shift in language also shifted my perspective on myself. The more trans* and non-binary folk I have met, the more I have felt a camaraderie I’m not sure I have with the cis-gay community. I think the tipping point was the personal insights at the retreat in Haliburton and finally embracing my neurodivergence.
When I began to embrace that a disorder I’ve had since birth makes me neurodivergent, suddenly I discovered that I may have been living with ADHD all these years, and then I accepted that I was non-binary. It was as if accepting these big pieces gave me permission to embrace and explore this other nebulous piece to myself.
So, I came out to myself and then to others for a second time. The feedback I’ve received has been overwhelmingly affirmative. A trans* colleague said that for the first month I worked with her she thought I was a trans* man. A very close friend I’ve known for years, a beautiful trans* woman, said she was not surprised in the least. Suddenly, my DMs were filled with friends who also are non-binary wishing congratulations and offering support.
On a deeper level, I came to understand my non-binariness in relation to my spiritual beliefs. I have always been deeply curious about third-gender communities around the world and their roles in traditional societies.
I was watching an interview with the stunning Indian Hijra activist, Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, who was speaking about the role of third-gender individuals in the traditional Hindu cosmology as individuals of the in-between spaces. I watched the short video Kapaemahu, the legend of four third-gender healers in Hawaiian tradition. While being careful not to appropriate and disrespect these Indigenous identities, something about both the words of Laxmi and the story of the Mahu struck a chord with me, a personal sense of power that I was blind to previously: a sense of power in being able to define myself and thus define my role in the world.
I practice several parallel spiritual traditions including Hinduism, Neo-Paganism and Spiritism. All these paths have very strong opinions on the energetics of gender, whether it be in magic or universal energy. For a long time, I struggled with this view of energy until I realized that all these paths have very strong third gender or queer lenses. When I started to open myself to the energetics of gender and how I exist within the world, I found there was no reason to hold onto a gender identity that was defined for me.
Ben Stimpson (He/Him/They) is a queer-identified Kitchener area therapist, writer, teacher, and workshop facilitator. Their work focuses heavily on the intersection of personal narratives, identity, and relationships. Alongside his therapy practice, Ben is a student at University of Waterloo, sells books at Words Worth Books Ltd., and serves as an educator on SPECTRUM’s Rainbow Diversity Training team. To find out more about Ben, please see his website: www.padukawellness.com