Breaking the Binary

    I was sixteen when I learned that Ruby Rose had gone viral for being in Orange is the New Black. I hadn’t seen the series, and I had no idea who Ruby Rose was.

    Sixteen. It was the age when I got confused when a girl in my class said that a dress is just a piece of cloth. I was confused why she was adamantly defending the fact that clothing has no gender; that it’s only fabric. I was young. I didn’t understand that there was discourse over what people put on their bodies. Over what labels were assigned to them.

    So, I typed Ruby Rose into a Google search engine, and one of the first results was Breaking Free, a short film on YouTube that got them that breakout role on Orange is the New Black. Ruby Rose had put it together themselves, basing it heavily on their own experiences as someone who didn’t ascribe to heteronormativity or gender binaries. The film was short, about five minutes in length. I was bored, tired of studying for the countless tests I had the next day. Deciding to forego sleep, I pressed play.

    The film opens on Ruby Rose, dressed in a long, blonde wig, stilettos, and blood-red lipstick. They go to a mirror, applying more makeup. Slowly, they stop. Sets the tube of lipstick down as they pick up a pair of scissors.

    They hack at their hair until left with strands just below their ear. Dyes it dark, pushes it back. Runs their skin beneath water, washes off the makeup. As it runs down the drain, the inked outline of tattoos emerges all over their body. They switch the dress for a pair of combat boots, dark-wash trousers, and a print-shirt that’s reminiscent of 90s Leonardo DiCaprio circa Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet. And, finally, Ruby Rose looks into the mirror. Acceptance gleaming in their eye. Not male, female, or whatever label. Ruby Rose literally breaks free.

    And so, I re-watched it. Again, and again.

    I was young, and I still didn’t yet understand it. But this video is probably the first time I understood that there was something beyond a gender binary.

    When I was sixteen. I’d stopped wearing makeup for a few days in a row. I bundled my hair up beneath a hat because I was so exhausted from exams. When I went to another school for a sports competition, I got heckled by a group of guys outside the fences. “Who is that?” “Look at that ugly face!” “Looks like a guy!”

When I was sixteen, I cried when people called me a boy.

I couldn’t care less if they called me that now.

    Now, I understand why that girl in my high school adamantly defended that a dress was just a dress, a piece of genderless cloth. Why should the binary matter?

    As I grew older, I cut my own hair down to a pixie while on a sort of exchange program in Los Angeles. I walked quickly home from the barber shop where I got it done, terrified that people would notice. I slowed as I neared my home. Nobody noticed. Nobody cared.

    I’m not going to lie; it’s not always that easy. Sometimes, people notice when I also don’t fit into boxes. Sometimes, I get called horrible things.  Sometimes, I put on a dress. Other times, I wear a hoodie, black pants, sneakers, and a band tee. I’ve kept my hair short. It feels right. If it doesn’t in the future, then I’ll deal with that later.

Sometimes, I care about name-calling. Other times, I don’t. The world, I believe, changes. The binary matters less. As time goes on, people who don’t fit neatly into boxes gain acceptance. People learn. People grow. If they don’t, then their ignorance is fought by those who are tired of the hatred brought on by bigotry. People seeking trans rights and non-binary acceptance. People seeking equality for their identities, sexualities, languages, cultures, histories, religions, and other rights. People who want to be validated, to just live.

Sometimes, it seems like the world doesn’t change.

But slowly, for better or worse, it does. And that’s where my belief lies. In change.