from either/or to both/and: a Nonbinary story

GoldenLuca Oake
6 min readJul 18, 2022

after 53 years of living, i finally came to understand about myself that, not only was i born gay, i was also born nonbinary. some might ask, wth does that even mean, and why is that a thing? for questions with a measure of curiosity in them, beyond judgment, here are my answers to what this means for me.

this is me in 1984 at 16yrs old, an age by which i already knew i was NOT an ordinary girl and by which i’d already decided i would NOT be giving birth.

1984 photograph of a nonbinary teenager with the soft facial features and long blowdried hair typical of cisfemales at the time, but wearing a pink button-down dress shirt with thin gray tie
A young and clearly nonbinary teenager. What’s plain and obvious now was indescribable back then.

Prince reigned as my musical and cultural hero, and now that i have more precise identity language, i understand why.

Musician Prince Rogers Nelson performing with his guitar, wearing a multi-colored pastel shirt and tight pants, with a pink boa around his neck
Prince in all his pink and paisley glory

in his song “Controversy”, he asks provocatively: “am i Black or White? am i straight, or gay?” before i really knew what these markers meant, before i’d even lived their reality, my answers were already “yes”.

nonbinary for me means experiencing the world not from an “either/or” orientation, but rather from a “both/and” foundation. my fundamental way of being and seeing encompasses what for others would be mutually exclusive realities. i am Black and White. i am masculine and feminine. i am conservative and progressive. i am pro-choice and pro-life.

actually, what i am is

  • pro-common sense
  • pro-self determination
  • pro-planet
  • pro-humanity

these are typically my guiding principles as i navigate a world that’s overwhelmingly binary and overwhelmingly polarized. whether i agree or not, i’m constantly being corralled one way or the other by political, cultural and social norms.

i once identified myself as a bisexual lesbian, and other lesbians yelled about it, insisting i had to choose a side. as someone who loves men and needs women, i literally cannot, but i stopped saying so out loud. now, i just say i’m gay. or queer. depends whether we’re talking about dating or being.

the reason i know myself to be nonbinary and not transgender is that i feel myself thoroughly aligned with the female body into which i was born. female or male is the only binary i can clearly sign up for.

nonetheless, my nonbinary nature has led to me being misgendered all over the world by all kinds of people for the past 30+ years of my adult life. lately, women have been walking into women’s bathrooms and, upon seeing me, turning around and scurrying out, fearing they’ve mistakenly wandered into the men’s. i once had a Little Old Lady block my entry to the women’s bathroom until i lifted my shirt and showed my breasts.

why choose the women’s over the men’s, btw? b/c with my physical stature, i feel in less physical danger in the women’s bathroom than the men’s. people seem to take the whole bathroom thing VERY seriously, and i’m not up for violating gender norms in ways that could get me beaten or killed. as a cisgender woman, i’m exercising the one binary privilege i have to err on the side of safety.

the easy impulse is to do away with binary gender and its accompanying pronouns, but that’s not how society and language (currently) work. so, i’ve evolved my pronouns to she/they, not b/c i’m *trying* to make my life complicated, but to represent the complexity of my life. i’m keeping “she” to continue expanding societally what it means to be a woman. i’m adding “they” to represent personally what it means to be me.

there are few real-world opportunities to actually be nonbinary, and where they exist, i definitely take them.

the normalization of expansive gender identity language is one such opportunity (thank you, Millennials!). the ability to own and change my name is another.

my name at the time of this writing was actually the third legal name i’d had in my life. my German birth mother gave me the name on my birth certificate, then gave up custody of me, so no one ever called me by that name. my American Father took sole custody of me, changed my last name, then changed my first name, ultimately naming me after himself. that name, his name, is how i identified myself for most of my life.

with a deeper, more nuanced understanding of who i’ve grown to be, it’s now my turn to decide my name.

i won’t change my name legally until my Father passes away b/c of logistics related to being his POA, and also b/c it might confuse him and potentially hurt his feelings, and neither of those are necessary to do to an 80-year-old.

outside of family, in my personal and professional lives, i am now GoldenLuca Oake. i’m Golden personally. i’m Luca professionally. my surname is pronounced “oak” like the tree.

Full-face frontal profile picture of the story author GoldenLuca Oake.
Hey! I’m GoldenLuca Oake :-)

these names began coming for me years before i had any inclination to change my name. so i can’t exactly say when this all started. but there are a few stand-out moments that helped bring together a name that now represents me in a gender-fluid, gender-neutral, and nonbinary way.

though i can’t recall where i picked it up, i’d long been casually using the phrase “i’m golden” to express being satisfied or happy with a situation. then 5+ years ago, a friend’s young child endearingly described me as “Golden” because that’s what she saw based on my skin color. that young one’s descriptor tripped a wire of understanding in me about who and how i want to be as a human: lustrous, precious, malleable, valuable, and exceptionally well-situated in my being.

Luca did not come from the Disney character of the same name, though he is cute as a button. this name came from reading the book Wild Rituals in 2020 and learning about the “last universal common ancestor” known as LUCA and thought to be a set of organisms that are shared by every living thing on the planet. LUCA represents that all life is connected. Luca is a male name in Italy, and a female name in Eastern Europe, where i have biological heritage. in some European languages, Luca translates to “light”.

Oake is a version of a surname i helped develop in the context of a marriage, which ultimately inspired me to evolve and own my identity. i’m very grateful for that inspiration and, post-marriage, decided on a singular version of the surname for myself. i added an E at the end as a unique marker. i mean, if i’m gonna be me, then i’m gonna be uniquely me.

if you’re still reading, wow, thank you!

if you’ve been calling me by my former name for years, it might help to change my name in your phone. otherwise, there’s no expectation this change will come quickly. know that i appreciate all efforts to honor the change, and there’s lots of grace for all of us in the transition.

Update: February 2023

at the time i originally wrote this post in July 2022, my 80-year-old Father, despite a plethora of health conditions, seemed as if he would live to roughly 112. as it happens, he passed away within 4 months of this writing, on 1 November 2022. we memorialized this proud and active veteran on 11 November 2022, aptly Veterans Day in the United States. we buried him with full military honors the day before Thanksgiving, 23 November 2022.

on 1 December 2022, i submitted paperwork to the State of California petitioning for my name change, and within 45 days, a California judge signed my name change decree and made my chosen identity official.

this journey to myself has been long and swift. it’s the 4th time in my life my name has legally changed, to include 3 legal names before my 6th birthday. from adopting a new signature to changing every legal, public, and private instance of my name, this is a transition i’ll be living into for quite some time.

the post office clerk who processed my new passport request asked me why i changed my name and called me brave for doing so. honestly, i don’t feel brave. i feel privileged to fully own my identity. and grateful to have come this far with myself. and curious to experience what it’s like to be Golden.