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

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.

1985 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 paisley and pink 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”.

to be nonbinary for me is to be not an “or”, but rather, an “and” encompassing 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

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 into going one way or the other by political, cultural and social norms.

i once identified myself as a bisexual lesbian, and other lesbians yelled at me about that, 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.

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. i once had a Little Old Lady block my way into the women’s bathroom until i lifted my shirt and showed her my breasts.

why choose the women’s bathroom 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.

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

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

my legal name at the time of this writing was actually the second name i’d had in my life. my birth mother gave me a name that’s on my original birth certificate but that i’ve never used. my Father changed that legally and named me after himself, and that’s how i’ve identified myself until 2022.

with a deeper and more complex understanding of myself, 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.

but 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.

5+ years ago, a friend’s young child endearingly described me as “Golden”. though she likely didn’t mean all this in her call-out, her descriptor perfectly aligned with 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 my former 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.

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