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Living Life Well

Living Life Well


Knowing Morgan

By Jim Shere

When she was born her mother named her Margaret after her grandmother, and Rose after her godmother; throughout her childhood she was known as Margaret Rose. After years of being called Margaret Rose, and more often the diminutive “Maggie,” she has turned thirteen and tells us that she is now nonbinary — and asks to be known as Morgan. As Morgan prefers, I will now refer to “them” as “they.”

This singular form of the pronoun “they” is difficult for many to remember to use, and often troubles the uninitiated or the ignorant — Morgan’s father, for instance. Now, Jack is a hardworking, honest man, a good old boy short on regulation, but long on convention, who has firm opinions about men and women. He is deeply troubled by Morgan’s decision, for which they request respect — including his. “But, you are my daughter,” he says, and they reply, “no; I am your child.” “But ‘they’ is a plural pronoun,” he complains, and they tell him it is not — not always.

Consider for example this phrase: “Whoever it is that has a problem with this, eventually they will find they must accept it.” The uncertainty of the gender of the person having a problem with what’s going on is rather gracefully managed by using the singular form of the pronoun “they.” Other languages may have more elegant solutions to the issue of gender assignment, but this is the best our English language has to offer.

In a recent article in this paper by my friend Shannon Lee, she wrote “Sex appears through our wildtype condition to be binary, but the science shows us increasingly that these aspects are on a continuum for our species. The characteristics are bimodal, but individuals exist in the in-between.” While we have been told that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, science has helped us understand the complexity of hormonal tides and neurological networks involved in the personal experience of sex and gender.

In my practice I have been with people as they sought transition from one gender to another, from male to female and from female to male, navigating the tides of names and pronouns, hormone therapy, and gender reassignment surgeries. It is a life-consuming process, one that confronts the very elements of identity, and one to be respected for the courage that it requires. Decisions about what one does with one’s body — from piercings and tattoos to gender reassignment — are arrived at for highly personal reasons, and for that reason the judgements of others are essentially irrelevant. This would also be true of any decision to identify as nonbinary.

A nonbinary person has not made the decision one way or the other about becoming a particular gender. They have decided instead to not be what they are not, nor to become relegated to making a decision they did not request — that is, to be either a boy or a girl. Instead they are making a choice for deeper considerations, to sort out the drives and apprehensions of such a polarity within themselves, and to be released from the obligations of an “either/or” decision by the possibilities of a “both/and” identity.

I like the idea of the singular “they,” and thank Morgan for helping me remember that not one of us is simply one individual, one finite, definite being. As much as I am a man, I am a father, a brother, a son, and so much more; I too am nonbinary — a plurality, a dynamic, teeming multitude. The liberation from static, constant, black-and-white thinking introduces color into an otherwise rather bleak landscape. And it’s to be noted that there are no boundaries between one color and the next in the rainbow.

Furthermore, knowing Morgan helped me know that we need no longer allow ourselves to be caught up in the quandary of a polarized congress, nor in the dilemma of racism. We are even more than a plurality, we are a gradually evolving continuum — and there is a bit of everybody in every one of us. Do not be impatient to settle, nor eager to take a personal stand against others: We have always been in transition, as we continue to move from birth toward death. It’s what we refer to as living.

There are those who would think — with some accuracy — that the term nonbinary is in fact quite binary itself, as it separates itself from the binary. Because thoughts and feelings are nonverbal experiences, putting ideas into words somewhat misrepresents them, flattens them, and diminishes their dimensionality. We have manufactured arbitrary measures such as inches and centimeters to orient and comfort ourselves in the face of the overwhelming flux and flow of an unmeasurably infinite, eternal cosmos, as it surrounds and embraces this seemingly fragile, finite human condition.

I’m glad to have lived into a time where anything has become possible, where accepted styles are not bound to any particular tradition. There is these days a proliferation of ideas and an explosion of interests; and despite the efforts of politicians, stereotyping is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. As my friend Shannon noted, quoting from The CryptoNaturalist: “The water in your bodies is just visiting. It was a thunderstorm a week ago. It will be the ocean soon enough. Most of your cells come and go like morning dew. We are more weather pattern than stone monument. Sunlight on mist. Summer lightning. Your choices outweigh your substance.”

It has been said that mental health is the capacity to live with ambiguities and to respond to events, in due time, with courage and with resilience. Standing at the threshold between childhood and adolescence, as hormones and neurological systems begin to surge and spark, Morgan’s choice to not choose one gender over another shows that sort of courage, that sort of health. Indeed — their choice outweighs their substance.