Guest blog by Stuart Crowther
There’s a passing moment in an episode of the Muppet Show from 1977 where Scooter tells Kermit that someone has come to audition for the show. Kermit asks who this person is, and Scooter replies that the furry individual in question isn’t exactly a he or a she. Kermit remarks that this doesn’t leave them with a lot of options.
I love the Muppets. I love Kermit. But he’s missing a trick.
[ Notes from a Sick Bed ]
As I write this, I’m recovering from COVID. I’m feeling incredibly sorry for myself – (stereo)typically a ‘male’ response to disease. Given what will follow, there’s some irony there. I’m not a sick person, as a rule – and, yes, I’m aware of the privilege inherent in that statement so I’ll make the distinction here and now that I mean short-term sick. Poorly. Unwell.
For mostly-well me, it’s something of an anomaly; if I was my mostly-well self right now, it might even be a novelty. But I’m not well. And there’s no novelty in ‘ill’. There’s just ill. Right?
I’ve a tendency to ponder, to musing, to (synthetic) wool-gather, if you will. The difficulty of holding on to wellness when we’re (short-term) sick. That is today’s reflection. I mean this in terms of wellness as a personal state of being. When ill, it’s near impossible to recall feeling ‘not ill’. The two states can’t exist in the same space at the same time. Like Clark Kent and Superman. Or Will Ferrell and comedy.
It’s nearly the Holidays. The festive season.
It’s dark nights and frozen toes, leaving the house in the pitch black, returning in the same. Thoughts of summer, warm weather, removing even one item of clothing seem incredibly distant.
Is this even the same planet that summer once occupied?
Yes. But also:
[ The Messy Middle ]
I’m a non-binary person. I discover this during the pandemic. Home alone with my thoughts, performing myself for precisely no one, I’m subconsciously chipping away at the veneer of how I present myself to the world. Realising that when taxi drivers call me ‘son’ or parents ask their children to apologise to ‘that man’ when they’ve queue jumped in the Spar, I don’t know who they’re talking about. That isn’t me. I’m not ‘that man’. I have genitalia that announces me as male but that means…nothing.
The world doesn’t like this, it seems.
Nature abhors a vacuum. A teacher told me that, so, of course, I believed it.
It rushes to fill in the gaps.
Maybe that’s no surprise.
We grow up listening to stories. We deal in yarns, spin tales.
It’s how we learn about the world we’ve been parachuted into. It’s how we make sense of what it is to be a protagonist, an antagonist, a secondary character, a passer-by… All of the above.
Everyone has a story and stories, we’re taught, have rules.
Once upon/ever after…
We learn the pattern early.
We’re this or we’re that.
And if we’re ‘this’, we are decidedly, and most definitely, not ‘that’.
We’re applauded for our compliance.
‘Brave boy.’ ‘She’ll turn heads.’
We define ourselves oppositionally, in relation to one another. Everything else is just construction – varieties or flavours of ‘this’ and ‘that’. They might look a bit different, but they feel the same. There’s no room for manoeuvre, for the gap between the two absolutes. For a messy middle that’s far too…messy.
[ Stepping Into The Vacuum ]
But back to the pandemic. I soon realise – time being simultaneously accelerated and frozen in mid-step – that I’m going to ask for a vacuum and hope that nature can cope.
I change my pronouns on my email signature from ‘he/him’ to ‘he/they’ and, finally (for now) to ‘they/them’. It’s not perfect. It doesn’t quite describe my vacuum and it reinforces that there is a fixed binary to position oneself against, but it’s something. It’s an idea of a space.
I ask other people to buy into that space or, at least, put down a refundable deposit. Friends, family, colleagues. I ask, not to impose, but to request consideration of what it (I) might mean. Or not mean. Or neither. Both.
I don’t only ask for myself. I ask because I think maybe they’d like a chance to make a mess, to hover a dippy toe over the chasm.
But not everyone wants that space. People who love me, people who don’t, people who have no strong feelings either way.
I see that and I make peace. (For the most part. It varies.)
It’s my own vacuum, my own messy middle that allows others to cling to the sides and shout “NO”.
[ (N)on Binary Eating ]
And then I think about being vegan.
I’ve done roughly 8 years sans eggs and dairy, around 20 years minus flesh.
And now I’m here, doing my little bit to unpick/unpack/worry away at the stitching of one of the many – many – binaries that govern our lives.
And I’m thinking:
Could eating be a binary?
Is ethical living another?
Are we vegan/not vegan? Ethical/unethical?
Is it human/animal, diner/scoffed?
We all know non-vegans who present as animal lovers. We call it ‘cognitive dissonance’. We say that the two things are diametrically opposed, they cannot exist at the same time.
But carnists say ‘no’. Both things can be true. I don’t agree, but I find the proposition…interesting.
If that space can be opened up, if that vacuum – or non-binary – can facilitate these two seemingly incompatible viewpoints, why are other spaces so untouchably sacrosanct? Why are some margins for manoeuvre so heavily restricted and policed? What is possible when we harness that seemingly inherent ability to juggle two opposing thoughts and channel it towards making that gulf obsolete?
[ Back to the Futurevores… ]
James Cameron recently coined the term ‘futurevore’ in an attempt to rebrand the vegan lifestyle. I like that he opened the conversation. I like that he referred to a lifestyle – a way of being as opposed to a ‘diet’.
I dislike the binary he chose to encompass these thoughts. Because binaries keep us fixed in one place. They do that to all of us and they do it all the time.
The future/the past.
They present as finite and immovable. Steadfast and unyielding.
Unable to countenance the sheer randomness of a universe that doesn’t have a game plan.
We don’t eat like we will in ‘the future’ because the future won’t ever arrive. It’s a false binary that allows us to defer to some point on the horizon, some distant non-animal consuming never-never.
So perhaps the non-binary might just allow us to embrace the perpetual motion of becoming, lean into the now/here/this/next that keeps us on our toes.
For Cameron, ‘vegan’ “has all these connotations”. And he’s right. But every term has connotations. Even ‘non-binary’ – the ‘non-term’, my chosen term – has connotations.
Have they helped me? Yes.
Have they hurt me? Yes.
We fix meaning to terms because we need our lives to be stories.
And stories need a once upon/ever after. Don’t they?
Or might a dismantling of this well-worn structure let us think-feel our way into other ways of being, in a world that doesn’t include the phrase ‘But…bacon!”
[ A Non-Binary New Year? ]
This blog was supposed to be about my wishes for the New Year. And I’ll argue the toss that it is – I’m just queering what a New Year blog looks like. So sue me. (Or don’t.)
My wish isn’t big but it’s also huge. It’s both of those things at once.
My wish is that we all take a moment, to reflect/muse/ponder on what’s possible when we spend a bit of time in the gaps between the ‘absolutes’, poke a tiny bit of toe into the ‘not sure’, when we ask if the dust in the vacuum isn’t waste but an opportunity to refuse.
My wish is that we recognise that binaries harm all of us, even those of us who (think) we find comfort.
My wish is that we think about how power is amassed and maintained through square pegging our glorious multitudes into round holes that works to ensure that only one type of voice holds the megaphone, only one type of bum warms the throne.
My wish is for a future that doesn’t include the words ‘vegan’ or ‘futurevore’. Because we won’t need them. The other end of their binary won’t exist. Those terms will describe what some bodies once did when we conceived of them in a different way.
[ Embracing the Fabulous Contradiction ]
One of my exes recently asked: “Do you still call yourself gay?”
I took a moment and replied, tentatively “Y-es?”
“Even though you’re non-binary?”
(With more conviction) “Yes”.
I can live in that fabulous contradiction. I can throw down roots in unstable soil.
So can you. Rooted can be a word for stuck. It can also be a word for deep. Don’t ask me to define the difference.
I’m a non-binary person. It’s all up for grabs.
Stuart (they/them) is a theatre-maker and lecturer. They have appeared in cabaret, fringe theatre, the West End, TV, radio and film, and are an associate artist with both All Things Considered Theatre and Threedumb Theatre. As Creeping Miasma, they form one half of the plant-based drag duo, The Vegan Queens. Stuart’s show ‘Algebra’ – about non-binary identity – is on at Unity Theatre, Liverpool, UK in March 2023. Find out more.
For Stuart’s book-related content, visit The Library is Open.