He or she? It's them, says activist

Genderqueer Dr J answers questions about sexuality, identity and linguistics connected with the community

Dr J Harisson identifies as a non-binary genderqueer.

It’s been over a decade since Dr J Harisson identified themselves as ‘they’ - a non-binary gender queer. Hailing from London, they are a well-known LGBTQ activist. 

Working as a business analyst and project manager at ThoughtWorks, they were in the city to be a keynote speaker at the upcoming ‘RISE: India’s First LGBTI Job Fair’.

Dr J took some time off to talk to Metrolife about what it means to be a non-binary genderqueer, at a time when Indian cities, especially Bengaluru, are becoming more accepting of the community. 

Tell us your story. 
I arrived in the UK in 2005 and at that time, I identified as a lesbian but I didn’t really feel like that fit me. That’s when I met a group of people, transgender activists, and learnt about what is meant by being trans, binary and so on. 

How do you explain non-gender binary queer to someone who does not know these terms?
The gender identity here is not exclusively masculine or feminine‍ —‌ people can move across that or in the middle of that as they feel. They don’t want to be identified as either of them. 

Are people usually curious to learn more about your identity or are they apprehensive? 
Most of them are curious and want to know more. They want to know about gender, social contract, what it means to unpack these terms and how it works. It’s difficult for people as all these notions are based on the culture they grew up in and each of them is constructed differently across cultures. 

Do you think your journey was easier because you were in London? 
Yes. In London, I happened to meet the right people at the right time and that helped my personal development. Though it’s been a decade, it took me about three years to sit down and talk about it. 

Explain to us how linguistics come into place when you define yourself as genderqueer. 
As pronouns go, there is ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘they’. Everyone knows how ‘he’ and ‘she’ works. ‘They’, on the other hand, is considered to be plural and that’s what confuses people. But that’s how I identify myself. It’s not that difficult to get used to because this term has been around since the 13th century. A few have been trying to make that change when they speak to people who identify themselves like me. A simple ‘sorry’ when you’ve made a mistake and want to correct yourself makes a huge difference to us. 

But not everyone is well-updated about LGBTQIA+. Are they at fault when they genuinely don’t know how to address people in this community? 
I think there are two sides to this. One is being curious, listening to what the minority community is trying to say and taking it to heart. The other is for the community themselves to remain vocal and visible. This is the way you make more people understand.  Many people are curious about the queer community and want to learn more but fear they might offend members of the community if they ask. I come from a point of privilege here because I am very comfortable with my identity. I can handle questions. However, in the case of others, I do agree that some of them can be rude and find it too personal. But for them, coming out itself is a difficult task. When people are coming out and building their identity, they tend to feel challenged by questions. That’s when their energy drops. It’s unfortunate but we shouldn’t stop. 

Are there any misconceptions about the LGBTQ+ community that you’d like to clear? 
There are a lot of misconceptions about trans people that come out in the media these days. It’s not about the body of clothes, but what goes on in your head and how you express it. 

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