Bethany Meyers Shares Their Non-Binary Journey and Why Inclusivity Is So Damn Important
I grew up in small-town Missouri and was never exposed to any sort of queer lifestyle. I don't think I even met a gay person—well, an openly gay person—until I moved to Chicago at age 20. Not only was I not exposed to that lifestyle, but I was also raised in a community that believed that it was really wrong, shameful, and just not ok.
Once, I remember asking a minister in church: "I don't understand. If you say that being queer is a choice, and it's so horrible and shameful and you're not welcome anymore—why would anyone choose this?" I couldn't wrap my head around it. He said something along the lines of "people who are queer have fallen so deeply into sin, that it was their punishment from God."
Then, at age 20, I was living in Chicago and for the first time, had feelings for a girl. I was at this New Year's party and everyone was singling out who they'd kiss when the ball dropped; I was there with my really good girlfriend, who I really loved, and she kissed this guy... and I remember these intense feelings of jealousy. Those feelings really took me back for a second and made me feel scared. Because of how I was raised, I thought, "I don't know why these feelings are here, let's push those down."
Throughout my early 20s, I think that I was really interested in women, but I didn't know how to go about expressing that. So I often expressed it in ways that were not the healthiest, like going out and getting really drunk and hooking up with a girl in a more group setting just to kind of figure it out. I created these really strong relationships with girls that were friends... but then they'd start dating someone else and I would feel sad about it. I just wasn't living in a place of honesty.
When I eventually moved to New York City at age 26, I decided to give it a real shot and went out on a proper date with a girl. So I went on Tinder and started going out on dates with girls. I even had a girlfriend. It felt like it finally made sense in this space.
If you follow me at all, you may be wondering where Nico plays into this. [Editor's Note: Bethany is married to actor Nico Tortorella, who you may recognize form TV Land's Younger and who also identifies as non-binary.] We met when I was 20, and have been in each other's lives for 13 years now. Over those 13 years, we've had every iteration of a relationship that exists: monogamy, long-distance, open, even best friends and not sexual at all. What it comes down to is that there's just so much love between us. Last year, we decided to get married; we both recognize our queer identities and the need to be with other people of the same or different sexes, but decided to come together and create a relationship and family within our own home.
Shortly after that is when I started to identify as non-binary and use they/them pronouns. Although it might seem like it, non-binary is not a new phenomenon. It's been around forever; there have always been people who don't identify as male or female. But the word, the language, seeing it out there is something that's starting to happen more and more. It's becoming this mainstream word that we're looking at and talking about, and the more that I started to look at that word and the definition and the meaning, the more I felt very strongly that it was describing me; that is who I am. And since I started using that word, I feel like it's created a lot of freedom for me.
What You Need to Know About Non-Binary Pronouns
I'm so excited to see the evolution of language taking place right before our eyes. I think it's important for people to remember that language itself is constantly evolving and that we don't speak the same way we have in the past. (Example A: Even "Athleisure" was added to the dictionary.)
Some people get really defensive over things like pronoun usage, and I think that happens for two reasons. First, it's because people feel like language cannot evolve or it doesn't evolve and that there's only one way that it has to be. I think the other reason people get defensive is that switching to they/them pronouns when talking to someone or speaking in a more gender-neutral term requires some thought and practice. And if you haven't practiced and are talking to someone who goes by they/them who previously went by she/he pronouns, it's really hard. It almost makes it difficult to talk. And then I think people can feel dumb, because they're trying to say something really simple, but it feels like "why can't I get these words out of my mouth?!" And because no one likes to feel dumb, it turns into frustration and "this is stupid, why do we have to talk this way?!"
It's difficult for everyone at first! Three years ago, I also felt similar to that. I've learned that, with practice and patience and not making it a huge deal, it actually starts to come very naturally. My suggestion is to practice it, and if you do misgender someone, don't make a big deal out of it. Say a quick "oops," correct yourself, and just keep moving—no need to have a big "I'm sorry" conversation.
If you're not sure which pronouns someone prefers, you can always ask. I find it to be very considerate—like you're seeing me. When in doubt, you can wait until someone genders themselves, which people tend to do fairly quickly in conversations, actually. If you're really not sure, you can always replace the pronoun with the person's name. (Related: Read One Model's Story of Being Intersex)
Why This Type of Inclusivity Really, Really Matters
Some companies and organizations are making huge strides in making life more non-binary friendly: Lyft, for example, now lets you choose your preferred pronouns; Mastercard is letting people use their chosen names on their debit and credit cards, which is incredible because it creates so much more safety for trans people; several states are now offering an intersex or non-binary gender options on driver's licenses as well.
These "little" things make a big difference: Let's say someone's birth name is Sara and they've transitioned and now go by Sam, and give their credit card to someone; they may automatically be accused of using someone else's credit card. Or, even if that's not the case, then people may automatically know they've transitioned, and it can create really unsafe situations.
Next up? Even in just the fitness sphere, there's so much we can do: Non-binary locker rooms and bathrooms, un-gendering workouts (barre isn't just for women!), and addressing groups of people with words that don't specify gender (it's easy to swap a "ladies" for "everyone"). (Related: An Open Letter to Women Who Are Afraid of the Weight Room)
If you don't (yet) know anyone who identifies as non-binary, it doesn't mean these things don't matter to you; we should all care because it offers safety to a lot of people, and that's a human right that everyone deserves. For someone like myself, I live in a much more privileged body than many queer people do. I don't get harassed when I walk down the street. I can dress the way I want to dress and feel very safe. But that reality does not exist for a lot of gender non-conforming people.
In case you need a little context: The average life expectancy for a trans woman of color, for example, is age 35. That is the reason why everyone should care. The more that we talk about being non-binary and expose gender-nonconforming views, the more we create a safe space for people of all identities.
This pride season, I've really been resonating with the word "freedom." I'm starting to understand how much freer I feel to be myself than I've ever felt before. Every day I feel that much more empowered to step outside the gender norms that exist in society and really, truly be myself.
And that's what so many of us—non-binary or not—are striving for, right?
Bethany Meyer is an NYC-based trainer and founder of the be.come project, a body-neutral, go-on-and-love-yourself approach to boutique fitness.