In the landscape of buzzwords and hashtags, we speak so often of representation in terms of seeing yourself in the pages, of diversity in terms of non-white presence, that we forget the very definitions of the words. “Representation” as in “representative of something,” not necessarily yourself; “diversity” as in “many and varied,” not simply “X-identifying protagonist and therefore proof that I, the reader, am not X-phobic.” We forget that perspectives do not need to have some commonality with our lived experience to be valuable. We forget that voices do not need to sound like ours to be heard.
Non-Binary Lives: An Anthology of Intersecting Identities contains thirty personal essays by people from all over the world, from all kinds of religious backgrounds and upbringings, at all different stages of non-binary life. I, a nonbinary person with many other things in common with the various authors, did not see myself reflected in any of them. This is a wonderful and precious thing. Contrary to everything we are told about what does or does not constitute “good representation,” not seeing myself in this book is what gave me a sense of newfound wonder in my own nonbinary identity. This is the power of truly diverse representation: not seeing yourself in something, but seeing that you are not alone.
Perhaps the greatest gift of Non-Binary Lives is that it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do: to explore and examine intersecting identities, through the complexities of race, migration, chronic pain, biological parenthood, gender elation, mental health, and many, many more. It features many AMAB persons, who continue to be vastly underrepresented in conversations about nonbinary identity. The authors include trans people, genderqueer people, porn performers, therapists, cat owners, and twins. Many of them happen to be working and/or residing in the UK, where the publisher and editors are based (and so, presumably, where the call for submissions to the anthology was best advertised). Many also happen to write through the kind of analytical lens you learn to adopt in social studies courses in university. While this does not in any way detract from how good the book is, I would have liked to see more essays from nonbinary people working outside of academia, or whose lives diverged from a traditional tertiary education—perhaps in a follow-up anthology, which I am willing into existence.
I usually find anthologies of personal writing difficult to review, as they are so subjective, and good content and good writing don’t always go hand in hand. That wasn’t the case with Non-Binary Lives. While I wasn’t exactly hooked on all the essays, it’s hard to dispute the quality of each and every one. More than mere analyses, more than raw prose, these essays are love letters to a gender that holds a myriad of permutations, reflecting and refracting every color under the sun.