By Megan Smith
Gwen Lambert believes in trying on labels. As part of their gender exploration, they’ve adopted several labels, only to find most didn’t fit quite right. Now, at age 18, the high school senior has finally found comfort and confidence in their identity as a non-binary, bisexual person.
Born in Oklahoma, Lambert moved to Houston at age three. “So I’m basically a native,” they say. Lambert attended public school throughout their childhood and, in middle school, came out for the first time. “In middle school, since I didn’t have the vocabulary of ‘non-binary,’ I identified as a cisgender lesbian,” Lambert explains.
In high school, however, Lambert began to question their label and gender identity. “I started to watch a lot of YouTube and began thinking that maybe I was trans,” Lambert recalls. “I tried out the trans man label—I got binders and everything. But that didn’t feel right. So I tried ‘gender-fluid,’ but that didn’t feel right either.” After more research on YouTube and Tumblr, Lambert discovered the ‘non-binary’ label in April 2015. “I don’t feel any gender, so non-binary felt right,” they explain.
The process of coming out as non-binary hasn’t been the easiest. Lambert doesn’t personally know anyone else who identifies as non-binary, and often feels as if they’re navigating this gender journey alone. However, shortly before they discovered their non-binary label, Lambert’s brother, Dean, came out as a trans boy. After seeing that their parents were accepting of Dean, Lambert felt safe enough to share their identity with their family.
“My parents still struggle a lot with my pronouns,” Lambert says, adding that their mom has struggled more now that they’ve adopted a more traditionally feminine expression. “I’ve had my hair short since seventh grade, so I’m trying it out to see if I like long hair,” Lambert says. “Fashion also [plays into my expression]. I like high-waisted pants, and they don’t really make those in men’s. I shaved my head a year ago and that helped my mom to have an easier time with my pronouns. But now that I’m growing out my hair and dressing more feminine, she’s having a harder time. So being a feminine, non-binary person makes things harder. People have a [preconceived] idea of what non-binary looks like—the androgynous look. So presenting feminine or masculine throws people off.”
While Lambert’s friends are also accepting of their identity, they too struggle with using the correct pronouns. “They try,” Lambert says. “But [using my correct pronouns] can be difficult when you’re not used to using gender non-specific pronouns.” This experience has made Lambert wary of sharing their identity and pronouns with the teachers at their high school. “I just don’t want to have to explain to them, them not understand, and then still misgender me,” Lambert says, adding that while mainstream society is starting to better understand binary trans identity, non-binary identity is still “mind-boggling” to most. “In college, I plan to email my teachers before class [explaining my identity].”
Despite this difficult journey, Lambert has found strength in taking part in small-scale advocacy. “I don’t know that I would label myself an advocate,” Lambert says. “I am, but I am more of a quiet advocate. I like talking to small groups of people. My mom teaches sixth through eighth grade, and Dean and I went to her GSA on Trans Visibility Day. I talked to them about non-binary identities.” They have also recently started an internship with Equality Texas, helping transgender program coordinator Lou Weaver with research and data entry. This internship has both expanded Lambert’s knowledge of the equality movement and connected them to other LGBTQ advocacy groups. Lambert helped compile data on Gay-Straight Alliances across the state, as well as attended the Gender Infinity Conference to learn more about support for gender diversity.
Lambert believes the easiest way to be an ally to non-binary individuals is to respect and use their pronouns. “Definitely don’t call anyone an ‘it,’ and make sure to validate your friends if they come out to you,” they say. Giving yourself space to figure out your own gender identity is equally as important, Lambert says. “Try different labels,” they say. “It’s important to see which ones feel right to you.”