“What’s in your pants? Are you a fag or a dyke? Which bathroom do you use? Are you just crazy?”
These are the questions non-binary Nelsonian Spencer Sharpe is asked regularly.
The 24-year-old youth worker, who does not identify as ‘he’ or ‘she’ but instead goes by the pronoun ‘they’, will be speaking at a ‘Young and Inspired’ event later this month
Spencer will tell their story, how they landed their dream job despite battling mental health and gender identity issues.
“I’m going to talk about being mentally ill and doing awesome stuff anyway,” they say.
Spencer works for Q-Youth as a social support worker, a job they have wanted since age 11.
“I have ‘professional queer’ written on my business card which has been a goal of mine since I first came out.”
Spencer works with the local LGBTQ community and, as a non-binary person, helps youth struggling to find their identity.
“It’s different for everybody, but the main definition of non-binary is identifying outside of male or female.”
As if the gender identity struggle wasn’t enough, Spencer has also battled mental illness most of their life.
Spencer says mental illness tends to be buy one, get one free.
“I have Tourette’s, really intense anxiety, chronic depression and borderline personality disorder.”
Their first visit to a councillor was at age 11.
Spencer came out as non-binary at 15 to friends and 17 to their parents.
They say while friends and family were very understanding, there is still a lot of ignorance and prejudice out there.
“It’s difficult because people already take trans people not very seriously and a lot of people think that you’re just doing it for attention or trying to be special, but that couldn’t be any further from the truth.”
Spencer says they received a lot of abuse in high school.
But while they say Nelson has progressed significantly in the past few years, there is plenty more to do before all members of the LGBTQ community can feel comfortable in the city.
“I don’t believe in ‘you can’t teach a dog new tricks’, everybody is constantly learning.”
They say gender neutral pronouns is an easy way to show understanding toward non-binary people.
“Everyone uses them all the time without realising, I don’t think it’s as hard as people think it is.”
They say gender neutral bathrooms are another daily battle.
“People don’t understand how difficult it is, I can’t just walk into a men’s or women’s bathroom because I’ve been yelled at and told I don’t belong.”
Spencer says educating children will be the fastest way to eliminate prejudice as young people are far more open-minded.
Spencer says the struggle of non-binary people is that they can’t be put into a box by society, who in turn reject the notion that they are genderless.
“People like to put people in categories, it’s easier to move through the world with everyone categorised.”
They say society does this with every gender.
“Men are expected to fit the masculine role, boys don’t cry, love rugby and beer, these expectations need to change.”
Spencer says society is slowly becoming more understanding of the LGBTQ community and there is some amazing work being done by queer youth groups in local schools.
As part of Spencer’s identity journey, they are hoping to get top surgery and a weight off their chest.
Spencer has created a GiveaLittle campaign to raise funds for the pricey procedure. Spencer admits they may have to wait for a long time before getting surgery.
“I would feel a lot more comfortable. It would really help my sense of self and I would look more like how I feel when I look in the mirror.”
Spencer’s dream is that one day non-binary, queer and transgender will be normalised in society.
“Ideally, we wouldn’t even have to come out and no one would assume anything.”
However, they say until such time, QYouth will keep supporting the young queer community in Nelson.
“It’s a lot easier than going it alone.”
QYouth, Nelson. 121 Trafalgar St. For more info go to facebook.com/Q-Youth-898926306810860/
To contribute to Spencer’s GiveaLittle page go to givealittle.co.nz/cause/spencerstopsurgery