Day 6

Me, Myself, They: Joshua M. Ferguson's memoir about transformation, empathy and respect for their identity

In their first book — Me, Myself, They: Life Beyond The Binary — Joshua M. Ferguson explains what it means for them to be gender fluid, why pronouns matter, and how their experience gave them the empathy to be a trans rights advocate.

'They/them pronouns are new for a lot of people and I totally understand that,' says Ferguson

Joshua M. Ferguson is the author of Me, Myself, They: Life Beyond The Binary, published by House of Anansi. (Brendan Meadows, House of Anansi Press)

When Joshua M. Ferguson received a new birth certificate on May 7, 2018, it was a new beginning. Or rather a restart to their first beginning.

One year ago Ferguson was the first person in Ontario to receive a non-binary birth certificate.

"I no longer have to look at a birth certificate that doesn't identify who I am," said Ferguson, who identifies as neither male nor female. Neither gender has ever felt like the right fit for them.

Ferguson is a filmmaker and writer who identifies as transgender and non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them. It's been a long journey to get to this point in their life.

Their sometimes challenging transformation is chronicled in Ferguson's new memoir, Me, Myself, They: Life Beyond The Non-Binary.

They sat down with Day 6 host Brent Bambury and talked about the confusion that can come with being transgender and non-binary, and how they're now able to write about their pain from a position of empathy and understanding.

Joshua M. Ferguson who received Ontario's first non-binary birth certificate talks to media at the Human Rights Monument in Ottawa in 2018. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

People can hear your voice today. They can read your book. But they can't see you and I can. Can you describe for people listening who I'm seeing in front of me today?

You're seeing an Amazon. A fighter. Someone who may change their gender expression on a daily basis.

Today I'm wearing a gold Hendrixroe blazer and leather leggings and nice gold boots. The next day I might just wear jeans and a t-shirt. I have long hair and sometimes I wear makeup, a lot of makeup, sometimes I don't.

How I look and who you're seeing varies day-to-day according to how I feel and how I want to express myself in the world.

You write in the book, "I can make people scared or fearful based on how I look." What happens when people look at you and are afraid?

I think writing that meant to me that people might be afraid when they see me because they may be confused about what they see.

When I present myself in a more gender ambiguous way, I think people are confused sometimes and want to assume that I'm a man or a woman. And when people can't figure out if I'm a man or a woman then that may make them scared.

They don't have to be though.

So now the book is the story about how you find your identity and reassert your identity. As a trans and gender-fluid person — non-binary.

These are all still relatively new terms and you say in the book that even your mother struggles with these identifiers. So to help people understand, what does being gender fluid, what does being non-binary or trans mean to you?

I identify as a non-binary trans person and what that means is that I don't identify exclusively as a man or a woman. And the way that I identify my gender really moves beyond the binary. It's never really made sense for me to think of myself as a man or a woman, especially as I've sort of come to terms with who I am.

But my definition of what that might mean might be different for someone else. I think something that people need to realize about our community is that we're very diverse. We're not a monolith. We're not all caught and captured under the same definition and we're not going to be understood the same way.

And that's the whole point. Even if you may not understand my identity, and I may not be able to explain that here, you may come to understand parts, and you may start to relate to me more, and that's what Me, Myself, They is really about.

Joshua M. Ferguson, right, with their husband Florian Halbedl, left. (Joshua M. Ferguson)

Me, Myself, They. It's really important to talk about pronouns here because pronouns are obviously important to you and to other non-binary people. Help someone who doesn't understand why that's so important.

I think pronouns are important to all of us. And the thing is I write about pronouns in a forgiving way. I write about pronouns in a way that respects the fact that language is an adjustment, and they/them pronouns are new for a lot of people.

And I totally understand that and I write about my parents struggling with my pronouns in the book, and my husband struggling with my pronouns. And I sometimes misgender trans people by accident and make mistakes.

We're all humans. We all make mistakes. And I think what it comes down to is if that mistake is intentional, malicious and meant to invalidate my identity or a trans person's identity. That's the problem.

Some people refuse or some people say, 'I will not use right the pronoun that you're choosing because it's not the pronoun that you were biologically assigned at birth.' But what is going on there? Why is there that hostility?

I think really it comes down to your respect. You're going to refuse to acknowledge who we are and the truth of our identity.

And for me, I mean, it's transphobic to do that because it isn't fair to who we are and I think at the very least I would expect to be treated with basic human dignity.

So the pronouns are important, but I do think that the pronoun discussion has been magnified because it really is only one part of our experience and our identity. And I think it just comes down to just basic respect.

Joshua M. Ferguson is the author of Me, Myself, Them in addition to being a filmmaker, alchemist and trans rights advocate. (Brendan Meadows/House of Anansi Press)

I know you're a huge comic book fan. You're a comic book nerd right? So what does it mean for trans and non-binary people that Chella Man has been cast as a superhero in the new DC Comics series?

Yeah, it's significant ... Also Nicole Maines on Supergirl.

I think the industry is finally starting to realize that in the casting of these characters, to actually cast trans people or gender non-conforming people and non-binary people into those roles, it really makes for a powerful representation when we can be part of telling our own stories.

Do you think it would have been different for you if this was the case when you were eight years old?

It's hard to say. I think that it would have been different, but I wouldn't be who I am today.

I am who I am today because of everything that I've been through. I don't know who I would be if it had been different.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Joshua M. Ferguson, download our podcast or click 'Listen' at the top of this page.