A conversation with Rachel Lange
NON-BINARY, QUEER, AUTISTIC
35 min. Recorded on 9 February 2021.
Rachel loves to hear they/them pronouns, but is not offended by she or he if they are well-intended. They are a non-binary queer autistic person. Find out what that means to Rachel in this episode.
We also talk about questioning everything and looking at things differently, being gender non-conforming in different cultures, freeing yourself from gender roles, being a non-binary parent, and giving yourself permission to do things the way you want.
“If someone says ‘how do you identify?’ I feel free to describe my identity. Whereas if somebody says…’Rachel identifies as non-binary’, sometimes that can be used to dismiss that as a coat I put on, or a fashion I’m trying on…that it’s not an integral part.”
TRANSCRIPT [expand to read]
Esther: Hello and welcome. What’s your name?
Rachel: My name is Rachel Lange. I am 43 years old and I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the United States.
Esther: Tell me about the labels you use.
Rachel: I fairly late in life, came to the term of nonbinary, but I’ve always felt in my brain that I was neither male nor female, but also kind of both.
And. I didn’t come to the word until, until late in life. And I didn’t tell anybody that I had come to the word until much later in life. So I think I I’ve come out to most people in the last four years. And yeah, so non non-binary to me is that feeling of male, female, and something in between. And also neither at the same time, I felt non-binary since high school, since, since before that. And frankly, I’ve been a bit inscrutable as to what gender I am walking down the street in my life. So you know, in high school, people yelled out the window of their cars. Are you a man or a woman? And at the time I said, yes. And nowadays I would say no. And I, I guess I came to the term in my forties or in my, in my late thirties. And it became more widely used and people knew what it meant. So I was comfortable saying that, but it’s been pretty much true for my whole existence. You know, even with my secondary sex characteristics, I’m a very big person. You can’t tell this on a podcast, but I’m not putting it in metric.
But I think it’s. Like 180 centimeters is that six feet, something like that. Am I right?
Esther: So I don’t do feet to be honest. I know metric actually, cause I’m Dutch. So that’s what, you
Rachel: know, metrics. So it’s 180 centimeters, a tall person. The reasonably, it is tall, but like possible, like, you know, three meters or anything.
I think I’m 180 centimeters and I don’t know what my weight is, but it’s huge. So I’m, I’m a big, big person. So I’m a very imposing person. So even when I would present more fem I would go to different places and they would still assume I was a man or assume I was a transgender woman and people would say something and you know, it’s kind of.
You know, they might, they might call me, sir. Or they might come call me he or something like that. Just to make a point about how transphobic they were. Other, other than that particular instance, I don’t really even care too much about pronouns. When I look like a man, when I go to the store. And I’ve got a, you know, I’ve got a mask on or, or a beard growing, you know, I definitely, sometimes people will think I’m a man and they will say, sir, I that’s fine.
That’s absolutely fine. But when I had long hair and I was wearing a dress, you know, nowadays it’d have to be a wig, but, but if I do look feminine and people would say he, I would be uncomfortable, but I feel incredible joy when people use they, them pronouns for me because it feels so validating. And I didn’t, I wasn’t going to push that issue at all.
I don’t feel bad being called she or he, but, oh my gosh. The first few times I heard “they?”Applying applying it to myself, it was just euphoric. It was just like, yeah. Yes, exactly. This person is acknowledging that I’m, you know, somewhere in the middle gender wise and, and respecting it. And that felt so good that you know, that I’ve tried to, I tried to ask people to use my pronouns.
Elsewhere as well. I’m a linguist by training. And honestly, I, I wish we’d gone with it, but it seems so dehumanizing. I didn’t, you know, if that wouldn’t have been my choice. I mean, back back when I was thinking about this, the first few times back in high school, I was trying the Neo pronouns, you know, trying to use them, that kind of thing.
It was hard. I wouldn’t have voted for they/them, but now that it’s here, I’m accepting it and it’s the most prevalent. It seems,
Esther: It is an English language is actually quite easy. Isn’t it? Because in other languages is not quite that straightforward.
Rachel: Yeah. But one of my, my friend who lives in France said they have a Neo pronoun it’s only used in the community was like, iel or something like that. And it sounds so pretty. Yeah. Like instead of il or elle…
Esther: everything in French. Sounds pretty. Really doesn’t it?
Yeah. So what other labels do you use of yourself?
Rachel: I do come out and say that I’m autistic. And I feel like this is relevant. I feel like a lot of autistic people first, there, there is research out there that I’m not going to cite properly, but there is research showing that autistic people are more likely to be trans than the general population is, and trans people are more likely to be autistic and there’s something that goes along with it. And I, you know, the way that I explain it is that okay, would it in what I just said, I’m including non binary in the trans label. That’s just parenthetical. I feel like it’s because autistic people, we tend to make fewer assumptions about how the world should work.
For, you know, we, we tend to not assume what, what is going on around us is normal or should be the way it is. So we questioned everything. I questioned the fact that everybody uses grass on their lawns and I could go on and on about that topic. And everybody looks at me a little bit weird because you’re like, oh, whatever, everybody has grass on their lawn.
So what’s the problem. What’s what, why are you questioning this? Because nothing. I don’t take anything for granted. And so, you know, the same with gender. I think a lot of people, a lot of autistic people they’re like, so I’m supposed to do what, you know, but I don’t like those, those clothes. I don’t like that, that, that demeanor, I don’t like that role in society, whatever it is, you know, we are more likely to say, okay, well, I’m just changing it to be
I’m just going to change it.
Esther: Yeah. I love that.
Esther: Yeah. So we’re just going to ask you was how will you feel your experience is, is different compared to maybe what you’ve heard from others who may be using similar labels like autistic or nonbinary, or even queer.
Rachel: Yeah. And they’re all wrapped up in each other really. You know, I feel like autism is, is kind of a queer thing. It’s it’s queer to me is looking at things differently and coming at it from a different angle and. That, you know, that was related to to my sexuality and to my gender presentation and my gender.
Esther: Yeah. You, you worked for an online magazine, is that right?
“The Queer Pittsburgh”
Rachel: That’s a volunteer position, but yes. And right now we’re in a bit of a COVID slump but it’s a community run publication. So we publish things by and for the queer community of Pittsburgh. So I work with authors and try to help them say what they want to say in an article form.
And I put together the style sheet and I do all the nitpicky stuff. And how did you get involved in that? I volunteered you know, when they started, it was, I think it was about 2016 maybe. And I’ve just been plugging along ever since. And Then some other done, some other writing for some other queer things.
Like we have a Q Berg, which is also a publication in Pittsburgh and various other places.
Esther: And what have you, what have you learned from that went for, with regards to say gender and maybe other people’s gender journeys.
Rachel: It’s been really helpful because I’ve met. I’ve run into pretty much every combination that’s out there I’ve been able to work with and meet and enjoy the company of so many different different people who are under the queer or trans umbrella.
I think that you know, as an older person, I’m not a millennial, but as a, as a 43 three-year-old which is. Kind of an older person in this arena. Like, you know, I’ve had to, I’ve had to learn a lot. The other thing is I was I was in the middle east for 12 years, so I missed a lot of our national conversation and the sort of Western queer conversation, because I didn’t really have access to much queer stuff on the internet.
So I had a lot of catching up to do, and I had a lot of learning to do. I had to learn, you know, Etiquette about etiquette surrounding asking for pronouns and, you know, and, and things like that.
Esther: Yeah. And how did that, I mean, how was that like being in the middle east and presenting like as, as gender nonconforming, as it were, or like being gender nonconforming?
Rachel: I got called sir, a lot. I mostly, I mostly presented in a more feminine way than I usually do, or, you know, I’m comfortable with, I mean, you know, at home I would wear what I wanted, but I, you know, I just sort of dress sort of simply and modestly when I was over there, I was in the UAE and they’re, they’re very comfortable with many western norms. So but not that one. So I was, I would just, you know, I looked more female, but I, I still got mistaken for, for a man on the regular, just because of my, of my size and, you know, and, and demeanor and you know, that people were confused.
Esther: Yeah. Did you have a sense of safety there?
Rachel: Personally? Yes. If you didn’t make, I knew a lot of queer people there. And if you didn’t make it anyone’s problem, no one was really going to, I mean, in a queer perspective, A lot of women that I knew didn’t feel safe. For example, walking down the street alone because they would get harassed if they looked at somebody the wrong way, but that didn’t really happen to me.
People would again, because I’m very tall. You know, I would see a group of guys, you know, in the distance and, you know, are they gonna, are they gonna harass me? And then I’d see one, maybe get up as courage to try to say something obnoxious and get close. And then like, look up and say, oh no, no, that’s not worth it.
Esther: Oh my goodness. Yeah. Wow.
Rachel: But I did get a lot of, a lot of people saying “sir, sir!” Wow. I thought I should make up an accent, but
Esther: that’s fair. Accents are fun. I like accents
Rachel: and they were making fun of me too.
Esther: So there you go then. Yeah. Ah, yeah. So you, you say you’ve got, or you’ve had a sense of gender non-conformity since you were very young, would you say it?
Rachel: Yeah. I have a lot of righteous indignation about the things that. The things that women and girls are not supposed to do, or were not supposed to do. And in the early eighties. And I just sort of, I was, I don’t know, I was always the dad when we played house. Later on, I was like supposed to pretend I was so-and-so’s boyfriend. That was middle school that happened. But yeah, I always have, and in my brain, I just, you know, in my own inner dialogue I kind of don’t really see myself as one way or the other. I really don’t. You know, when I dream, you know, sometimes I’ve been a man in my dreams and sometimes I’ve.
It’s always been important to me to be strong and to be, you know, to be the one who’s lifting everything and I’m totally inactive. You know, I, there was a time in grad school. I had a boyfriend and oh, let me take that. That’s heavy, you know? Not, not a great way to keep it a pretty boyfriends, which was but yeah, I’ve always been kind of, I was very into weightlifting in college and grad school, so I was, you know, muscly and.
And big so and liked it too. I mean, that was a great big point of pride. It always, it always has been, if I, you know, if I see a muscle I’m excited. I, I remember, you know, in high school, my best friends who I’m still in touch with, she told me somewhat recently that in high school, she went for three months after she met me. She didn’t know if I was male or female. And that’s in high school. Right. So, you know, it’s been there. But my only example of that, unless I really dug was, oh my God, we have this show Saturday Night Live. I don’t know if it makes it over there or not, but they had a character on it called Pat who no one could figure it out. Played by Julia Sweeney. Who’s apparently a sweetheart, and basically, I mean, this Pat looked so much like me; big glasses, and no one could tell whether they were male or female and people were really awkward about it. And that was the joke. And it was like week after week. And so, you know, in high school or, you know, late, late middle school, people would say, “oh, it’s Pat.”
Esther: So you’re a parent. Yes. How did that come about? What do you feel. I mean, how did that come about? I mean, we kind of know how it happened. There’s a biology lesson. No, but like how, how does your identity and parenting fit together, I guess is what I mean? Yeah.
Rachel: I didn’t really. When she, when my daughter, my daughter is seven and when my daughter was about four that’s when they’re kind of working on gender and stuff like that. And we’ve always met a lot of, we’ve always known a lot of people from varying, you know, different backgrounds and different kinds of people.
And so she knew. She knew what trans was. Then she knew, and she knew examples of people and she knew she knew some people who were non-binary and I was like, then I might find them being non binary and she’s like, oh, okay. And I don’t correct her on any pronouns or anything. She mostly uses she for me and calls me mommy, and I’m not going to, I’m not going to take away mommy.
You know, you can find something, but you know, I am a non-binary mommy. It’s just the way it goes. And you know, I like the sound of it. And but she, she does, she does realize that what it means that for me to be non-binary and oh, so you’re kind of like my mom and my dad sort of. Yeah. And yeah, she accepts it quite well.
My current partner is trans and and she accepts him quite well. And she knows what that means and she’s, yeah, she’s figured stuff out and it’s, it’s, it’s been kind of a non-issue. I mean, really, she will tell other people, like, you know, she’ll tell. You know, other adults are and others and people in other situations, she’ll try to educate them and tell them what that is and what you do.
And she’ll, and she’ll try to encourage people, other people to to get me to, to get to call me they or them, you know? Yeah.
Esther: Yeah, super sweet about it.
Rachel: Oh, she’s, she’s awesome. And she’s like, you know, queen of the pride parade when we are not under quarantine and she’s got like her little rainbow Tutu and she’s.
Just having a great time and everybody thinks she’s adorable and gives her candy. So, yeah,
Esther: I’m sure she’s happy about that.
Rachel: Yeah. Ultimately my, my, my gender and sexual orientation has caused her to get a lot of candy. That’s all she feels about it.
Esther: That’s a win-win then isn’t it? I suppose. Yeah. Yeah. So what do you have anything or any advice for other parents when it comes to, I guess being a nonbinary parent, I suppose.
Rachel: I think honestly, I mean, ask me again when she’s like 15, but so far it’s been really easy. She’s, you know, just that part of our life, kids can understand this. They don’t need to know any like deep details, but they get it, you know, and they can explain it and it’s fine, you know? This is not something that we need to worry about.
Our kids, the kids are all right. You know, they’re, they’re exploring too, you know, I’ve, I, I know, I know in the, you know, like a nine year old non-binary kid, you know, they’re great. They do what they do. And it’s fine. I mean, I do make an effort to normalize it and, and introduce her to other people. She knows other non binary people.
She, she likes them. She knows other trans people and you know, other queer people and it’s, it’s just a non-issue. I mean, again, ask me, ask me when she’s in therapy in her mid thirties.
Esther: Yeah. Yeah, totally. Yeah. I think kids make things. It is simple. Isn’t it for kids really? It is. We can, we can learn from that for sure.
Rachel: Absolutely. Everybody gets all up in arms about the kids and the kids and the kids, but really, oh my God. It’s easy. Hmm.
Esther: Yeah. So what would you say is the best part about being nonbinary and queer?
Rachel: The best part of being non binary is that I can pretty much pull off both bathrooms. So I just have to check the line. And if the line for the women’s is out the door, I’m going to the men’s because half the time nobody’s in that line, I, you know, I’ve never been questioned in a men’s bathroom. I have been questioned in a, in a, in a women’s bathroom.
I think that’s fantastic. Really the best part is right now is that. I can kind of, once I put a label on it, and once I, it became so much easier to explain. And so individual things where I, you know, individual instances where I didn’t conform one way or the other, because I’m not really Butch, just not, you know, I, I’m not really femme.
I’m not really Butch. I’m not really, you know, I I’m somewhere in the middle. And so many things sort of relaxed. It was like, when I, you know, in my mid thirties, I finally got the autism diagnosis for years wondering what was going on there and suddenly so many things were explained. And then I, I felt like I had permission, you know whether it’s worrying about facial hair or worrying about looking at, you know, looking at acting a certain way or wearing certain clothes.
That’s sort of, I do what I want. I have a permit, I do what I want. So I, you know, getting sort of giving myself permission to do those things and, and to not be freaked out when people thought I was a man and now I can just be like, yeah, no, that’s it. People like people are gonna do what they’re gonna do.
Esther: Yeah. Brilliant. What is something you wish? Oh, what is something you’d want CIS people to know?
Rachel: Trans people and non-binary people are not a threat to feminism. They are not where you should be focusing your energies, your negative energies. Anyway, they’re not where you should be fighting because, you know, we were in most cases just trying to live our lives, like use the bathroom, you know, live in an apartment or house.
Eat dinner, that kind of thing. Like we’re just trying to get by and there’s no, you know, this battle has been created or controversy or anything like that. And, and people have become politicized. And the fact is everybody’s just trying to get by just like you. And if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it.
Right. Yeah. This is the yeah. Getting, getting it right. Isn’t rocket science and making mistakes. Isn’t a disaster. You just, I guess I would add that one thing I, I was in a, I was working for a diversity nonprofit. That’s like, an NGO here in the states. And I talked to the CEO one day and she said, oh yeah, I was talking to, you know, some business leader.
And he said he had a chance to hire a nonbinary person, but he didn’t think he could get the pronouns right, so he didn’t hire them. And I was like, oh my God, this is my boss talking to me. And I’m thinking. You know, that’s, that’s a terrible story. First of all, I don’t want to hear that. And second of all, no one cares if you mess up sometimes hire me anyway. That’s fine. No one cares. Oh, let’s just move on.
Esther: Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of people do, they do, I think most people do want to get it right. And they do want to do the right thing and say the right thing. And they’re worried about making mistakes. And as I was, I was the same for a long time.
Instead of like, I would rather say nothing than say the wrong thing. And, and that’s not helpful. It’s understandable. I think it’s where a lot of people are. And unfortunately the ones who don’t care about offending, they do say stuff, you know, so it’s kind of like, it should be the other way around really.
So yeah, I think it’s more important to be willing to be wrong and do say something and do speak up. But it’s, it’s, it’s tricky and I think you have to be ready for that to be fair, because I think for what, for a long time, I was the same way. Yeah.
Rachel: Interesting. Well, I’m glad that you are open to getting to know people of all genders.
How did you get into this topic for your podcast?
Esther: Well I met my partner who is non binary and trans about eight years ago, eight and a bit years. And since then, I’ve just met loads of, you know, trans people, non binary people, otherwise gender nonconforming people. And we came up with an idea for a book like years ago when the 50 shades of gray book was out.
It was all great, which I, I, I got bored halfway through book two, so I did, I did get. But, yeah, so, but then lots of, lots of other 50 shades projects start to pop up didn’t they? And and we came up with an idea of saying something like a book of 50 stories of local gender diverse people, just to say, you know, just to demonstrate the diversity of gender in like here in, in Norwich, and that, that kind of, we come up with a lot of ideas. That’s kind of what we do. And the idea got shelved and there’s some years later, like a couple of years ago, two or three years ago, it’s sort of just started popping into my head more and more. So I thought I’m going to have some conversations and just start with talking to a friend, recording it and then maybe transcribing it.
And then I have one book chapter, you know, only 50 to go. So no pressure. Yeah. And, and then I thought, well, rather than having this transcribed, why not use the audio? So then the idea for the podcast was born and I’ve just been taking it one step at a time, because in a way it was like, it felt quite an overwhelming thing and it felt like a big commitment and, you know, we can, we can easily talk ourselves out of things.
Can’t we? So yeah, and, and the end, I just recorded more and more conversations. I think in 2019, I recorded a handful. In early 2020 I recorded a few more. And then when I had about eight or 10, like eight, I was definitely going to use, I thought, okay, I’m just going to start this, I’m going to do this.
So I just suddenly just put an episode out because I was overthinking stuff like, oh yeah, podcasts. I need music and I need this and I need that. And it just got to a stage. I was like, oh, just fuck it. Just, just do it, just put it up. Yeah. And then I was like, shit, what have I done now? I need to keep this up.
So. And it just kind of where I just put one foot in front of the other, to be honest. And it’s just been going from there and I’ve now got 30 episodes out and I’ve been doing one a week, one week you know, since June last year. So yeah, I’m planning ahead a bit more now, which is good. So I’m not doing it last minute anymore because after those eight episodes and I was like, okay, what am I going to do next week?
You know? So about 10 weeks I was flying by the seat of my pants, thinking, what am I going to do? Do you want to be on a podcast, you know, just asking people left right and center, do you want to be on a podcast? Should we do it tomorrow? You know? So that, that just got a bit crazy and unsustainable. So yeah.
So now I plan a bit better, so that’s good. So yeah, hopefully things will take over and I look forward to actually seeing how it’s going to evolve, because one thing that is coming up more and more lately is the whole discussion of. I am like a cis woman, or I identify as a CIS woman, you know, talking about myself because some of the people I’ve spoken to in the podcast, they say, I don’t use “identify as,” cause that just feel right, because that’s not, you know, it’s not up for debate.
This is who I am. It’s not who I identify as. Yeah. So that’s been an interesting one. So I’m thinking, the question I asked at the beginning of the podcast will probably change because I start with, how do you know? And I didn’t really see anything wrong with it. And I guess for some people, some people don’t mind it and other people say, look, I, I, I prefer not to say that. I prefer to say I am and that’s fine. They don’t give me hard time about it. You know.
Rachel: That, I think that if someone says, how do you identify? I feel free to describe my identity. Whereas if somebody says something like, well, Rachel identifies as non-binary, sometimes that can be used to dismiss dismiss, you know, I am, I am non binary, but dismiss that as a, you know, like as a coat I put on or a fashion that I’m trying on without, you know, not, yeah, just that it’s not an integral part, but it’s like a fashion, same with “preferred pronouns.”
People just say, okay, what are your pronouns? You know, but when, if somebody asks. I’m not going to, I dunno. It’s like saying what’s your preferred name.
Esther: Yeah, isn’t it? Yeah. That’s, that’s a whole debate as well. Isn’t it? I can kind of see where people are coming from. Cause I know some, I mean, people like yourself, you say they, them is what you, what you like the most and you love hearing it
Rachel: for me, it would be a, you know, that is kind of a preference.
That is absolutely true. You know, for somebody like my boyfriend, who’s a trans man. It’s not what he prefers. It’s it’s, you know, it’s, it’s he, you know, that’s it. Yeah,
Esther: totally. Yeah. Yeah. So it’s very person dependent. I think, I think that’s probably where the confusion comes in with people. It’s like your preferred pronouns, this and that.
Yeah. There’s a lot. It doesn’t mean there’s a lot to learn about it all. Isn’t there,
Rachel: there is. Yeah. And it’s, and it’s constantly evolving. So there should be a newsletter. This is, this is how to talk about.
Esther: Yeah. And I mean, even looking back at the episodes have done, I feel like I want to explore more other gender identities. Cause a lot of people have been non binary. A lot of people have been trans I’ve had one agender person. So that’s been interesting, but yeah, there’s so many other labels to play with, you know?
So I feel like I wanna, I wanna explore more of that and just talk to more and more people about it. Cause it’s just really fascinating.
Rachel: Yeah. I want to figure out, I want to know. And here’s somebody who identifies as agender. I want to know. What they think the differences between agender and non-binary.
Esther: Yeah, they, they did address that. I believe it was Alf episode 24, I believe. Yeah. They talked about it. That might be an interesting one to listen to. So yeah, and again, that is one person whose agender, you know, so their story will be different from maybe another person who’s agender. So yeah, it’s just such an individual thing every time. So interesting.
Rachel: Yes. Very.
Esther: Is there anything else you’d like to add? Something we haven’t talked about that you think is important to talk about?
Rachel: I dunno. I feel like we covered a lot. I think a lot of times people will do this. And I think it’s a human thing. It’s a normal thing. But when you’re with a partner, you kind of want to, you want to be attractive to that person.
So you play up that side of yourself. And I did that for many years. I think different partners that I had, I would play up the masculine or feminine side of myself depending on who I was dating. So, you know, I, I would date a pretty femme woman and my voice would go down a couple of octaves and I would, you know, so I think that took a while. And it was really when I was dating someone who was bisexual, who identifies as bisexual, who is bisexual, that I felt like I can be both. And it’s good. And so, you know, I am, you know, I am, I am his big boyfriend. And I am this, his girlfriend and I, you know, like I’m, you know, I definitely I’m definitely daddy sometimes, but like, so it goes back and forth and I felt, I feel like that has really freed me more than anything to sort of live in this space and feel attractive and desired in this space and, and feel wanted for the ambiguity that I have, and that, that feels good. Whereas, you know, throughout my life, I kind of, you know, well, am I, am I, this am I that, you know, am I, I’m just going to play up, play up whatever the person, you know, the person I’m into sort of wants. Yeah,
Esther: that sounds, that sounds really great, actually. So it’s like almost freeing yourself from many gender roles really.
Rachel: Really. Yeah. Yeah. And, and now that it’s gone, it’s just kind of like, oh, okay. Yeah, I do what I want. Yay. Again, certainly.
Esther: Yeah. Yeah. I love that.
Rachel: I found a place that feels comfortable for myself.
Esther: That’s great. Thank you very much for talking to me about all this.
Rachel: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. And it was so good to have an ally. It’s so good to have an ally in various contexts.
Esther: So that’s great. It’s going to be called an ally. Thank you. That’s what I aim for.
Rachel Lange is a parent, freelance writer/editor, and artist, as well as editor of QueerPGH, a community-led publication out of Pittsburgh. They hold degrees in fine arts and linguistics.