When 19-year-old Maveryn meets someone new, they make an important decision. In a few split seconds Mav needs to decide whether to have an often uncomfortable and awkward conversation, or pretend to be something they’re not.
This conflict is because Mav identifies as gender non-binary, neither he or she, instead they.
“It causes a whole ordeal, and questioning, and you just never know what sort of reaction you’re going to get from someone,” Mav said.
“Unless it’s someone important who I’m going to have to deal with continually I just go with mis-gendering because it’s easier.”
The discomfort of this everyday interaction, an exchange which should be simple and non-offensive, captures how hard it can be to be yourself for people like Mav. Their story is one of great strength, bravery and conviction. Through the Parramatta Young Leaders, Mav has found a space where they are celebrated, and able to lend support to other young people struggling with their own identities.
Mav noticed that something felt “off” during High School, and after a few years of denial, realised living in the dark wasn’t going to work for them.
Although Mav’s mum has always been by their side, the decision to come out was not an easy one.
“When I was going to come out to my family I considered coming out as a trans man, because I find that when you’re trans binary gender, even if people don’t accept you, they can at least accept that your gender exists. Coming out as non-binary for me was scary because a lot of people just don’t believe that I exist,” they said.
“Being non binary to me means I’m not a woman nor a man, I don’t feel like binary genders apply to me, no thanks. I just don’t partake in that.
“It’s just what feels right to me.”
A few years ago, a friend introduced Mav to the Parramatta Young Leaders group, who meet in the library on Wednesdays.
“Ever since coming and introducing myself at the Y, no one batted an eye that I was non binary which was amazing… it was just normal which is all I want, just to be treated like everyone else.
“It was great to have a place where I could be myself, everybody used my name and pronouns and it was just normal for them.”
There are six Y Young Leaders teams across NSW. They are open to all young people and give them the space, training and support needed to build confidence and affect change within their communities on a range of issues.
“Being a Parramatta Young Leader means to me that I have a voice, there are people who want to listen to me and what I have to say about things, it means I can help represent other people as well and have our voices heard,” Mav said.
“We’ve had people in the group who aren’t out to their families, and we’ve been able to give them a safe space where they can be themselves, but have no pressure to go to events and things like that.”
Last year the Y participated in the Parramatta Pride Picnic for the first time thanks to the hard work of the group, who were involved in the organisation, budgeting, resourcing and execution of a successful engagement stall.
“I guess the goal was to just get out there during a community event, we got a lot of great reception from it, people were interested and it showed events and stalls like this are important,” Mav said.
Despite Mav’s own comfort and acceptance of themselves, the rest of society has some catching up to do. Most public documents, legislation and language still fall back on binary definitions of gender.
“It’s hard when in your day to day life you come across it so much, so many things that are pushing binary genders, and I’m just here, trying to exist. It feels invalidating because it’s basically saying ‘hey, you’re not a thing!’ Mav said.
“It gives you a little swell of happiness whenever I find ‘they’ used because it is so rare.
“If we had more people like me I guess in leadership positions, we would be able to normalise it and also bring issues specific to us to the public eye. There’s a lot of things people just don’t understand or are misguided about and having more people for them to hear would be great for getting rid of some misconceptions.”