Originally featured in Trans Portraits UK
“I came out as non-binary/genderqueer last year and have been looking for ways to express myself and embrace my gender non-conformity in the public eye – as a therapeutic process for myself as well as to empower and encourage other gender non-conforming people.”
Alex Garden (they/them) is a Live Music Now South West fiddle player, guitarist, composer and producer with a unique approach to instrumental music as a result of 10 years experience performing folk, classical and improvised music around the UK. Alongside regularly performing with The Drystones, Sheelanagig, Harriet Riley & Alex Garden, Tarren, Ellie Gowers and Rachael Dadd, Alex is a recording artist who produces a broad variety of collaborative work from experimental electronic music to string arrangements.
Alex studied music at University of Southampton, graduated in 2017 and moved to Bristol shortly after, where they have immersed themselves in the city’s thriving music scene. Their longest running project The Drystones has played at countless festivals including Glastonbury, been nominated for a BBC Folk Award and received an Arts Council England project grant in 2021 for a new tour in partnership with EFDSS, English Folk Expo and Halsway Manor – with a mission to involve more younger audiences in UK Folk music.
“I’ve always felt a little different. As an AMAB (assigned male at birth) person there was something which was uncomfortable with societal expectations, dress and social codes associated with masculinity. Growing up in a rural environment where queer spaces are few and far between, I spent more energy trying to be someone who would fit in than trying to learn about who I actually was. I don’t regret anything about this and I had a great childhood, I just feel happy that I’ve found space and time in my life now where I can explore and develop my identity in a more authentic way. I came out aged 25…some people come out in their early teens, others after retirement – it’s all groovy.
I came out recently (in 2021) and was extremely lucky to immediately feel supported and loved by people close to me who took to my new pronouns very quickly. I know this is not the case for many trans folk. Where people struggled with my pronouns I used to feel as though I’m a burden; asking for a very specific piece of new language to be used in reference to me which lots of my friends have never had to use before. Now I’m getting more confident in introducing myself and giving gentle reminders where safe & appropriate. People get my pronouns mixed up all the time and that’s totally fine, I know deep down that the people close to me really care and the language takes time to get used to. Some of my friends have told me that since I changed my pronouns, they’ve found it easier to get other trans/nonbinary folks’ pronouns correct now that they’ve had some practice.”
“Since coming out, I’ve been very lucky to experience my friends understand me more for who I am as opposed to being defined, in part, by a binary gender… I now feel like my close friends really get me. I’m not a boy or a girl any more, I’m just me.”
“Trans joy is recognising that transness can come from a place of comfort, delight & pride as opposed to the dark, lonely & dysphoric place which is too often portrayed in the mainstream. It can present as playful, artistic & sometimes humorous. For me it’s all about accessing the inner child and empowering people through conversation, education and play.
The first time I experienced trans joy as part of my work was on stage wearing a skirt & lipstick in public for the first time…on the first night of a tour! I was nervous but loved it so much I wore femme outfits for the whole tour in the end.
As a performing musician, visibility is generally quite a significant thing for me. I discovered just how fragile life in the public eye can be a few years ago when I fell down a flight of stairs and broke my front teeth…luckily, a couple of weeks and a few trips to the dentist later I was back on stage bobbing about with my fiddle like nothing ever happened.
These days, having come out and presenting as a non-binary musician I love to dress up & be how I feel that day to the audience in the hope that being visibly genderqueer will spread some awareness and start a conversation. I feel this is particularly in the folk music scene where there is a significant underrepresentation of trans/NB folk and a lot of transphobia.”
“The best thing for me about being non-binary is how it’s led to me feeling excited to dress how I want and constantly play with new ways of presenting to the world, not as an ‘act’ but as my authentic self. Whether this is in fishnets, a dress, high ponytail & makeup or just my staple dungarees – I can’t tell you how much joy it’s brought me to feel the freedom to play with gender & appearance.
Since coming out, I’ve been very lucky to experience my friends understand me more for who I am as opposed to being defined, in part, by a binary gender. This weird identity phenomena can come in many forms, from being called ‘one of the lads’ to being told outright how to dress (particularly in formal settings). Ultimately, however many gender based micro-aggressions I experience in life I now feel like my close friends really get me. I’m not a boy or a girl any more, I’m just me.
The worst thing for me – in a nutshell… binary gendered toilets, particularly in pubs. As an AMAB person I only use the gents if there is no gender neutral option which often leads to funny looks, comments, and surprisingly often being told I’m in the wrong place. If you see someone in a toilet who simply looks different, just be nice or leave them alone.
There are two myths which I’d like to talk about. Firstly ‘all non-binary people are androgynous’. This is far from the case, androgyny and gender queerness are not the same by any means. We come with all sorts of different looks, shapes, sizes, colours and hairstyles – and they are all beautiful. I think this myth stems from the idea that we ‘owe’ the world androgyny so we can be more easily categorised and understood – in the same way that binary genders might ‘owe’ the world their visual markers to be quickly identified (e.g. short hair, shirt & tie or long hair, skirt & heels).
Secondly, ‘NB people experience dysphoria all the time’ – this is not true for me and I think too often our narrative is portrayed in the mainstream as dark, anxious and subversive. It would be really great if there were more conversations about gender euphoria out there which is equally important and something which I’d much rather focus on. This being said, gender dysphoria is very real and can be very very serious and dangerous for some people. I’d just rather it didn’t define us all in mainstream culture as it seems to currently.
I have felt incredibly lucky to live in Bristol for the last 4 years! The LGBTQIA+ community here is absolutely wonderful and I’m constantly meeting new, inspiring people. I was originally attracted to Bristol by the incredible music and performing arts scene which thrives here and quickly discovered that there are so many lush places where I feel at home, inspired and most importantly safe to be whoever I want to be. It’s a real radical melting pot where everyone is welcome.
(We’re also super lucky to have some incredible music venues in Bristol with gender neutral toilets… e.g. Jam Jar, Lost Horizon, Strange Brew, Old Market Assembly & more…)”
How can allies help support you (or the trans community more broadly)?
“Start conversations about trans topics and try to phrase your language positively, especially around cis-gendered people. Don’t shy away from asking questions or actively trying to learn more, it’s fascinating stuff and you’ll find yourself on the cutting edge of new language and ideas being developed. This is a paradigm shift – get involved, you won’t regret it.
Also, practice pronouns. Ask people which pronouns they use when you meet them unless you know already – never assume. This is so important because it not only helps people practice the language (which is new to most people) but also might afford the opportunity for someone who isn’t ‘out’ yet to try their new pronouns in a safe environment.
For example, I’ve had friends ask whether or not I could help them try out different pronouns to see how it feels for them and if it fits their identity in conversation. This in some cases has been a valuable experiment leading to them feeling more comfortable in themselves in private, then in public and eventually ‘coming out’. It’s all part of making trans/NB issues more visible, accessible and celebrated…plus you might make some friends and learn some cool stuff along the way!“