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Ben Pechey is the ray of sunshine everyone needs in their lives. A freelance writer, fashion critic and LGBTQIA+ activist, they’re paving the way to a more positive world for non-binary folk to live in. PRUDE caught up with Ben in the lead up to their book release ‘The Book of Non-Binary Joy’ on 19 May. Wearing a striped top layered with denim dungarees – a distinctive look perfected and woven through their Instagram feed – and their signature red lipstick, Ben stopped by for a chat about navigating queer relationships, life as a content creator and their fashion icon: Mr Blobby.
Q. When was the moment that you realised that you’re non-binary?
A: It wasn’t until I was about 21 or 22. I went to uni and saw other queer people. I don’t think I ever truly understood who I could be until I saw someone else being who they truly were. It was a real catalytic moment of [realising] there’s all this world out there that I never knew was possible. Almost like that extra reward level on a video game that’s been hidden by clouds.
Q. Do you have any advice for young people who might not feel like they fit into one binary category, but they’re still trying to navigate their feelings?
A: The most grounding thing you can do is look back at history, back to the 1900s and look at the people that were doing gender subversion then. People like Claude Cahun (a surrealist artist known for her gender-fluidity) or Gluck (a British painter who rejected having a forename or prefix i.e Miss or Ms). Look at those artists and what they were doing with their bodies and their appearance because then you’ll think ‘well that was 100 years ago’.
Q. How early on did you feel that you didn’t fit into one category?
A: I have some really intense memories from even before school – in nursery. I’d just spend so much time on my own. I remember being told that it wasn’t a good idea to be alone and that I should socialise, but the kids just obviously weren’t on my wavelength.
I remember my first day of school and thinking ‘there is no place for me here’. Children are very, very aware of emotions, but without the language to actualise it, they can smell differences. They taunt the most different one in the pack to provide security for themselves.
Q. Was school tough?
A: It wasn’t until secondary school where it really got going. From 11 to 17 I was bullied every single day. We had trans but back then, that meant transvestite or transsexual. It didn’t mean transgender in the inclusive way, so I had no concept of who I could be.
I felt like being myself wasn’t right, so I began to blend in. In lessons I would never put my hand up or ask for help, so I underachieved at school because I didn’t want to come up on the radar.
I had a terrible relationship with myself. I didn’t want to be me. Section 28 had been repealed (British laws that prohibited the “promotion of homosexuality” introduced by Thatcher’s Conservative government in 1988, revoked in 2003), but the shadow was still there. I remember when the bullying got really bad, my school tried to fix me instead of fixing the problem.
Q. In school many of us don’t learn about queer relationships. How do you navigate this when meeting potential partners?
A: There’s lots of things that we were never taught about in terms of queer love, relationships, sex etc. And the stuff we see on TV is usually pretty damaging – there’s never just real life, so having open conversations is key.
If this person is going to be a potential partner, you have to have the ability to talk about parameters — what you’ve experienced and what you’ve been through, because together you can navigate with compassion. But there’s some really amazing accounts to help on Tiktok and Instagram like cliterallythebest.
Q. Your dress sense is incredible! Where do you get your style inspo from?
A: Genuinely – Mr Blobby. More specifically, Mr Blobby’s wife; Mrs Blobby. That sort of red and pink colour palette!
My point of reference is all the 20 to 30 years before I was born. So looking towards the late 70s and the 80s. Grace Jones is always an inspiration of mine because of her ‘I’ll do what I want’ energy. Also, 90s TV. Imagine kids TV presenters on acid. Or Lily Savage. I just put colours and patterns together because it’s fun. And why not! I’m loving 80s TikTok. It’s a vibe.
Q. Your book is released in May… Can you give me a summary?
A. Yes! (Claps hands in excitement). The Book of Non-Binary Joy comes out on 19 May. It’s essentially a love letter to the non-binary community. When I was doing the proposal and the writing, it was late 2020 in the midst of COVID and the media was very negative towards the trans community (although it was probably better than it is now).
It’s the first book you might read and go “is this who I am?” and it is sort of aimed at mid-teens to young adults. The biggest takeaway from it will be joy and self-love.I just want my line in the sand to say ‘being nonbinary is brilliant’. No one is saying that enough.”
Q. How do you deal with negative comments?
A. It’s very personal because on a good day you can just ignore stuff and move on. But on a day where you don’t feel so great, you’re not gonna be able to cope as well. The thing is, even though some people get angry and upset, I think you have to think about your safety.
Now if I get negative DMs, I send resources to help people learn. I don’t even respond to their comments, I just send a website link.
Q. Final question. What do you know now that you wish you’d have known when you were younger?
A. When you’re a child, you think that there’s a path for you that’s predetermined. But there is no set path, and every day is an opportunity for you to change it. Even today, I know that I’m a different person to me six months ago. No one tells you as a kid that we’re always changing and that you have that power. We write the rules.
Gender doesn’t exist, it’s just because someone said so. But you get to rewrite those rules and as you grow up – it gets better. No one ever tells you that and it might not feel like it at that moment, but it does.
Ben’s book ‘The Book of Non-Binary Joy’ is available from May 19 2022. Available for pre-order here.
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