Fifty Shades of Gender podcast graphic with Jacob Profitt

Episode 62

A conversation with Jacob Profitt


36 min. Recorded on 14 September 2021. 

Jacob’s pronouns are they/them, and they identify as a gay non-binary person. Find out what that means to Jacob in this episode.

We also talk about the freedom that comes with going to university, societal conditioning around masculine and feminine binaries, exploring gender identity through drag, being non-binary in education, feeling attracted to male presenting people as opposed to masculinity, and being inspired by a younger generation.

“I don’t worry about what language I use to describe myself, but I worry about the language that I teach [my students], because I want to make sure that what I’m teaching them is appropriate and also respectful to others.”

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TRANSCRIPT [expand to read]

Esther: Hello and welcome. What’s your name?

Jacob: My name is Jacob.

Esther: Hello, Jacob. Tell me about your gender experience.

Jacob: My gender identity is gender non-binary, and that’s only something that I’ve really discovered in the last sort of free four years of my life. And I’ve started to explore that a little bit more.

Esther: Hmm. So have you always had an awareness of, you know, gender nonconformity in some way?

Jacob: It wasn’t until I went to university that I first became aware of sort of not conforming to the gender binary and mixing with, you know, different types of queer groups. Like, you know, I grew up in a military family and so moved around every few years.

Didn’t have friends for no more than three years at a time. And then, you know, went to some small schools, which were very much. Heteronormative based and you know, it was very difficult. So you couldn’t really explore different identities. Whereas when I went to uni, no, I dive straight in with LGBTQ society and, you know, started going out to like the club scene and stuff like that and met, you know, a whole variety of people.

And from there, my mind was really open up.

Esther: Yeah. Yeah. I was just reminded of the episode I did with kids at higher education. Like quite a few of the students said that, you know, uni was just such an open space, like a blank canvas to re I don’t know, rediscover, like redefine yourself, you know, as far as identity goes.

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So what happened a few years ago then when you started embracing the non-binary label?

Jacob: So the whole journey into being non-binary started with the idea of, you know, I was meddling with the art form of drag and it was actually after I left the art form and I just didn’t feel like I didn’t feel like I was secure in my gender identity at that point.

And I felt like it was starting to appear that, actually I didn’t feel that male as a gender represented who I was as a person. And I had conversations with my friends who are gender non-conforming and I said to them, you know, I’m just, I, this is the way I’m feeling. And they went well, look at all these different labels of the, the, you know, don’t conform to the male, female binary.

And so by having those conversations them, I then could sort of look at my own identity and go I actually feel like the categories I fit into is over the gender fluid or gender queer and then I really settled on the fact that gender non-binary is probably the one that’s most suited for what I believe represents my own identity.

Esther: Yeah. So how did you actually get into it?

Jacob: It was very much, it was a bit of an accident. I was watching of very famous TV show RuPaul’s drag race. And I just went, that looks fun. I kind of want to give it a go. And I was going out in the club scenes of uni and I became friends with one of the drag Queens that, you know, run the student night at the that the club.

And they were like, yeah, you could, you can get into it. Here’s like a list of things that you probably would need to get started. And I sort of just fell into a little family of people. I was invited start performing as part of like a little club night and from there, right. You know, I grew and I was performing weekly and improving, like dabbling in makeup and then looking at costuming and stuff like that.

And wig styling… And I did that pretty much from the second year of uni and until my final year, which shows I did four years. So I did about three years of it and it was a little family of us and it was, you know, a whole bunch of different queer people coming together once a week. Or you know, every few months do you know, have a party put on, you know, the glamorous dresses and the makeup and all that.

And yeah, so that really is when that’s how I got into it. It was almost, it wasn’t, I didn’t plan on it. I just met the right people at the right time after watching the right TV show. And yeah, it sort of fell into me, fell into my lap and I loved it at the time. It was, you know, it was everything I looked forward to.

And my weekends, when that student loan came in, the first thing I would buy would be the makeup and the wigs and the, you know, the heels. And then I’d be like, oh, I actually do money for food as well. Yeah, I had my priorities, but yeah, it was, it wasn’t, I didn’t plan on ever going into it, but I don’t regret that. I did some of the best experiences.

Esther: So how did that influence your gender journey? How did that develop?

Jacob: Yeah, it allowed me to actually think about my gender because in the society we live in, which you know, is everyone is straight or cis-gender until they say something. It allows me to actually have the space to think about it. And I remember people used to ask me, oh, so if, if you do drag, does that mean you, you know, you want to, you know, transition and I’m like, no, I used to then be quite adamant and be like, no, I’m, you know, I’m a man, I’m a male. You know, when I take the makeup off, I’m still, you know, a man and, you know, I think that was almost a block that I had.

The, I couldn’t be anything outside of the binary and then it wasn’t until, you know, like I said, I w when I was, when I quit drag that actually I realised that I can be more than just that binary and that even though yes, I did drag, it, wasn’t almost like I felt a bit taboo to go from doing drag then, you know, questioning your gender identity at the time.

Whereas now much like it was that pathway that helped me unlock it and actually helped me be more comfortable with it and educated me a lot on it as well.

Esther: So you had at the time, would you say quite a binary idea of gender still until you discovered this?

Jacob: Yeah, definitely. You know, when I went to uni I, I hadn’t really been around queer people.

And if I had, it was often, you know, just, you know, the G and the L from the LGBT, it wasn’t, you know, I didn’t know that many people who were gender nonconforming or identify as trans as well. So. Until I went to uni and I met those new people. When I had those experiences, I was, you know, very binary in my thinking.

And then I look back on it now and you know, the amount of people I’ve met and the wealth of knowledge I have, I go, how can I have a think in that way? But at the time it was all, it was the only thing I knew. I, I hadn’t ever been taught anything different than it was just, it was just why I was used to, and I stuck to that.

Esther: Yeah. Yeah. That makes total sense. You don’t know until, you know, right? So you said drag was kind of in the past tense for you. What made you give it up? Was it just being at the end of uni and sort of maybe not losing connection with those people, but it not being the same. What happened there?

Jacob: The opportunities changed. I was doing it less cause I obviously, I, in my final year of uni, I was focusing on actually getting a good grade to my degree. So I did put it on the back burner and then I finished my degree and then I moved. I was in Aberdeen for my degree. So the Northeast of Scotland. And then I moved all the way down to Bristol and the opposite end of the country. And you know, I moved, I had no friends, no support network. And so I thought, well, it feels like it came to a natural end, almost. I left the city where I started doing it and you know, it just, it came to that natural conclusion and it just felt right at the time it would just be something I left in the past.

Esther: So do you feel that place of non-binary identity. Do you feel like that’s, that’s your kind of your home now? Or do you feel like it might change again? Obviously that’s hard to predict, you know, but like, yeah. I just wondered how, how “set” you feel in that label?

Jacob: Yeah. I actually feel pretty, pretty set in it. I have got, you know, the days where I wake up and. I do look at myself when I go, maybe I just wish I was a little bit more feminine. And then I wake up on the days where I’m like, I wish I was a little bit more masculine, but I can’t ever imagine myself, you know, declare myself cis-gender again. Or, you know, wanting to take that next step and maybe transition into a different gender.

I feel that non-binary is I feel pretty stable at my gender identity at the moment. And I feel pretty secure in that. I’m happy, and I’m confident in who I am now, which is not why I didn’t use to have that. I used to always have those little doubts in my mind that I would squash. Whereas now I can confidently say that, you know, I’m definitely a gender nonconforming individual.

Maybe the non-binary label might change to maybe something like gender fluid. But that moment I still just see myself as, you know, non-binary. And I can imagine that will probably stick for the foreseeable.

Esther: Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah. You just mentioned masculine and feminine. What would you say those mean to you now compared to when you had more of a binary idea of gender?

Jacob: So for me, when I started, I think I still do have that little bit of almost what. The binary mindset of what masculine and feminine is. So I still have the idea that, you know, masculines wearing, you know, suits and the beards and being all manly it’s hard to explain, but it’s almost like, you know, you’ve got that stereotype in your head of what masculine should be and you know, when it comes to feminine, it’s that whole, you know, you wear the, you know, the nice fancy shoes you’ll wear the more feminine, you know, blouses and stuff like that.

And, and I know where in my heads that is not always the case and that, you know, this masculinity is not just acting manly and acting male. And I think that’s still a bit of a binary notion I have in my own sort of conscious. And I need to probably, you know, I is something that I’ll probably break down over time and I think that’s just because in society still, there’s still very much that notion of what makes a man, a man and what makes a woman, a woman and what’s masculine, feminine.

So, you know, When it comes to like how I’m feeling is that sometimes I just wish I could put on any old outfit, no matter where for it was, you know, bought in the women’s section or in the men’s section of a shop and just, you know, feel comfortable in it. And I think in my job, being a teacher, I wear suits all the time. And I look at it and I go, I just wish I could wear something else. And I love when my suits and I feel, I feel really nice in my suits, but sometimes I’m just like, ah, I just wish I could put on like a nice, like flowy blouses and the nice pair of like high-waisted trousers and just feel, you know, confidence to go out and do that and not have everyone being like, what are they doing? And giving me all that look as I walk to work and stuff like that.

Esther: Yeah, totally. Yeah. So what’s it like being a non-binary teacher?

Jacob: It’s interesting. And to be fair this, since September, we’ve only been back a couple of weeks. This is actually the first year where I’ve really been open about it.

So I’ve been teaching sort of, I’ve done two full years of teaching now. And for those two years, I went by “mister” and everyone referred to me as sir, and would use he him pronouns. Whereas about April time last year, I had conversations with my head of department, my colleagues in school, who I’m friends with. And I said, “you know, I’ve identified as non-binary for a long time.” And I sort of almost went back into the closet almost and hid my identity of who I was, because I wanted to make my life easier and conform to that system. That’s in place that you have your male, female teachers who are sir, and miss or Mrs.

And I, when it’s not fair because I’m teaching kids who are confiding in me that they’re non-binary, but I can’t feel proud of myself to actually be non-binary and it actually came about, I had a wonderful student and my tutor group who came to me and. They said “I’m non-binary and I want to tell the tutor group” and it made me think, and I go, if this young person who is 13 years old can declare that they want to tell the world that they are non-binary. Then me as a 25 year old should be able to do the same. And. They said they didn’t want to do it that day. That day I stood up in front of my group and I went, just let y’all know a little bit something about myself. I’ve since I was, you know, 22, I have identified as gender non-binary and going forward, if you can try and use my pronouns, are they them?

That would be preferred. And I think it was really important because actually it made me feel very proud of myself that I knew. It gave that person a space to feel more safe in, in themselves, at school as well. And that there was, you know, an adult who they knew who also identifies as gender, non-binary.

Esther: Mm that’s beautiful. I love that. So you just mentioned you started using they them pronouns and I just wonder what language do you use? I mean, do you say I am a non-binary person or you identify as?

Jacob: Yeah. I typically say to my students I identify as non-binary person. But the language of it it’s sounds about to say, but I don’t think too much about the language about how I say it, because I think because I like to just make sure I say clearly, and that when I’m in a room full of 30 students and I’m telling them about who I am, that they all understands in simple terms.

So, you know, my youngest years, so. year sevens who are 11, 12 years old who have just started in secondary school. I, you know, I explain to them very clearly I’m identify as gender non-binary. This means I don’t identify as the male gender or as the female gender I’m sort of in, I always say the wibbly, wobbly gray, but in the middle which obviously is very scientifically accurate term. But I, you know, I explained it to them in them terms because I want them to understand that.

Gender’s on a spectrum. And I just, you know, I don’t fit to the spectrum that they’ve always, you know, they’ve always thought it was two points was actually, there’s a whole wave that you can be in the middle. You know, and in school, obviously they can’t just call me Jacob. They have to say, you know, obviously it attrition, it was messed up, but now I go by Mx. So the gender neutral term, and that’s something that I’ve introduced new this year and, you know, instead of sir it’s teacher. So, you know, it’s teaching them a little bit about language to use that’s maybe inappropriate. So I don’t worry about what language I do use to describe myself by worry about the language that I teach them, because I want to make sure that what I’m teaching them is appropriate and also respectful to others, but also ways that they can, if they do meet non-binary people outside of education, you know, like 10 years time after they’ve left school, then they have ways in which they do. They know that they can address them without, you know, causing a fence rope, sand. I actually have the confidence to have those conversations as well.

Esther: Absolutely. Yeah. Is there something you would like to talk about and mention that we haven’t done?

Jacob: I think the important thing that I would like to talk about is for anyone who, you know, is maybe listening and works in education or work with young people, and doesn’t identify as gender non-conforming, it’s a scary step to take, to open up about yourself, but it’s actually so important as well.

I wrote in a pride group at school. And when I was at school, I could never have imagined now having a pride group run by it, you know, an openly queer teacher at school. And so to have a pride group and I, you know, I’m getting about 50, 60 kids, you know, across a couple of lunch times a week. So it’s shows it’s needed, and I have kids who are gender non-conforming.

I have kids. Want to transition to the opposite gender. I have students who are secure that they are cisgender, but they want to learn more about the whole spectrum that gender identity is. And I think it’s been really important as my role to almost be that representation in school. And, you know, I don’t teach in a city. I teach, the only school in a relatively small town in Somerset. So I wouldn’t say it’s a mixing pot of cultures. So by me coming out with, and, you know, openly talking about being non-binary, it’s educating 1000 kids in that school about what non-binary identity is, and that it’s a valid identity. And. It’s in their community. It’s in every community, you know, around the world. And actually we’re in a place where I feel comfortable to talk about it. And I think any person who works with young people, it’s important to have those conversations because young people learn by seeing that representation and they will. You know, it will normalise that behaviour almost or normalise the identity.

And I think that’s one of the really important things is because, you know, there’s a lot of debates that happens about at the minute, a lot of discourse around gender identity in the media. You know, people saying that the identity isn’t valid to be non-gender conforming, whereas actually by normalising the identity, it shows is valid valid and a perfectly acceptable to not conform to society standard of binary gender.

Esther: Totally. Yeah. Do you ever come across any issues with maybe like parents or carers or anything like that? How do you approach subjects like that?

Jacob: And I’m, I’m lucky that I haven’t, but I’m, you know, I’m not going to be delusional and say it’s never going to happen. It’s an issue that I imagine will crop up. There are definitely some parents in the school who I know, probably do have things that they probably might say about me. I’m lucky that the leadership team in my school is extremely supportive and that, you know, if they ever got anything about it, they would disregard it because they would support me a hundred percent in my identity.

And I think that’s really important is that I know I’ve got the back of my school, but in the last few years you’ve seen debates. Have you never seen protests outside schools? You know, at the school protest in Birmingham, where they were talking about LGBTQIA plus issues in a primary school and parents protested outside of that school for months attacking organisations.

And so I know that in some areas. If I was to go teach that I probably would be met with discourse for my identity. And I probably would face issues of parents and carers. And then that would probably rub off on the kids as well, because a lot of the time the kids will be influenced a lot by what their parents say.

And if their parents are being transphobic in any way, shape or form, then it’s likely that that’s going to rub off on the kid as well. And it is something that I think, you know, if I ever move on from the school and currently at that might be a hurdle I have to face with the whole, you know, cause I wouldn’t want to work at a school that wouldn’t want me to be Mx and not openly gender non-binary, but also if I do want to get, you know, move somewhere new, then I don’t want to be that limited in my options. And so it, it does worry me sometimes, but I think it’s important. Still be open about it.

Esther: Totally. You can only take it as it comes, right?

Jacob: Yeah. Definitely.

Esther: So looking at groups of people like your students and that age group and stuff. How do you see the subject of gender and how it shows up for them? Obviously very different generation, very different approach.

And you said you yourself are inspired to embrace who you are more openly because of a young person coming out to you. Yeah. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Jacob: I think the younger generation, the generation that are, you know, going for education at the minute are a fantastic generation of young people who generally on the whole are extremely, you know, accepting of all gender identities and that yes, they may not understand it all the time, but actually we are seeing more people breaking down that binary and, you know, refusing to conform to it and also refusing to accept that that is, you know, the only case, even if they don’t identify gender nonconforming, which I think is it is really amazing to see. And I think there are a lot more opening and accepting which my generation, I would say still on the whole relatively accepting.

There’s only a few of the much older generations where they do struggle. And even thenit does seem to be a bit more in the minority, but the young people nowadays, typically the only ones who have issues it’s again, linking back to the parents. It’ll be, their parents use it, they regurgitate.

And if you sit down and have that conversation with them, they go, you’ve changed my mind completely. And yeah, the, the young people that I know and I work with are fantastic and so accepting and they’re thinking in ways that we should be thinking about how to break down all these different barriers and what society tells us we need to do and how we need to conform.

Esther: Yeah, absolutely. That’s good to hear really. So you will have probably a really, I don’t know, a good group of, they sound like they make either great allies or would be. Just non-conforming really various ways, which is great. Yeah. Is there anything else you’d like to mention that we haven’t talked about yet?

Jacob: No, I think, I think I’ve covered most of the bases with sort of the education aspect of it is an important aspect for me. You know, in the subject I teach, obviously being geography. Sometimes I have to have those conversations when we teach about Uganda a lot in my school. And so I have to have those conversations with students when they go well, what’s LGBT rights in Uganda?

I’m like, appalling, they have no rights at all. And it’s actually interesting because then, you know, I talk about the issues goes back to even colonialism and that, that know the roots of colonialism, that the scars of colonialism probably, but it’s to say I was left behind those massive issues of, you know, human rights and LGBT rights issues in lots of former colonies around the world. And you know, it’s as, even though these are young people, it’s not, it’s important to still be very straight to them and say…

Esther: The reason to be straight, yeah. The only good time to be straight is, in that way,

Jacob: But it’s, you know, you just say to them, even though I love the subject, but there are issues with it, you know, and it’s not perfect. And we need to talk, yes, we need to talk about these countries, but we also need to remember that in these countries, you know, I wouldn’t be allowed to do my job doing what I do and, and having those honest conversations with the students about a lot of the issues that are in the world is, is important.

Esther: Yeah. Yeah. It’s good that you can kind of weave the subject of identity in with your teaching subject in that way. Really? Yeah. How about your family or relationships or anything like that?

Jacob: Family… Family is complicated. I have told my family, but me and my family, we don’t discuss these things. Like we love each other, but they’re aware that I don’t identify as male and I identify as non-binary. They don’t understand it. They love me for who I am. They’re proud of me for what I do. So it is interesting. And now I was, I was talking to my mum about sort of doing the podcast and, you know, having these conversations around gender identity, and my mum sort of just, well, why are you doing that? You know, what makes you an expert? I have told you this before. She just sort of goes, oh yeah, no, I re I remember that. And then she would just change the conversation, but it was even the same, you know, when I, when I came out as gay, but, you know, I came out quite young. I came out at 14 you know, I was in the middle of secondary school.

And so. When that happens, you know, it was all, oh, well, it’ll just be a phase. Or just keep it to yourself and, you know, whereas, you know, obviously. I ignored all that completely. And I went, you know, out and out and proud wearing rainbows at six form, we did a fancy dress and I went as a one-person in gay pride parade.

Because I went to a religious six form as well. I went to a church of England and Catholic six form. So I sort of did it as a, as a bit of a. I’m here, I’m queer. Deal with it. And so, yeah, it’s for my family. It’s, you know, it’s just not something we really talk about, but I know they love me and they’re proud of me for whatever I do.

You know, they’ll always love and support me. They just don’t always get it and I will continue to try and educate them. And one day it might, the light bulb might switch on.

Esther: Yeah. So you mentioned about identifying as gay. Yeah. Do you, do you start resonate with that label?

Jacob: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s interesting, actually, over the past week, sort of my pride groups been started up again and I had a kid ask me. “So you identify as gender, non-binary, but what’s your sexuality?” Well I’m gay. And they went, ‘but how does that work? Do you want to be attracted to non-binary people?” And I was like, no, I’m attracted to men. And I went but gay is about, you know, men being interested in other men and I went “you’re right. It doesn’t always fit when you think of it.”

In terms of that. And it actually made me sit down and think, because I’m like, I have an attraction to male people. Now that’s not to say I would never fall in love with someone of the opposite gender or someone who is non-gender conforming. But in my mind, my sexuality has always been in that way. And so for the first time, I’m actually having to think about what is my actual sexual identity, you know, and I probably still do identify as gay because, my whole adult life I’ve whenever I’ve dated, it’s always been with male presenting people. And I think it’s just using that terminology of it’s. I’m interested in male presenting people and not say it necessarily masculine people, but I would date someone who is, I would date a trans man more than happily as long as I’m attracted to them.

And they’re a nice person. That’s all I really look for. I’m not bothered about parts that are on someone’s body. As long as, you know, we have stuff in common, we get along. They like to, you know, we like to go and do the same things and we have similar hobbies and that’s important, but it is again, it’s not the vocabulary of it all. It’s and the language of it all is really interesting because it does make you think about the terminology that you’re using.

Esther: Yeah, I liked what you just said as well about being attracted to male presenting people, but not necessarily masculinity. Was that what you said?

Jacob: Yeah.

Esther: Yeah. Yeah. It’s interesting. How. Sort of separate the two, I guess. Cause I think for a lot of people it would be like, well, what’s the difference? You know?

Jacob: Yeah. And you know, especially within the LGBT community, there’s a lot of discourse about, you know, when people say, you know, masc for masc and stuff like that. And you know, you’ve got straight acting as labels that a lot of people like to have. And it’s like, it’s almost a bit like internalised homophobia sometimes where people they want to be in these relationships with other men, but they still want to almost try and conform to what society expects. So they, it’s almost like they try and punish people who are effeminate and, you know, I guess in a more feminine way. And it’s just something that I’ve never understood personally, because I have types of people who I’m attracted to.

I like someone taller than me, but it’s, I would never, you know, look at someone and go, well, That’s you this, you know, for me, I would never look at someone who shot her and go, well, I’ll never be attracted to them because they’re shorter than me. I would go, well, if they’re a nice person, if I’m attracted to them, then so be it just cause I’ve always dated people who were taller than me doesn’t mean it’s what the be all and end all is. It’s just, it’s those interesting conversations in the queer community that have been happening more and more, but we still need to continue having.

Esther: Yeah, I guess it’s just about having, you can have a type that you’re attracted to, but that doesn’t mean you’ll know it has to always tick all those boxes. Right. Some will be non-negotiable, and some will be negotiable, I guess.

Jacob: And like, you know, non-negotiable, always, you know, if you’re a horrible person, then I’m not going to want to be with you, which is what everyone almost looks for. I think. But you know, I’m never going to look at someone and look at their physical appearance and judge them straight away. And I would like, I like to get to know people first and I think that’s, you know, an issue that has always happened really, probably in the community, but people are having more and more conversations about it now and is almost like trying to break down the barriers. Naturally. One thing I’ve seen, especially in a lot of younger people is now when I do my pride group, there are so many people who identify as pansexual because they just, they don’t care about the, you know, the gender binary and they don’t care about who it is.

They just want to fall in love with someone because of who they are, not what they are or what society says they are. And I think that, again, that’s a testament to the younger people in our world is that it’s part of the idea that they are wanting to break down the binary that has been instilled upon us all.

Esther: Well, here’s to breaking down the binary.

Jacob: What we gotta do.

Esther: Raise an imaginary glass of tea.

Jacob: It’s a school night. So yeah, definitely a cup of tea. Awesome.

Esther: Oh, lovely. Well, thanks so much for talking to me about all this, Jacob.

Jacob: It’s been an absolute pleasure.

About Jacob

“I am a 25 year old, non binary geography teacher who discovered their gender identity with experimentations of the artform of drag. I am passionate about volcanoes, education and equality. I am exploring the world of being an openly and authentic queer educator in a heteronormative society.”

You can find Jacob on Twitter @MxProfitt_Geog.

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