How I used my names as a vehicle for my non-binary identity exploration
Loni opened a door and Indigo walked through it.
I realized I am non-binary my second year of undergrad. One morning, as I was getting ready for class, I looked in the mirror like I had tons of times before. And for whatever reason, on that day, I no longer saw a girl. I wasn’t sure what or who I was seeing, I just knew it wasn’t a girl anymore.
It’s not like I hadn’t thought critically about my gender identity in the past, or like my campus communities were not vibrantly queer and trans. I’d just always felt like “Yeah, I’m cis or whatever.” And then, suddenly, I didn’t feel cis or whatever.
Shortly thereafter, I asked my friends, professors, and mentors to begin using they, them, and theirs pronouns for me. Everyone happily obliged. No questions asked.
I was embraced. But I still wasn’t comfortable. Almost overnight, I was suddenly more uncomfortable in my body than I had ever been prior.
It was my breasts. It was the shape of my face. It was the “sweethearts” and the “miss” that had never really caused my ears to perk up before. It was the entire world suddenly becoming one big bully, telling me that I couldn’t just speak my gender into existence. It would take more than a declaration to be who I said I was.
So I made some changes. I chopped off the first two letters of my given name and went by “Loni”—and then I chopped off all my hair.
For a while, Loni felt really good. The prospect of Loni was really good for me.
That summer, instead of returning to my parents’ house, I stayed near my Long Island campus to do some writing and organizing. I got to go to my first NYC Pride celebration and spend seven hours dripping in sweat and covered in glitter. It was horrible, but I felt good. I also met the love of my life, because my life is a Netflix original.
When school started back up, I asked a really good friend to shave my head in their backyard. On a whim. Afterwards, I ordered several wigs because I knew I couldn’t tell my parents that I’d had my head shaved in my friend’s backyard to achieve gender euphoria.
Loni was so much braver and more authentic than I ever could’ve imagined for myself. They lived so much more than I had the capacity to.
But Loni just wasn’t realistic. Because when Loni did go back to their parents’ house, they were “she” and they were called by their given name and they hid their gender euphoria beneath wig caps. Loni was living too many lives and, unable to ever consolidate all of these lives into one, Loni began to lose themself in the story. Loni just didn’t have all the answers I needed in a final resting place, so I moved on.
I was now Indigo, and Indigo felt like exactly what I’d been looking for. Indigo was honest, with themselves and everyone around them. They finally started calling themselves a lesbian and then made it their entire personality overnight. Indigo was really exciting and unpredictable, which was in large part due to the very liberal marijuana laws in Massachusetts and finally reaching the legal drinking age. Indigo embraced their demons and their baggage. Indigo even used he, him, and his for a moment. Indigo was a new type of animal. We were smarter, in all kinds of ways, and I really loved the idea of really being Indigo.
But Indigo proved to be even less realistic than Loni. As cute and boozy as they were, Indigo was really an escape hatch—a pause button that kept me from having to grow up and plan for the future. Indigo made me feel like I could just be a full-time lesbian and bar hopper.
I didn’t even realize it until I, more or less, came out to my parents during quarantine. After that, what or who was Indigo even for? What or who did I want to escape? Could I really escape it?
My mother is never going to fully embrace me, and my father is always going to tell me that she handled it better than I gave her credit for.
Loni, Indigo, or myself—it was what it was, and it is what it is.
I outgrew Indigo, and I miss them—or the idea of them. Now, Indigo feels a lot like my Twilight books that I will never pick up again, but it’s kind of comforting to know that they’re collecting dust in my parents’ storage. Y’know, just in case I want to go back into that universe and make sure everything is just how I remember it.
The part of this that I’m really reeling from is the realization that I’m actually okay with my given name, with Loni just being a nickname, and with publishing under my initials.
My initials almost match my dad’s and I really missed that.
Indigo, Loni, and I did the very best that we could with what we had. I’m so grateful for what and who Loni was for me. I don’t think there would ever have been an Indigo without Loni, and I wouldn’t be here to give Loni a second chance without Indigo.
But Loni and Indigo were definitely not mistakes. Loni opened a door and Indigo walked through it. They did what I needed them to do when I needed them to do it. I just no longer feel the need to keep living my life in these eras.
JAO is an essayist and student organizer-in-healing. While pursuing their undergraduate degree, JAO served as the inaugural president of their campus’ Queer and Trans People of Color Coalition (QTPOCC), organizing educational programs on social, economic, and political issues impacting primarily Black and Latinx queer and trans persons. Currently, JAO is pursuing a juris doctorate degree at CUNY School of Law.