Asia Kate Dillon Talks Discovering The Word Non-Binary: 'I Cried'

Feeling ambiguous about my gender identity has been a life long feeling.
04/13/2017 03:09 am ET Updated Apr 13, 2017
Asia Kate Dillon

Asia Kate Dillon’s always felt ambiguous about their gender. While they stopped using gendered pronouns a couple of years ago (originally opting for just their name, they now prefer they, them, and theirs), it wasn’t until Asia auditioned for the TV show, Billions, that they discovered the word, non-binary.

They describe the moment as, “an explosion in my mind.”

Asia eventually booked the role of Taylor on Billions, the first character on TV to self-identify as gender non-binary; this also makes Asia the first openly gender non-binary actor on TV. Both are exciting milestones for the LGBTQ community, especially for non-binary people who are largely unrepresented in mainstream media.

When we talked, Asia acknowledged that we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to the representation and acceptance of non-binary people of color, and they began by expressing their curiosity surrounding the different gender labels:

Asia Kate Dillon: When I looked up the word non-binary, it said, “An umbrella term for any number of gender identities falling outside the boxes of man and woman.” Then it also said, “Some people may refer to this as gender fluid or genderqueer.”

I’d done research into the term genderqueer and I’m still in the processes of trying to figure out if that word is okay to use or not, actually. I’ve read one side that says, “Yeah, genderqueer just means you’re queer with your gender and it’s not a big deal.” I’ve also read that it’s a derogatory term that the younger generation doesn’t want to use any more.

JM: Oh, really?

AKD: I will literally say right now, I don’t know much about it. I’m in the process of researching that myself. I do say gender fluid, because I experience my gender identity as being fluid because it’s on a spectrum.

JM: I actually hear the exact reverse, where the younger generation is more okay with genderqueer.

AKD: Oh, interesting. The word non-binary, to me, opens the conversation in a way that hasn’t been opened before. I think a lot of people—there was a time when I thought this way—thought transgender meant someone who had transitioned, right?

I think that it’s important to say that trans people exist, and we are valid, whether we choose to transition or not. It’s really up to anyone to decide what is going to make them feel the most like themselves.

JM: You mentioned looking up the word, non-binary. When was that?

AKD: When I got the character breakdown for Taylor on Billions. It said, among other things, “female non-binary.” I thought, “Female and non-binary...aren’t those the same thing?” I really didn’t understand. I looked up both of those words, and I thought, “Oh my gosh. Okay, female, that’s an assigned sex. That was the sex I was assigned at birth. Non-binary is a gender identity. Gender identity and anatomical assigned sex are different.” It was like...an explosion in my mind.

JM: That is so recent.

AKD: Yeah, me feeling ambiguous about my gender identity has been a life long feeling, certainly. A couple of years ago I started removing gendered pronouns from my bios and things like that, replacing it with my name. That was the beginning of me really understanding that I had autonomous control over my identity, but it wasn’t until I came across the word non-binary, and looked it up, that I went, “That’s the word. There’s actually a word for it.”

JM: That’s huge.

AKD: Yeah, I cried.

JM: It’s from the least likely resource, a casting breakdown.

AKD: It’s from a script written by two white, straight, cisgender men that happened to come my way. My agents know I want to audition for projects that are supporting and uplifting for historically marginalized and disenfranchised people. When this character came my way, not only was Taylor a fully fleshed out queer character in this world, but then the non-binary thing. It just hit home so hard.

JM: These labels are new, but people who have been gender non-conforming have always existed.

AKD: Totally, I mean, it’s one of the things I’m so fascinated by recently. I’m really interested in going back in to the history of non-binary people, and seeing how many people in history were non-binary, but that didn’t know it themselves, or because we didn’t have the language, couldn’t talk about it. I know how that felt being a young person not having that language.

I think, this idea that trans people bring to the surface, that assigned sex and gender identity don’t always conform, the idea that your anatomy doesn’t make your gender anything other than what you decide that it is, is profound for anyone to realize.

JM: As you’ve come to understand how you experience your gender, has that changed who you’re attracted to?

AKD: No, not at all. Well, from the time I came to understand sex and sexual orientation, and all of that, I’ve identified as pansexual and I’ve always felt like I had the spiritual, emotional, physical capability of being attracted to any gender.

JM: There’s no where else to go from there, I guess.

AKD: Yeah. There’s no where else to go. I’m there.

It’s also important for me to say that as someone who was assigned female at birth, and is white, I think my message of gender as a spectrum is certainly received better than people who are assigned male at birth and are people of color. We still have this ideal that non-binary only means white, hairless, androgynous people.

I think there’s room for every body type, every type of expression, but as we’re aware, there’s so much work to be done in terms of the trans, non-binary community when it comes to people of color.

We have a lot of work to do. I’m grateful and I’m excited, and I have a lot of hope.

This interview has been edited and condensed. The full LGBTQ&A interview is available on iTunes or YouTube.

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