Reb Xiberras was turned away by three barbers who insisted that they only offer their services to men.
But Reb, 25, is not “a man” or “a woman”. Reb is non-binary and on a mission to help society understand more about what this means.
Snapshots from the life of Reb, a Gozitan, and the life of Maltese non-binary person Matt Chircop will form part of an exhibition to be launched this week.
They were followed by photojournalists Joanna Demarco and Miguela Xuereb as part of a project, coordinated by voluntary organisation LGBTI+ Gozo, to normalise this identity as well as identify different realities encountered.
A non-binary person is someone who has a gender identity that cannot be categorised as exclusively male or female.
“Society has this idea that everything is binary, like summer or winter, tea or coffee. We forget that people are in the middle,” Reb says.
Learning this was a journey for Reb, who was labelled “a girl” for many years.
“Most of the people saw me as a girl, so I thought I had to act like one and be like one.”
But since the age of eight, Reb recalls questioning all this.
“I remember other children coming up to me and asking if I wanted to be a boy or a girl.”
I never knew there was this identity
As Reb grew older and struggled with gender identity, the label shifted from “a girl” to “gay”.
Then Reb travelled to Germany, attended a Queer camp and learned about non-binary people.
“I never knew there was this identity, so they normalised it for me. I now had to understand the difference between me and another gay or lesbian person,” Reb says, adding that the next step was explaining this to family and friends who have all been supportive.
“They now use the ‘they’ pronoun. This is very validating, especially when you go through the label journey. Knowing that people are addressing you as gender neutral means they are seeing you the way you see yourself.”
Perception is a challenge faced daily by non-binary people, something that emerges in the exhibition.
“When I was driving my car with Joanna, the photographer, we started speaking about how getting a car gave me a sense of freedom as on public transport you get whispers and stares.
“So a car is a safe space.”
Even something as simple as getting a haircut comes with a back story.
“Since I have short hair I wanted to go to a barber. But I kept being told that they only serve men. It was something important for me to find a barber who is queer-friendly and accepted me,” Reb says.
“Every single person has their own life journey. In society, we try to put people in different boxes: by where they live, job, salary, friends.
“But just as there is something within you that makes you feel like a man or a woman, with your own characteristics of what that means to you, similarly, a non-binary person feels they may have neither of those, or both,” Reb adds.
The six-day exhibition, titled Are you a boy or a girl? is funded through the Good Causes Fund by the Malta National Lottery and will be held at Villa Rundel, in Victoria, starting on July 10.
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