This month Katherine Wolfgramme speaks with non-binary activist and editorial cartoonist for the South Sydney Herald, Norrie May-Welby.
Norrie has a bubble machine on their bicycle, and they say hearing kids call out “bubble lady” gives them great joy. They don’t correct the kids on using incorrect gendered pronouns, though. They’re just happy to be recognised as a part of their world.
What are your preferred pronouns?
My favourite Norman Gunston moment in Celebrity Squares was when he was asked what ‘she’ referred to in the expression “there she blows”. He replied, “the cat’s mother, and it’s very bad manners”. In public discourse I’m happy with gender neutral pronouns like ‘they’ or ‘them’, or even feminine pronouns, as long as there are no imposed assumptions about reproductive biology coming along with them.
How did you decide on your name?
Before I transitioned, I adopted my middle name, and legally shed my old first and last names. It was linked to my housemate in 1984, who was a computer programmer and only had one name – I think it’s the life mission of computer programmers to make life difficult for other computer programmers; silly computers, programmed to ask for more than one name, when some people only have one. Maybe we were just trying to highlight the huge gap between actual reality and virtual reality?
After a few years I was fed up with being asked for a second name all the time, so I used a joke name, which was initially intended as a querying of identity, before I realised it was also permission for me to be well. That’s how I became Norrie May-Welby.
What are your passions?
Global sustainability and social justice. I’d like to think humanity has a good chance of surviving this century, but it seems the selfish interests of the mega-rich are opposed to this. While it gives me some satisfaction to think of them slowly perishing on Mars long after the people who cleaned their houses on Earth are dead, I’d rather not have most humans wiped out by disasters of our own creation.
What do you believe is the greatest legacy you have given to Australia’s gender diverse communities?
I think that my legacy gets decided by other people after I am dead, I may like to think it was the High Court of Australia case of 2014 that abolished the presumption of sex being always binary (that is, either distinctly male or distinctly female), but it may be that most people remember me simply as the anonymous source of bubbles that changed a dreary day for them. But of course it would be sweet to think that eventually the imposition of binary sex or gender ceased to be a factor for future humanity.
Where do you see the trans community going in the future?
Anywhere they want to go! In a decade or so, being transgender will be as un-noteworthy as being left-handed – statistically unusual, but often unnoticed. Children will be able to access appropriate puberty blockers without having to go to court. And hopefully, with less adverse pressure and more acceptance, more transgender and other sex or gender diverse people will go on to have happy, full, and fulfilling lives, and less will fall to the life-shortening events that we used to suffer in the bad old days.
If you could go back in time and tell your younger self anything, what would you tell them?
Nothing. I’d like to, but I know young me couldn’t be told anything. I would not have believed how my life turned out unless I actually lived through it. The most I could say would be: “You will live through heaven and hell. But you will live.”
Life can be hard for young people dealing with their identity. Do you have any advice for them?
It’s everyone’s right, and duty, to be true to their self. Gosh, did you just accept the pronoun ‘their’ for a single person? You can’t substitute a more apt pronoun there. More advice? You do you, honey, and never think you’re on your own, you’re just part of a huge mass of bubbling cosmic soup.