We Have Always Been Here

Page 1.
A comic page of 2 panels in black lines and full colour. The narration is provided in caption boxes.
Panel 1. A group of friends seated around a table in a café laugh together. They include a man with curly hair in a t-shirt, a light-skinned woman in a long-sleeved shirt and hijab, and a man in a hoodie. Narrator: “There’s a beautiful poem by J. J. Espinoza that begins: “I imagine all my cis friends laughing at tranny jokes...” It captures the anxiety of growing up with a gender-nonconforming identity.” Off to the side, we see the main character, a non-binary person with medium dark skin and blonde hair that transitions to pink at the ends, dressed in a cropped orange singlet top and green jacket. They look dejected as they work on a tablet computer.
Panel 2. Narrator: “Gender is how we identify ourselves privately and socially—it shapes so much of our world. But a lot of us with non-binary identities experience gender in different ways. Ways that feel alien to others, and alienating to ourselves.” Close up on the main character. We see that they have a scraggly beard, painted red nails, are wearing a heart-shaped choker, and holding a yellow purse. They are surrounded by speech bubbles containing questions: Man or woman? Which one is it really? Why are you dressed like a [censored slur]? How do you even have sex? You’re just doing this for attention!
Page 2.
A comic page of four panels in black lines and full colour. The narration is provided in caption boxes.
Panel 1. A blue circle with the traditional symbol for the male gender, and a red circle with the symbol for the female gender. Narrator: “People equate gender with sexual characteristics—what we’re born with anatomically. They also say that the gender binary is natural and fixed. You’re either born a man or a woman. You remain as one throughout your life.”
Panel 2: We see an inverted three-dimensional cone. Different hues run along the circumference of the cone. The colours fade to black down the length of the cone towards the tip, which is labelled agender. On the top circular surface of the cone are labels: neutrois in the centre, where the hue is white; man on one point along the circumference, where the hue is blue; woman on the opposite point, where the hue is red; androgyne on the midpoint between man and woman, with a purple hue; and non-binary on the opposing midpoint, with a green hue. The gender cone was conceptualised by Olivia Paramour. Narrator: “But “man” and “woman” are just two options in a vast spectrum…”
Panel 3: Little animated shapes stretch and move across the Gender Cone. Narrator: “…in which there’s no rule that you only have to be one thing! You can occupy multiple places at the same time. You can feel different intensities of gender. You can change throughout your life, on a daily basis, or not at all. And that’s okay!”
Panel 4. In outer space, various identity flags and neopronouns are floating. An old conservative person perched on an asteroid shakes their cane angrily at the main character who is soaring among the flags. Narrator: “It might feel strange for those who do not experience gender nonconformity to see the vast range of identities and labels. But once you consider the wealth of experiences people have with gender, it makes perfect sense!” The conservation person shouts: “Why are you always inventing new genders?!” Main character: “We are rediscovering and validating experiences that have always been here! Gender is a playground, not a battlefield!”
Page 3.
A comic page of four panels in black lines and full colour. The narration is provided in caption boxes.
Panel 1. Three indigenous non-binary people are standing side by side. Their garments show that they are from the Tolotang religion. Narrator: “It’s misleading to think of non-binary identities as a “new trend”. Indigenous cultures around the world, like the Tolotang religion of the Bugis in Indonesia, have recognised non-binary identities for thousands of years. Spirituality and tradition can influence gender construction. Many cultures consider gender nonconformity to be sacred.”
Panel 2. Three people are smiling. One is indicated to have synesthesia (via numbers/letters/music with various colors and textures), another is drawn as an elf, and the other is indicated to be a plural system with multiple headmates. Narrator: “Neurological factors can also influence the way you experience gender. This is how we get the neurogender spectrum, the xenogender spectrum, various genders in plural system members, and so on.”
Panel 3. The main character looks at themself in the mirror. They say: “But…how do I know if this is really me?” Narrator: “A lot of us go through a kind of “gender impostor syndrome”, suspecting we might just be attention-seekers. But wherever you are in your gender journey, it’s very difficult to deny gender euphoria—the joy of being seen as one’s true gender (or lack thereof!)”
Panel 4. A cis man and woman look at themselves in the mirror happily. The man flexes his biceps, exclaiming: “Looking good, man!”, the woman says: “I feel so pretty in this dress!”. Narrator: “A lot of cis people experience this joy too—just in accordance to the gender they were assigned at birth.”
Panel 5. The main character is finally happy with themself in the mirror. Narrator: “Trans and non-binary people, on the other hand, feel euphoria in ways that are generally not approved by society.” Main character: “I know people tell me I shouldn’t look this way, but this is how I can finally begin to recognise myself…”
Page 4.
A comic page of six panels in black lines and full colour. The narration is provided in caption boxes.
Panel 1. Narrator: “People finally being able to recognise themselves in the mirror should be a good thing, right? Sadly, society doesn’t really think so.”
Panel 2. The main character passes a crowd divided into two groups. There are women to the left and men to the right. They are walking in the opposite direction from the main character. Narrator: “According to the Yogyakarta Principles, everyone has the right to equality and non-discrimination, to be recognised as a person before the law, regardless of their gender.”
Panel 3. The main character stands with three other non-binary persons, each looking dejected. The first is a tall person of unspecified gender with green hair, dark skin, and a scarf. The second is a Chinese-looking transmasc with a Hawaiian shirt. The third is a small child. Narrator: “But for many non-binary people, reality has not lived up to that promise.”
Panel 4. The tall person stands outside a public toilet, looking at the male and female gender signs in confusion. Two passers-by eye them suspiciously. Narrator: “Just like binary trans people, a lot of us feel immense anxiety when it comes to public toilets. As a result, many avoid going to toilets altogether. This, of course, affects our health.”
Panel 5. The transmasc person passes a “women-only” car on a public transit train, running in the direction of the next car. Narrator: “There’s the anxiety we feel in the many, many instances of gendered spaces in public…”
Panel 6. The small child is struggling as a menacing teacher attempts to cut their long hair. They are wearing a primary school uniform. On the wall, two posters say “GIRLS = LONG HAIR” and “BOYS = SHORT HAIR”. Narrator: “…or as a result of the very binary-gendered and often arbitrary rules enforced in schools, offices, and so on.”
Page 5.
A comic page of four panels in black lines and full colour. The narration is provided in caption boxes.
Panel 1. Narrator: “The worst part is that very few people understand these problems!” The main character sits at a dining table, eating sadly. An elderly woman, presumably their mother, looks at them with frustration or pity. Mother: “Why can’t you just be normal like the rest of us?”
Panel 2. The main character walks past a mosque and a church, both with anti-LGBT signs posted in front. Narrator: “In times of distress, many of us miss the solace of spirituality. But it is often in religious spaces that we find the harshest rejections, or even trauma.”
Panel 3. The main character sees a demonstration in the distance, where people are carrying placards and marching. The crowd shouts: “Gender equality now!” Narrator: “The concept of “normal” is very politically loaded.”
Panel 4. The main character attempts to join in, but an activist turns to them and remarks: “Sorry, this is a women-only space!” Narrator: “But fighting in political forums isn’t easy either. Many spaces of political activism, like other public spaces, are highly gendered.”
Page 6.
A comic page of five panels in black lines and full colour. The narration is provided in caption boxes.
Panel 1. Frustrated, the main character walks back home. A small child turns to look at them, but her parents do not approve. The mother covers the child’s eyes, and the father pulls her away. Narrator: “Why do most of us believe that the gender binary is the natural way of things? That non-binary identities are a deviation?”
Panel 2. Flashback to the main character as a child. They have short curly black hair and are seated in front of a television. Narrator: “Growing up, we were taught to laugh at gender nonconformity. Queer-coded characters almost always play the role of the villain or the clown…”
Panel 3. Time passes; the main character is now a teenager, with longer hair that has been dyed blonde. They are watching a show on a laptop. Narrator: “…or worse, some kind of sexual, often murderous, deviant.” Voice from the show: “He was a man all along! Dressed as a woman to trick his victims!”
Panel 4. MC and the other three non-binary characters stand facing a wall of anti-LGBT, transphobic signages. Narrator: “Transphobia and the fear of all things queer and gender-nonconforming is pervasive in today’s society. It spreads through the media, friends’ jokes, what families deem “right” and “wrong”...finally solidifying into norms, legislation, and discrimination that continue to harm us.”
Panel 5. The four characters approach the sign. The tall person readies a can of spray paint. Narrator: “If you want to make life a little easier for us...”
Page 7.
A comic page of six panels in black lines and full colour. The narration is provided in caption boxes.
Panel 1. Two of the hateful posters have been modified. They now read: “Stop assuming genders! Respect our pronouns!” “Listen to more non-binary voices.” Narrator: “...there are small actions you can take.”
Panel 2. A hand reaches out and rips down the one hateful poster left. A light radiates from a crack in the wall behind the poster. Narrator: “But we are not telling you this to seek your pity.”
Panel 3. The main character watches in awe, illuminated by its glow as the light shines brighter. Narrator: “We are telling you this to let you know that we exist.”
Panel 4. A portal opens in the crack. Through it, we see various gender-nonconforming individuals from the past. There is a Lengger Lanang dancer, an androgynous person with a 1960s outfit, a Chinese person of unspecified gender, a transmasc Javanese aristocrat of colonial times, and a figure from the Tolotang religion. Narrator: “We are here. We have always been here.”
Panel 5. The main character leads the others into the portal. Everyone is either in awe or laughing. Narrator: “So it would mean a lot if you stop laughing at us and start laughing with us…”
Panel 6. Narrator: “…and celebrate the joys of the gender playground together.” This panel takes up the rest of the page, expanding upwards to fill the space between the earlier panels. We arrive at a place where everyone is visibly happy. The purple sky and golden-yellow ground make up the colours of the non-binary flag. The main character offers a hand to the reader, smiling widely. Narrator: “Our liberation is your liberation too.”
End of comic.


[1] Full poem at: https://apogeejournal.org/2016/06/28/queer-history-queer-now/#Espinoza
[2] The Gender Cone by Olivia Paramour. https://linktr.ee/oliviaparamour
[3] Bornstein, K., & Drucker, Z. (2017). Gender Is a Playground. Aperture, (229), 24-31. Available at https://aperture.org/editorial/gender-playground/
[4] The Yogyakarta Principles address a broad range of international human rights standards and their application to SOGI issues. On 10 Nov. 2017 a panel of experts published additional principles expanding on the original document reflecting developments in international human rights law and practice since the 2006 Principles, The Yogyakarta Principles plus 10. The new document also contains 111 ‘additional state obligations’, related to areas such as torture, asylum, privacy, health and the protection of human rights defenders. The full text of the Yogyakarta Principles and the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10 are available at: www.yogyakartaprinciples.org.


This comic is part of the project “Being Nonbinary in Indonesia – An Advocacy Project Through Comics” led by Erik Nadir under the APTN Amplifying Trans Advocacy Fellowship 2020. It draws from a focus group discussion held for non-binary individuals under the same project. Special thanks to Arin Shabrina and Sarah F. Hana for helping to facilitate and organise the discussion; to all the participants for sharing their experiences; and to the Asia Pacific Transgender Network (APTN) for the support.

Further Information

If you’d like to learn more or access resources for non-binary individuals, here are groups and organisations you can reach out to:

  1. New Naratif
    New Naratif is running an LGBTQIA+ channel on our Discord server to get to know each other better and start building transnational solidarity for the Southeast Asian LGBTQIA+ community. To join, sign up for our weekly newsletter.
  1. Asia Pacific Transgender Network
    APTN is a trans-led organisation that supports and advocates for the rights for trans and gender diverse people in Asia and the Pacific. Follow APTN on social media for updates including fellowship opportunities specifically for trans and gender diverse people.

    Website: https://weareaptn.org
    Instagram: @WeAreAPTN
    Twitter: @WeAreAPTN
  1. ASEAN SOGIE Caucus
    ASEAN SOGIE Caucus is a regional organization consisting of LGBTIQ+ human rights defenders advocating for the promotion, protection, fulfilment and enjoyment of human rights regardless of their sexual and gender identities throughout Southeast Asia.

    Email: info@aseansogiecaucus.org
    Website: https://aseansogiecaucus.org/
    Twitter: @ASEANSOGIE
    Instagram: @aseansogiecaucus
    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aseansogie/
  1. Non-Binary Peer Support Group (Indonesia)
    Any non-binary persons based in Indonesia seeking support are welcome to join this group, which is conducted in Bahasa Indonesia. Contact Erik Nadir through email (eriknadjr@gmail.com) to join. All registrants will be vetted to ensure the safety of the group.
  1. Arus Pelangi (Indonesia)
    Arus Pelangi is a member-based federation that is non-profit, non-governmental, and adheres to the values of non-discrimination, pluralism, non-violence, independence, inclusion, solidarity, collectivity, democracy, transparency and accountability. Arus Pelangi was formed on March 10th, 2006 in Jakarta with the vision to fulfil the rights of oppressed people based on their SOGIESC in Indonesia.

    Twitter: @aruspelangi
    Instagram: @aruspelangi
  1. Pink Triangle Foundation (Malaysia)
    Pink Triangle Foundation is a community-based non-profit organisation in Malaysia that focuses on promoting better sexual health and providing a non-discriminatory free community-based testing site and counselling across Klang Valley. Unfortunately, due to the Malaysia lockdown situations, PTF is unable to provide this currently. On PTF’s IG page, anyone can choose to book their anonymous testing session for when it is possible.

    Website: http://ptfmalaysia.org/v2/
    Outreach Manager Email: kevin@ptfmalaysia.org
    Facebook: www.facebook.com/ptfmalaysia
    Instagram: @jomtest_ptfoundation
  1. Tabung Pelangi (Malaysia)
    Tabung Pelangi is a small initiative which supports non-binary persons by providing resources for queer individuals in Malaysia including their chest binder drive. They also publish an annual non-profit queer art zine, Stories for A Cause, and their second edition will be launching mid-July. Stories from queer Malaysians will be used to fundraise for PLUHO Org’s queer-affirming therapy subsidy fund.

    Find out more about their work at https://tabungpelangi.carrd.co/.
  1. Cempaka Collective / Gocoh! (Malaysia)
    Cempaka Collective has published Gocoh! – a Malay-language webzine which discusses  issues and strategies around anarcha-feminism and queer anarchism perspectives.

    Read more about their work at https://gocoh.noblogs.org/about/.

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