For the People UNTAGGED -series, we talk to people about their gender identity. By sharing their stories in a positive way, we want to inspire others, within the LGBTQIA+ community and beyond.
This time we speak with Fleur from Gent - Belgium, who is very active in several associations for the LGBTQIA+ community. But they are also working as a stylist, giving clothing advice for gender expression.
Hey Fleur, nice to talk to you! Can you briefly introduce yourself?
Introducing myself briefly, yeah that is not always so easy! I had my coming-out 5 years ago. By now I know what terms belong to it, or what terms to put on my identity. So that is: trans non-binary, pansexual and ethically non-monogamous. A very long search preceded that. Pretty soon after I came out, I founded Gender Spectrum. At the time, that was the first organization for non-binary people. I am also on the governing body of Çavaria: an association in Flanders and Brussels for LGBT, trans and intersex persons. In 2003, for example, this association ensured that same-sex marriage was legalized in Belgium. Additionally I am active in the board of Casa Rosa, the East and West Flemish rainbow house. There we support the local LGBT, trans, and intersex community. Besides that we support and advise local boards to be as inclusive as possible. That's very briefly a little bit of what I do.
That's quite a lot!
Yes, I guess so! And there is more, because I recently founded Cream Concept with a friend. That is a party concept where individuals from the community can freely express themselves at parties and celebrations. And a month ago I started Fabulous with Fleur. Here you can book an appointment with me and I’ll give styling advice. This is because I missed a coach who helped me with my outfit choices and gender expression.
Sounds like you are quite socially active in your spare time. Is there anything else you enjoy doing, hobbies?
Before Covid I did a lot of sports. I used to run half marathons. But then that stopped and unfortunately I didn't pick it up again. And I was always interested in styling. Besides that, I just enjoy being with my friends. Because yes, being an activist occupies a large part of my life. But I do get a lot of satisfaction out of that as well. It's actually something that runs fluidly through my life, and the friendships too. So I don't see the activist work as real work. In fact, I'm happy to fill my free time with that.
By the way, I really like that you are now also involved in styling for gender expression, because many clothing brands are completely binary, clothing for either men or women.
That's correct. This is why shopping still stresses me out. Especially in stores where I don't know the people. A lot of prejudices still prevail in clothing stores. There are, for example, fitting rooms that you are not allowed to go into. Think of a person of the female word and gender, who just wants to try on a pair of trousers. Those trousers then happen to be hanging in the men's department. Then that person would have to go one floor down or up to simply try on a pair of trousers. A bit surreal when you think about it. Meanwhile, for non-binary individuals, change is slowly beginning to occur. But we are all conditioned into thinking in terms of the M (Male) and the F (Female) story.
"People would feel much freer if they could really express themselves the way they feel inside."
It's interesting that you say conditioning, because do you think that there are other options?
Yes, especially if you look into history on other continents. If you look at trans people as one big group, sometimes they were just demigods. In some tribes in Africa, on the African continent, they had up to 50 different genders. Until colonization started by the Christians, and the world of two-gender division began.
I myself have long thought about what being male or female really means. If you don’t think of your birth sex and everything to do with that, what makes someone male or female? And then you never really get much further than stereotypes. That's why I also think that we all just limit ourselves very much by keeping it in that dichotomy. That there's a lot more out there. People would feel much freer if they could really express themselves the way they feel inside.
"I am who I am. I'm a human being, and that's it."
Is there something that triggered you to start the search for your own identity?
Well, so I came out five years ago. At the time, I didn't actually know what non-binary was. I had never even heard of it. With my partner at the time, to whom I also did my coming-out, I went on a search. Very quickly, a few days later, she came up with several terms I had never heard of. The term non-binary felt best for me.
Also, during that time, the TV program MVX was important for my self-acceptance. MVX was a Flemish program that followed several trans people in transition. I watched that just before I came out. In one of those episodes, the Trans-Missie brand (red.: now UNTAG) also came up which is how I came to find your brand.
In the years that followed, I evolved more and more, until I arrived at the fact that I now identify as a human being. I don't need all those labels anymore, but those labels are necessary in the beginning. They can help you find out where you are on the spectrum. It also allows you to see that you are not an outsider. I'm not crazy, so to speak. That helps. But now I'm like, all those labels aren't necessary for me. I am who I am. I'm just a human being, and that's it.
When you look back at the person you were, 5 years ago, and how you are now, are there differences?
I feel much freer. Let's just say, I've really become the best version of myself right now. Actually, it's getting better and better every day. I see it more as, since my coming-out... I always think that's an ugly word, sorry. But I really just see a coming-out as asking permission from the outside world to allow you to be different. That's very bizarre. That you actually have to ask permission to be different. I’ve stopped telling people about my coming-out for the third or fourth time. Because I am who I am. I'm still the same person. But just a better version than before. Because now I can, in quotes, “be free”. Without fear. It almost felt like a stifling fear at the time, and it all had to come out.
"I don't want to hide my gender expression anymore."
What helped you during that period?
Since my coming-out I’ve stopped seeing a lot of my friends from that time and from before my coming-out. Is that a bad thing? Depends on how you look at it. I’ve met a lot of new people. Really great people. With whom I can be 100% myself. I don't want to compromise anymore, I really want to go out as myself, which is not always completely successful. But it's going in the right direction. About 90% of the time I am completely myself. The downside there is that, from the moment I step out the front door, I am constantly in one big coming-out. Everyone sees you, and yes, I don't want to hide my gender expression anymore. But on some days it hits you a little harder than on other days.
Is there anything you're proud of right now?
Gosh, what am I proud of? That I dare to be myself. I'm just proud that I've had the guts to come out. I'm proud of where I am now. Actually, it's other people who make me realize what I've actually already meant to the non-binary community in Belgium and Flanders. I just don't dwell on it. I just think it's my duty to do this, to bring people together, to stand up for them.
That is really something to be proud of. And I think you make a very positive contribution for a lot of people.
Yes, I sometimes don't realize it enough myself, but yes, I am proud of that.
Rightfully so. Is there anything else you would like to give to people who are in a similar situation? A message?
Just be yourself. Without compromises. That is not easy. Very often I feel that I create my own barriers, which are not necessary.
"Surround yourself with people that you like to be around and who accept you completely as you are."
So what is something that gives you strength on a bad day?
My friends. I went to Europride in Belgrade. On the way back from the pride, we ran into a lot of small groups of protesters there in the city. Not always nice words were shouted at us. Fortunately, we did walk in a group of eight. In those cases I’m really happy to be able to surround myself with people I trust, where I have a shoulder to cry on. Where you can just let go of all your tensions, be with people who understand you and whom you like to be around.
So my message would be: surround yourself with people that you like to be around and who accept you completely as you are. So that you can just be 100 percent yourself. That's the most important thing.