Gender roles are not just a transgender issue, they involve everyone

Jake Edwards is a non-binary content creator who is publicly contributing to opening the conversation about removing gender stereotypes in society.

Photographer: Tanesha Lewis

"I am non-binary and bisexual. I am someone who has spent many years looking for a label to discover the identity I am most comfortable with," Edwards says, upon first meeting.

They carry themselves confidently, rocking bleach blonde hair, an animal print coat inherited from their grandma and the most fascinating selection of rings collected over the years.

As a non-binary person, Edwards finds it difficult to define that label because it means something different to everyone in that community. They are happy to be perceived as a man but prefer a mix of they/he pronouns when referring to their personal identity.

In their own words, non-binary isn’t always to do with gender roles or appearances, and it is certainly "not a mix of 50 per cent woman and 50 per cent man". It is the ability to perceive identities beyond society’s idea of what gender roles look like.

“Many non-binary people will say it is an indescribable feeling. It can be fluid, it can be moving, and it can be changing. Solid in knowing exactly how it feels everyday but abstract because it is hard to describe beyond using gendered terms.”

The 25-year-old is vibrant, immediately drawing in positive energy throughout the conversation. It’s not hard to imagine why others feel connected to them in the same way, which explains the creative’s successful YouTube career over a decade ago.

Edwards started creating videos online as a coping mechanism during a difficult time in their life after coming out to their family as a trans man, resulting in them being temporarily homeless.

"I was thrown into adulthood. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no real passion that I was academically good at," they say.

Edwards was also in a new relationship with another trans man and YouTuber who already had a successful audience. It was through creating videos together that they soon became a power couple, boosting their audience to a whole new level. He used this newfound career as an opportunity to have an open diary to vent on the internet, while simultaneously monetising off of it.

"People were connecting and felt emotional to meet me, but I couldn’t understand the scale of it," they say. "I was in constant disassociation whenever I did meet any of my followers."

At the time, he only introduced himself to the internet as Jake and deleted any images or videos prior to them coming out. They exclusively used he/him pronouns and had not yet come to terms with the idea of being non-binary.

Edwards felt pressure to maintain a masculine appearance, specifically modelling themselves around the character of Dean Winchester from the TV show Supernatural or, in their words – "the image of toxic masculinity to a T". They were overcompensating out of fear that someone would invalidate their identity as a trans man if they looked anything outside the masculine stereotype.

"There was a real discourse about non-binary people at the time in the trans community. People felt threatened by them because they felt that being non-binary invalidated their experience as a trans person."

The YouTuber only started to experiment beyond these gender roles once it became popularised for straight men to have cute quirks like wearing flower crowns and painting their nails without having it invalidate their sexuality.

"Once I began to see a mix of the gender roles in the way that I was presenting, it started to feel right but at the same time I knew I wasn’t just presenting as a man at that point."

Edwards then started to invite other YouTubers who identified as non-binary to their own channel to talk about their gender identity and to teach their audience more about the topic. It clicked once they started to realise that the connection he had to these videos was beyond a surface level of it - it felt deeply emotional to them.

"The thing kind of snowballed from there, and I would consider it a mostly internal process coming to terms with being non-binary," they say. "Because I’ve been through so much drama every other time I’ve tried to figure out myself, I decided to let it happen without the pressure."

Shortly after coming out, Edwards began to distance themselves from YouTube and social media to focus on their mental health. When it comes to playing the role of an activist as someone who used to have a massive following, Edwards says that they would rather try to take up activist work in their own time as opposed to blasting it on social media.

"I don’t feel like it is productive to shout to an audience that I know will already be on the same page. How is it productive of me to yell into an echo to support this cause?" they say.

Even with social media, Edwards has found himself having to mute and unfollow other trans people and LGBTQ+ magazines who felt like they had to report and speak out against anyone who would trash talk trans people.

"I am just trying to live normally, and they’re just telling me that people don’t want me to exist," they say. "It’s traumatising having to read that, rather than celebrating all of the smaller ways that others are supporting trans people."

Causes that do matter to Edwards involve getting people to understand that the fight against gender roles is not just for trans people, and that it is something that can benefit everyone in society.

This can start with something as little as removing gendered clothing racks from retail stores. They are also trying to open up the conversation about removing stereotypes of non-binary people as a Western notion.

"People try to use the misconception that it is a ‘new white invention’ as an argument as to why it can be invalidated," they say. "It is also important to not hinge the validity of non-binary people by using these cultures as ammunition to prove that they have existed for so long."

Beyond these labels, Edwards has certainly grown from the YouTuber version of themselves that existed almost 10 years ago. They have rebuilt their relationship with their mum, working towards creating a closer bond with her than they ever had before.

"I was very angry and impatient, and I thought that a parent’s love had to be unconditional," they say. "It took me a long time to realise that it’s not true, and it was very painful to know that she needed support as much as I needed support."

Now, Edwards has finally put down roots and found the stability they’ve been searching for in life for so long. This has involved processing their childhood trauma in therapy, forming a career, and building a life with their boyfriend in "the cutest little flat" in London.

Once again, they’re asked to reintroduce themselves, but with the added challenge of doing so without using the labels of sexuality and gender.

They say: "I am a creative, someone who loves people and spending time by myself, and I am someone who is trying. Trying to be a better person for myself and those that are a part of my life."

This is from the Kindred. Identity issue, out now. Purchase the copy through the link here.