Chessington World of Adventures Resort

Pride: Lived Experience as a Non-Binary Person in the World of Zoos

Posted: 13th June, 2023

This month, in celebration of PRIDE and BIAZA Generations of Pride, we are giving space to LGBT+ voices from across the BIAZA membership. The PRIDE blogs will provide a snapshot of the experiences of LGBT+ people working in the zoo sector and highlight diversity across the animal kingdom too.

As a non-binary person, I was able to find my first real sense of queer community whilst working as a mammals keeper at Chessington World of Adventures Resort.

I started exploring my gender and sexuality when I was fourteen. When I was growing up, queer-led spaces were not as prominent as they are now, in real life or online, but I still I managed to find my people in blogs and chatrooms wherein I explored the idea of a gender as a spectrum rather than a binary. I started to identify as a non-binary pansexual, but only online, and I was determined to keep those worlds separate for as long as possible.

Then I made my way to Chessington. When I went to fetch my uniform, I noticed some green badges, reading either she/her, he/him or they/them. I had seen some people wearing these pronoun pins but nobody wearing a they/them one. I pocketed a couple but I never expected I would wear them. Until, that is, about a month in to my contract, when a young trans boy came to do a capybara meet and greet, wearing a trans flag adorned with ‘he/him’. And I tried to imagine what it might have meant to him to have seen me wearing my pride flag and pronoun pins, just as I had been searching for a fellow they/them pin wearer when I started.

So I went in to work the next day with my pronoun pin on, but I said nothing about it. I bore the she/hers from colleagues whilst I yearned for more openness, but I couldn’t find the nerve to ask for it. However, over time I started to notice that the other members of the mammals team had also begun wearing pronoun pins. I remember overhearing a radio call between the keepers in which I was mentioned and I was referred to as ‘them’. Gradually, more of these quiet moments of acceptance grew in to bigger things, and I will always remember the spider monkey house as the place where the concept of gender was deconstructed while we scraped and scrubbed the mess off of the walls! I went shopping for my first suit to wear to a work event, and one of my colleagues helped me find shoes to match. I had never had so much freedom to be myself before.

I felt so comfortable I started wearing a trans flag pin alongside my pronoun badge, and for the first time I was in an environment where talking about LGBTQ+ things was appreciated and enjoyed. I was able to crack jokes but also raise debates and challenge ways of thinking. My friends on other sections like hoofstock and sealife also made an effort to understand and I am unspeakably grateful for that. I was surrounded by so many brilliant people who had done so much to make me feel safe behind the scenes that I struggle to remember a time before I was this proudly out. I know how hard they tried to use the right words and be respectful whilst wanting it to not seem like an effort. Believe me, it meant more to me than they could ever know.

I was only there for a short time but it was one of the greatest privileges of my life to have been so held and cared for by such wonderful people, because of whom my life has been irrevocably changed. Now I have moved on from Chessington, I still feel trepidation at the prospect of entering a new establishment and going through the whole coming out process again. But I feel so much more secure in who I am and how I want to live my life, and I feel much safer to try to do it. Teenaged me could never have imagined where we would end up, in so many different ways, and I can now go forward in my career proudly as a non-binary keeper.

As a child, I always felt like there was no one else like me in the world. Now, I get to be the person who changes that for others. I had guests at Chessington who were wearing pride accessories wave at me knowingly while glancing at my pins, and I’m honoured to play a part in showing my fellow LGBTQ+ family that you can always find your people, because I found mine. And we fed tigers together.

By Maisie Geobey (they/them) - Former Mammals keeper, Chessington World of Adventures Resort

All blogs reflect the views of their author and are not a reflection of BIAZA's positions. 

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