'Are you a boy or a girl?': Aucklander opens up about life beyond the gender binary

An Aucklander's unpleasant experience on Ponsonby Rd has compelled her to come forward about the possibility of life beyond the gender binary.

Peg Lockyer was buying pyjamas in the central city suburb on a rainy Friday evening last week when three men crossed the road to speak to her. One asked if he could stand under her umbrella, to which she gladly agreed.

They were chatting when he turned on Lockyer and asked: "Are you a boy or a girl?"

"I was so very, very angry and upset," she told Newshub. "I was humiliated - you help someone then they go and say that. He just had to put me in a box."

Half an hour later she was home, still deeply distressed but convinced she needed to share her experience with others. She filmed a video "full of raw emotion" describing what had happened, which was posted to the LGBT Facebook page Pride Pledge. 

The response has been overwhelmingly positive, but Lockyer says she did it to educate. 

"I want people to understand the complexities of gender are very real for those who don't fit the box."

Lockyer has been misgendered her entire life, from women telling her to get out of the campground female toilets as a child to someone calling her 'sir' last week.

While she might once have identified as 'androgynous', she's recently discovered another term for how she experiences gender: non-binary.

"Non-binary is very new for me, I mean I'm 53," she says. "But it fits nicely, it means I can sit outside the box. It feels very comfy."

Increased media coverage of gender diversity has brought greater awareness to different identities, but also mockery from those who say it's all attention-seeking nonsense. 

"People who are making light of these people don't understand how hurtful it is to be questioned about their gender all the time," Lockyer says. "It's exhausting." 

Children are taught from an early age that there are two categories of people - men and women - and each have their own distinctive set of recognisable characteristics. However, those attitudes are changing, which former PE teacher Lockyer attributes to a "groundswell" in New Zealand schools.

It's increasingly common for students to be taught about the existence of transgender people, as well as others who don't fit into a prescribed binary. There's also the practice of school children calling teachers by their first names, as Freemans Bay Primary and Bayswater Primary in Auckland have done for years.

"My pet hate as a teacher was being called Miss," Lockyer says.

She believes the "youth of today" wouldn't have done what the man in Ponsonby did, as they place lesser value on demanding someone fit into a category.

"Why does it matter so much? What matters is who I am. You don't need to know my gender to know me."

She's considering writing a book - tentatively titled Hello Sir - about her experience with retail staff trained to give customers an explicitly gendered, subservient greeting.

"They always get it wrong. It's a mistake because they haven't looked hard enough," she says. "It's old-fashioned and it needs to go."

Ultimately Lockyer hopes to shed some light on life as a person who doesn't feel like society's labels fit them quite right, and the relief of finally finding one that does.

"I've spent my whole life telling people I'm a woman. Now I can just be Peg."