A native of Texas, Alex Whitney knew from a young age that they were different. But they have always celebrated what made them stand out—their gender, sexuality, and disability—because it has allowed them to weed out close-minded people, see the beauty in all bodies, and practice radical self-love.
“I definitely think my disability is the core of who I am, because without it, I don’t know how I would be myself, how I would treat others, feel comfortable in my skin,” says Whitney, who was born with only
The 23-year-old transmascul ine nonbinary pansexual, who uses they/he pronouns, grew up in Groves, Texas, a small city near Port Arthur and Beaumont. They were one of nearly 17,000 residents, and their high school’s mascot was a racist depiction of a Native American person. In addition to the struggles they faced growing up in a conservative town, Whitney was only taught about the typical identity markers: boy, girl, gay, and straight.
Despite experimenting with both femininity and masculinity as a child, they never connected with either and dismissed the concept of gender entirely. During high school, after learning what it meant to be nonbinary, they felt freer and able to form a greater appreciation of gender. “There are no rules; you can do it however you want. That’s what I really enjoy about gender.”
But the realization was bittersweet. “There’s that part of gender where you have to accept that not everyone is going to accept or understand or even see you as what you are,” Whitney notes.
Early on in life, they were bullied for their appearance and disability. Growing up, Whitney thought, “You can say and do a lot to try to get boys and girls to give you attention, but you’re disabled. You’re just the class clown—the ‘friend.’ You’re nothing more than that because of your disability.”
However, now that disabled people are better represented in the mainstream media, Whitney’s view about themself and their worth has drastically improved. They’ve not only embraced their disability, but have encouraged other people on dating apps to share their best “thumb joke.”
“I’ve had people say, ‘I give you two thumbs up, but since you only have one, I’ll give you one thumb up,’” they laugh.
Whitney was able to realize radical self-love after going to hospitals that treated limb differences, as well as a program called Hand Camp, where they were able to connect to other disabled kids and camp counselors. “The camp showed me that it was possible to not only be happy and beautiful, but also find love,” they recall. “Seeing someone’s hand like mine with a wedding ring on it just gave me so much motivation and hope.”
Their confidence and transformative self-love also ignited their passion for community—and a desire to earn a degree in American Sign Language (ASL). As a child, Whitney visited a friend’s house and interacted with that friend’s youngest deaf sister, whose family regularly spoke to her verbally instead of through sign language. Having experienced the support of family and friends, Whitney wanted to extend that love and learn ASL to speak with that deaf girl and others like her.
“I love making or finding a community wherever I’m at,” Whitney says.
Invested in the Houston LGBTQ community, Whitney will be participating in a local queer reality dating show called Panning for Love. Four LGBTQ contestants from Houston will go on a series of speed dates with each other. The interactions will premiere at the DeLUXE Theater on August 4, when audiences will get to ask contestants questions afterward about their experience. Viewers will also get to watch participants ask each other out on dates, and then they’ll vote to bring back one rejected contestant, giving that player another chance to find love.
Whitney hopes their story and worldviews can help others recognize the beauty in all people. “I want people to see the world how I see it. It’s so diverse—more than [just] white, skinny, able-bodied people. Everything is not so black and white, and I think being raised in situations where I could see that people are so different helped me escape the conservative-town mentality and form my own opinion.”
Whitney loves traveling, watching others play video games, and cooking vegetarian-friendly meals. They enjoy reading, writing poetry, and running a blog called Nine Finger Newsletter, which they update when the inspiration strikes.
With plans to relocate to Katy, Whitney recently began testosterone therapy. They often get asked if they identify as a trans man, or wish to be more masculine. “My end goal,” they conclude with a laugh, “is to be hot and happy!”
For more information, visit nine-fingernewsletter.wordpress.com.
This article appears in the August 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.