Non-binary influencer Aaliyah Ramsey discusses overcoming abusive trolls and fighting for representation
Model and influencer Aaliyah Ramsey realised they are non-binary a little over a year ago.
Although the Internet hasn't always provided the safest space for the 21-year-old, it was conversations online that helped the social media star finally understand their gender identity after years of confusion.
"When I was younger, I always thought I should have been a boy," they tell me. "But I was comfortable with my body and anatomy. I never really understood where I stood with it until I saw non-binary people speaking up on Instagram.
"Having it become a conversation made me realise 'this is it', and that there might be other people who feel in touch with both the masculine and feminine side. It's so empowering to see people who are really comfortable being themselves."
The importance of representation
Although Aaliyah has a huge presence on social media with an impressive following on Instagram, they have faced "loads" of online abuse, simply due to their outspoken nature. "Sometimes the things people say can be pretty painful," they sigh.
But the influencer views it as their duty to speak candidly about subjects that are close to their heart. In fact, throughout our conversation, they continually highlight the importance of conversation.
"The things I'm doing, and how I'm living is completely normal, and it's just not spoken about enough," Aaliyah continues. "I'd rather just have that conversation, and normalise it. If me being open on my platforms helps enable those conversations then that really helps outweigh the trolling."
Aaliyah explains that it's their goal to provide representation in the online community. This is something that was woefully lacking when they were growing up in Manchester, England. When I ask them if they felt represented as a young teenager, they reply: "Not at all.
"The only person I really looked up to who was talking about feminism was Miley Cyrus, and that was when she was just doing 'Free the Nipple' and growing out her body hair. There was very little representation otherwise."
'2021 is the year for speaking up!'
Even now, platforms such as Instagram and TikTok are not without their issues. As a mixed-race person, Aaliyah hardly sees any Black creators or feminists on the platform. "Even the Black feminists I follow and know are people I've had to find and do more research into," they explain. "I just see predominantly white people on my page, and the 'discover' section.''
When I ask Aaliyah if they see themselves as a role model, they are quick to point out that it's still a foreign concept. "It's a weird thing for me that word," they explain. "I can't imagine people looking at me and being like 'they're a role model'. But I guess I am, and that's what keeps me wanting to keep having these conversations. I'm glad to be someone that I wish I had when I was 15, or 16."
Still, they are optimistic about the future, especially given the changes they've already seen happening in 2021.
Aaliyah says that some of the discussions they've been having wouldn't have happened two years, or even a year ago. "2021 is definitely the year for people speaking up!"
'Feminism is a lot more than gender'
Another issue close to Aaliyah's heart is feminism. However, they are quick to stress to me that they believe feminism is a lot more than gender.
"I feel like when I first got into feminism, I was thinking just about women, women, women," the 21-year-old tells me. " I wasn't even really thinking about the other aspects, including skin colour, or the privileges you have. And that's what I learnt the most – being intersectional."
Aaliyah goes on to reveal that their passion for feminism was actually inspired by their decision to grow their body hair. When they first decided to stop shaving their legs and armpits, Aaliyah admits they didn't realise how "empowering" it would feel to not subscribe to traditional beauty ideals.
"I stopped shaving my armpits when I was 16...and I thought 'wow that's so cool'," they add.
"My body hair is now one of my favourite parts of myself. It's how I started getting into feminism, and it represents what I stand for. Without saying it, my body hair shows that I don't support the engrained beauty standard. It speaks for me."