He, She, Them, They: Take a Deeper Look into What it Means to Identify as Non-Binary
According to Wikipedia, the term non-binary or genderqueer “is a catch-all category for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine — identities which are outside the gender binary and cisnormativity. Genderqueer people may express a combination of masculinity and femininity, or neither, in their gender expression.” Growing up, I was exposed to the idea of he or she. It wasn’t until my 30’s that I learned about the community of people who had a preference in the they/them pronoun. I imagine for some, the idea of not identifying as feminine or masculine, or possibly identifying as both is a foreign concept. Times have changed. We are stepping into an age where people are boldly and unapologetically declaring who they are and it no longer fits into cookie-cutter gender norms.
Meet Tamilia, a genderqueer, non-binary person from Brooklyn, NY. Tamilia came out as a lesbian at the age of 14. Since then, they has traveled down the road of self-discovery in terms of gender neutrality and what it means in their life. A non-binary identifying person carries an experience unique to them. As progressive as we are in the United States, we’re still tied to the idea that things can only be black or white. This or that. Left or right. Right or wrong. Up or down. Male or female. Biracial? Pick one. Bisexual? Pick one. Somewhere along the line we’ve limited who we are, what we can become and what we can experience. The concept of being non-binary is lost on people who live within the philosophy of a black or white world. Tamilia explains,
“There is no definition and that’s the beauty of being non-binary. The way I identify isn’t necessarily the same way someone else identifies. There’s no cookie-cutter way to be non-binary just like there’s no cookie-cutter way to be a woman. There’s no cookie-cutter way to be a man. There’s this general assumption that people make on what a non-binary person looks like. I have friends who want to still be called she/her. Non-binary can be androgyny. Once we take away this idea of what we view gender as we can start asking and stop assuming. I am so affirmed in who I am and my experience. The most important thing is that I talk from an “I” place because my narrative is just that; my narrative. It’s not the narrative of another non-binary person. They may not experience non-binary the way I do.”
Identity is an important part of who we are as people. For someone who searches for their identity outside of being masculine or feminine, the idea of being genderless can be extremely freeing. Tamilia explains,
“When I first heard the words that fit my experience, my whole world shifted. Think of the happiest moment of your life where euphoria hits you. When I heard this word, that’s exactly how I felt. I felt free, I felt liberated, I felt peace. To exist in a world where you don’t feel valid, that’s what misgendering feels like. I don’t think I’d be able to feel whole if I didn’t have a community of people supporting me. We hold space for each other. Other non-binary people text me saying ‘You exist. You matter,’ because we’re navigating in a world that doesn’t see you. We already feel alone so when someone is identifying you the way you want to be identified, you’re on top of the world.”
Being misgendered is something that happens quite often in the non-binary community. Although Tamilia’s preference is to be addressed with a they/them pronoun, often times extra energy is put into explaining why they should not be addressed as she and her, despite the physical appearance.
“When we take away perception of self, we’re left with the external experience of what people view us as and the internal experience of how we see ourselves. I’m understanding of the learning curve. But when is the point where we start to reconsider and say, ‘hey, it’s been two months since this person told me that this is what (needs to be said) to feel good and they’re still not figuring it out.’ You’re so conditioned to not want to fuck up on this person’s pronouns that you’re going to do it because you’re already thinking that. Change the way we view (things). You may fuck up. I accept that but the moment it happens, fix it.”
“We see people and we automatically put them in this box of who they are but we never ask, ‘who are you?’ We told them who they are. How powerful is it to ask, ‘Who are you?’ You know you better than I do. How egotistical is it to think that I know you better than you do and I’m going to tell you who you are.”
New York City has proposed a third gender on the birth certificate, available to those who do not identify as male or female. “This proposal will allow transgender and non-conforming New Yorkers to live with the dignity and respect they deserve, and make our city fairer,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. Progress. Finally a community of people can feel included in what the rest of world has felt privileged to.
“I’m so excited (about gender X) and I’m so scared. I think it’s the realization that my existence can now be real. Because I still live in a world where people don’t see me as that (non-binary), to have it on paper and to show it, there’s still going to be that combativeness. It’s a win for me in my personal identity; reaffirming. But it’s not a win for people who still don’t see me as that. It’s a double edge sword. I’m happy that the conversation is happening. Even though this adminstration is so scary, the silver lining is that we’re having this conversation. We’re talking about it. It’s beautiful to finally feel like I can talk about it. The weight that I feel like I’ve been carrying…I’m free.”
Tamilia will document the journey of navigating through life as a genderqueer person in the documentary, “I Identify as Me.” Using your voice to advocate for your identity is bold. Not only are you helping others, you’re freeing yourself. As we settle into pride month, I encourage you to look beyond what you’ve been taught in life to see the person in front of you. Before we assume someone’s identity, let’s get comfortable with asking, “Who are you?”