Why being a non-binary is tough
Now. I’m not saying that being a non-binary in general is more challenging than being a transgender if anyone is angrily shaking their fists at me right now. What I’m saying is that it’s as challenging. Having no gender, different gender or even multiple genders at a time isn’t much easier than having the opposite one.
For those, who are unfamiliar with the term ‘non-binary’, here’s a quick reference:
(The screenshot was taken from Gender Wiki here)
Disclaimer: I’m not talking about FtM or MtF transgender people here, even though they can be put under the ‘non-binary’ term. Neither am I talking about those non-binaries, who are fine with people ‘misgendering’ them and find this ‘gender-confusion’ amusing. I’m talking about those of us, who’s not comfortable with it at all.
A little background
As a child, I’d never been ‘girly’. My mom always tried to dress me up as a girl, but I never felt it was right. I loathed dresses and skirts, I hated to braid my hair or put it up in a ponytail. In fact, I didn’t even bother to comb them when mom wasn’t around. Meanwhile, dad was completely fine with me being me.
When I turned 13 I started to explore myself more consciously. I chose my own clothes. I started to act, not only to think. I started to confront mom whenever she tried to make me look as a normal girl and simply refused to look or act the way she wanted me to.
At the same time, around 14, I learnt about the role-play community and finally realised that this was the place I could be whoever I wanted to be without people judging me. So I dived deep into role-plays for some good 4 years, ‘playing’ a male character.
But was it playing indeed? I was so happy and comfortable being male in the role-play world and so uncomfortable in real life, that I started to question my own gender, even given the fact that I didn’t know the word ‘gender’ back then.
At that time (around 15–16) I started to enjoy dressing up as a girl and doing makeup, but still, after school I returned back to my PC and felt that I can be myself again.
But it still didn’t feel quite right to me, even in this perfect online world, in this comfortable bubble. I still felt that I’m playing a guy, not actually being one, even mentally. To tell the truth, my male characters were often somewhat feminine, long-haired, charming and graceful.
Then, around 17, I returned to expressing myself as a girl again, actually feeling it inside. I dated mostly guys and enjoyed acting ‘feminine’.
Then I switched back. I started to date more girls, considering myself as just bisexual at a time.
Then I switched again.
My gender identity shifted back and forth.
Long story short, I was struggling with self-identification for a long time. In fact, it lasted for good 6 years, until I’ve finally realised that I don’t have to identify as a specific gender at all if I don’t feel like any.
At that time I already knew a lot about trans-community. I researched so many resources on the topic because I thought I was FtM (female-to-male transgender).
Back then, I didn’t think that I could be neither male nor female, of course. I didn’t know this was even a thing. But as I researched and dug deeper, I learnt there actually is such thing as ‘no gender’. Moreover, there was a thing such as ‘more than one gender’.
I was amazed. It finally felt right.
That is, at the age of 20 I’d finally realised I was just a human being and I was comfortable with it, unlike putting a label ‘male’ or ‘female’ on myself.
So, what’s the problem?
The thing is, a lot of people don’t even pay attention to those identities which do not represent either male or female gender at all. People think it just doesn’t make any sense or doesn’t even exist.
“You can’t be neither, you must choose one!” or “You make things so complicated!” they say.
I disagree. I must do whatever it takes to make me comfortable, not them. And assigning myself a specific gender is not gonna make me any more comfortable than telling my parents I’m pregnant (which I’m fortunately not).
You see, when you are a transgender man or woman, people can actually tell who you are. They see you either as a guy or as a girl, they build some mental picture of you, labelling you with some gender-based stereotypes. I’m not saying it’s good. On the contrary, I think we should shift our fixed mindset a little bit, give it more freedom. But that’s not the point (for now).
The point is, that people recognise you as your “chosen” gender (obviously, you don’t choose it, but you got me).
I have loads of transgender friends and as I’ve said earlier I’m pretty educated on the subject. I know it’s really hard to “pass” as your gender if you’re trans. But you can do it if you take some actual physical steps like getting top surgery or getting on hormones. (I might go deeper into all this problematic “passing” concept in other articles later)
But with being a non-binary, it doesn’t work this way. It just doesn’t. There are no actual steps you can take to make people recognise you as ‘no gender’. You are seen as either of two.
Whenever I want to wear a dress and makeup, I’m automatically perceived as a ‘female’. If I ever choose to take on some baggy shirt and ripped jeans with heavy boots, or even a suit and a tie, then, even if the person is intelligent enough and aware of trans-people, I’m being asked: “So, you want to be a guy now, then?”
NO. No, I don’t.
I don’t “want” to be any gender.
And this is a huge problem.
I got sick and tired of all these awkward moments when I’m walking into a cafe with my friend, showing no signs of ‘femininity’, making my order and hearing something like:
Ladies, the order will take 5 minutes.
“But there’s only one lady and it’s not me,” — I resent in my mind, but I just keep my mouth shut. How would it look if I said anything? “Oh, thanks, but I’m not a lady, you see, I’m just a human”? It would be pretty awkward, really. “She was just being friendly and polite, she didn’t know,” — I think afterwards, and carry on with by business.
Or these moments when I’m filling in the signup form on a website I really like, and I just got stuck at the “gender” field. Male or female? What if I’m none of these?
You might think that this is pathetic to whine about such unimportant little things. But these tiny little “unimportant” things get to me a lot.
Especially it gets to me because my parents are like this. I’ve talked to them a lot about my identity and loads of others out there. I’ve explained them countless times what I am and what I am not. Still, I get asked “Are you planning a sex change?” every f*****g time. Moreover, it is asked not in a curious, supporting way. It is asked as if I were mental or sick.
My mom actually tells me every time that she’s not gonna call me by my chosen name even if I change it legally (which I’m planning to do in the nearest months). She would see some sense in it if I told her I was a transgender man (because it would be awkward to call me by a feminine name at some point), but I’m not a man (nor am I a woman) so she wouldn’t even bother trying. To tell the truth, mom says that by choosing my identity I’m being disrespectful to them and their choice of the name/identity that they gave me. Such bullshit.
Still, I’m not complaining about the fact that my parents don’t support or don’t understand it. What bothers me, is that it’s really hard to explain that I neither “want” to be a girl nor a boy. I’m just none of these, I don’t feel it, I really don’t. I’m just a person, just human, and that’s what really matters.
It’s really sad to think that people try to put you and your actions in some sort of explainable, familiar terms. Even if they are pretty educated and intelligent, still most of them will see you as a male or a female. They might completely accept your trans-identity, but you still will be seen as ‘that guy’ and ‘that girl’ and it makes me sad.
What can you do about it?
You might think: “Well, what am I supposed to do, assume anyone is a fragile non-bloody-whatever flower?”
Well, not exactly.
First of all, I would suggest you try and stop assuming one’s gender based on how they look. Yes, there are plenty of people whose identity matches their appearance. However, there are loads of those whose identity differs from their look way more than you would expect it to. And by misgendering such people you might seriously harm them by reinforcing their dysphoria.
Secondly, if you’re not 100% sure of a person’s identity, just ask. Yep, it’s that simple. It’s worth nothing to you, but it could do wonders, really. You could actually use pronouns such as “they/them” as a starting point because it’s neutral and cannot harm anyone. Moreover, you will be perceived as an attentive and caring person.
And last, but not least, learn to listen and be open-minded. I cannot stress enough how important it is to just listen attentively to what you’ve been told or even asked. If a person asks you not to use that name/pronoun because it makes them uncomfortable, just don’t.
I don’t want to be perceived as ‘a girl’ when I look or act feminine.
I don’t want to be perceived as ‘a boy’ when I look or act masculine.
What I want is just to be me and not feel awkward about it.
If you’ve reached this far, please give me some feedback!
It’s my first time publishing an article online EVER, so I would be more than glad to hear your thoughts on the subject and on my writing as well. If you feel I might improve some particular things, please tell me, I would love to hear it and develop my writing skills.
Thanks a lot!
Lots of love,
Yan G. Logan