Gender? I hardly know ‘er!
By: Fran O’Donnell, Contributor
A few months ago I came out as nonbinary, changed my name and started using they/them pronouns. Let’s talk about it. This piece is fragmented and confusing and deliberately so, because boy, oh boy, gender is confusing.
I came out as bisexual many, many years ago and I (mostly, kind of) have my sexuality figured out. It never occurred to me to question my gender. I’ve always been most comfortable when I looked gender-nonconforming, but I just didn’t think about it too much. My discomfort with my body was probably just unrelated, right?
It’s completely normal to want to hide your body away under a mountain of oversized sweaters. It’s absolutely normal to feel uncomfortable seeing your body. It’s perfectly normal to feel like the person you see in the mirror isn’t really you. To feel like your body isn’t yours.
Image description of a meme I used to have saved on my phone that I can’t find anywhere: A brave warrior has just defeated their foe. The warrior is labelled “Me” and their vanquished foe is “Finally figuring out my sexuality.” But then, behind the warrior, there is an ominous, looming figure labelled “My gender identity”.
Coming out as nonbinary, for me, was a bit like wearing really tight, uncomfortable clothes. You don’t really notice how uncomfortable you were until you take them off. Like “wow, I can breathe again! I didn’t realize I’d stopped breathing”. And once you’ve taken them off, you realize that these clothes haven’t fit you for a long time or maybe they never fit you at all.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s talk a bit about what nonbinary means. A binary is made up of two parts. In this case, male and female. We live in a very binary society, with everything divided up into two. You’re a man or you’re a woman.
If you’ve ever worked in retail, you’ll know that you have to address everyone as ma’am, miss or sir, depending on your judgment of how they look. But what happens when someone doesn’t quite fit into one of these categories?
Nonbinary is an umbrella term that covers a variety of identities and experiences. Some folks switch between masculine and feminine depending on the day, some are both and others prefer to be funky little cryptids that mere mortals cannot identify.
Gender is an intensely personal experience and it varies from person to person. We’re all having gender trouble. For me, I’m most at home outside of the gender binary and I don’t want to be perceived as male or female. So I’m not binary.
When I first came out as nonbinary, I wanted to dress as androgynously as possible. I wanted everyone that saw me to immediately know that I was nonbinary. I had a vague vision of “nonbinary” in my head and I wanted to match it. Should I cut my hair? Should I throw out all the skirts I love so much?
I didn’t do that. First, I really like skirts. They’re so comfortable and they make me feel like a forest fairy. Second, this was just another box that I was needlessly forcing myself into. Kind of the opposite of what I wanted, you know? There’s no one “right” way to be nonbinary. Gender is a spectrum, not a paint-by-numbers.
Why am I writing this now? Because I wish I’d read something like this when I was younger. Seeing myself represented and being understood is the most important thing in the world to me. So if like me, you’re questioning your gender, I just want to let you know that it’s okay. Not only is it okay, it’s rad as heck and I’m super happy for you!
As Abigail Thorn said, “I look inside myself and ask: “Do I feel like a man, or a woman?” And the answer is . . . I feel happy.”
Here are just a few of the resources that helped me out, and I hope they’ll help you out too:
- The Nonbinary Wiki
- Life Outside the Binary
- The Coming Out Handbook from The Trevor Project
- Being Seen, a video about being trans & non-binary by Curio
- How to know if you’re Non Binary by CopsHateMoe
- Identity: A Trans Coming Out Story by Abigail Thorn, Philosophy Tube