35 votes

What's hard about being non-binary?

Previous topics in the series (which are still open should anyone want to add to them):

What's hard about being a man?
What's hard about being a woman?

This topic is for people who do not fit into the roles of "male" or "female": what is hard about being non-binary?

As before, please be mindful of the atmosphere of the post and the lived experiences of the individuals posting and try to keep things not only civil but welcoming to them. Furthermore, please be aware that majority voices can easily override a thread like this. As such, please make room for and elevate the voices of the non-binary people who choose to participate.

10 comments

  1. [3]
    Gaywallet
    (edited )
    Link
    Erasure is perhaps the most difficult part. As others have already stated, the idea that it's okay to simply misgender someone because you don't understand what non-binary is or that it's too...
    • Exemplary

    Erasure is perhaps the most difficult part. As others have already stated, the idea that it's okay to simply misgender someone because you don't understand what non-binary is or that it's too complicated is something we regularly deal with. Transgender individuals get a decent amount of erasure from extremists, same with other flavors of queer, but I feel like non-binary identities get a little bit extra. I mean, who else gets a section of other transgender individuals being phobic towards them? Some transgender individuals gatekeep being transgender because they struggle with their own identity and it can be easier to lash out than it is to introspect or accept others who in their perception are making their own lives a little bit harder.

    But it runs deeper than that, too. Gender nonconforming individuals, even when they are not transgender (think butch lesbian and femboy) experience a lot of bullying and phobia as well. Entering a women's bathroom when looking somewhat masculine is probably more likely to happen with someone who explicitly does not align with the gender binary, even if they have the same parts in their pants as the other patrons. A butch lesbian is way more likely to be called out for being in a women's bathroom than a femme-expressing transgender.

    China has started to pass laws to restrict feminine looking men. For example, they now censor earrings that men are wearing if they appear on television. This is a part of a plan to prevent the feminization of boys in response to recent trends. But this kind of behavior isn't new - young men who didn't participate in sports or were scrawny or spent time on their appearance were often bullied in different ways during my childhood and I regularly see way that gender is policed in my own social life. Telling a woman that they look exhausted because they aren't wearing makeup? Telling women to smile more? Commenting on the appearance of women but not men? Paying attention when a man speaks but a woman doesn't? People get confused on how to respond to people who sort of fit in one gender box, but don't in other ways. It becomes an easy target for anyone who is insecure in any aspects of their own gender or is looking to score social points.

    Another hard thing about being nonbinary is that we experience pronoun erasure in a unique way - in addition to being misgendered, people simply refuse to learn how to address us or complain about having to modify language to do so. Never mind the fact that she was a neopronoun in the 12th century. Never mind the modicum of words we all use today second nature like telling someone to google that, take a selfie, describe something as rad, cool, the bomb, fab, killer, dope, lit, gucci, fire, etc. People either have some level of cognitive dissonance or we do a fantastically terrible job at explaining how fluid language truly is and teaching acceptance of non-standard grammatical practice (as a side note I think the recent push on acceptance of AAVE, general globalization, an increased online presence of all walks of the world, and increasing questions of capitalism and wealth inequality have helped to chip away at this).

    As someone else pointed out, non-binary individuals are only just starting to get their own limelight in the public eye. We've had a few publicly notable people come out as transgender in recent times and I'm extremely happy for all of them, but very few of them identify as some sort of nonbinary transgender or align their identity with nonbinary terms. Because of this we don't have the same kind of support structure that binary transgender individuals do. I know plenty of allies who can help to explain what being transgender can entail (albeit many cliché ideas are still in the public eye, such as the idea of growing up always feeling wrong in one's body and rejecting dolls for toy trucks or vice versa) or can at the very least explain why it's important to gender correctly and never deadname, but very few have knowledge on how to treat nonbinary individuals or can do a decent job explaining what nonbinary is. While I happen to be a natural educator and privileged enough to have the mental capacity and faculty to respond and educate others, it absolutely can take a toll on my mental health at times and I can only imagine how someone else not as healthy or privileged as I am might feel with this extra burden thrown on their back in addition to whatever other oppression they receive based on their compilation of identities.

    In combination with nonbinary identities beginning to become present in the public eye, there's confusion over what falls under the nonbinary umbrella and some unfortunate mischaracterization of nonbinary individuals because there are such a wide array of us and only so much public space for us to occupy. This manifests in two problematic ways. First, the loudest, most obnoxious, or most problematic individuals often end up in the public eye. Sometimes this is accomplished through hyperbolic characterization of interactions such as an obnoxiously dressed individual for which it is difficult to tell which binary gender they belong to loudly interrupting someone and correcting them on using incorrect pronouns. But sometimes this is accomplished through the most purposefully extreme of us being cast into the public eye - a very large and loud bearded person in a floral dress living an eccentric life. While I believe this kind of mischaracterization is somewhat typical of how minorities end up in the public eye (such as blackface individuals and typecast black roles emerging in the early 1900s in Hollywood), there's an extra kind of erasure when we are displayed through a binary lens with no attention to nuance that exists outside of this binary.

    Second, the limited exposure to what can and does exist in the world as well as the dominant narrative of what it means to be transgender (I consider nonbinary to be a smaller umbrella beneath the transgender umbrella, although it is perfectly valid to not agree with this), means that finding resources and finding shared humanity is extra difficult. Part of the reason it took me so long to find an identity that truly felt correct for me is because what I was exposed to of what it meant to be transgender only very slightly resonated with my own feelings. It felt about as strong as when I hear someone's life story or a documentary on some kind of lifestyle or far-away place and resonate with a particular aspect of what's going on but still see many ways in which I diverge. Because of this I felt no more transgender binary than I felt not my birth gender and I wasn't really exposed to people who felt similarly. This struggle also continues into therapy and books on transgender or nonbinary individuals as it's incredibly difficult to find resources that examine the kind of questions I have - someone who feels strongly that they were born the wrong gender is not asking as many questions about what gender actually represents as I am. I don't want to identify as a woman or a man, but I do want to understand what makes a woman or a man and the only information I seem to be able to gather on this idea is entirely abstract and social in nature or extremist and meant to erase transgender identities entirely. If I have trouble explaining to someone what male and female mean outside of the context of the society I grew up in and the microcosms I find myself within, how can I possibly decide how much I want to borrow from the binary or how I want to challenge it? How can I find a therapist that will help me work through these questions when they are so focused on whether I want to transition and how to deal with my own perception of self as compared to how society treats me. I'm confused about what my perception of self is and understanding when I'm internalizing how society treats me versus what I feel about myself is like viewing pavement in the distance in the desert on a hot summer day.

    One final struggle I want to end on is the struggle of erased identities and the public perception of them. When I was younger I would never deny my own bisexuality, but I never really brought it out into public view without being prompted or asked about it. I did this because I felt like I had the ability to (and was often mistaken to) pass in public as a straight person. This was an adaptive mechanism to avoid people directly erasing my identity, but unfortunately often ends up with people indirectly erasing my identity by talking about others and asking why they can't 'make up their mind' or why they are 'more likely to cheat'. This is not just limited to straights erasing queers, many queers were biphobic because they perceived bisexual individuals as being able to pass and were angry at them for this perceived privilege. Some of the queers were also simply insecure and wouldn't date bisexual people because they can't 'compete' with the opposite gender (a bit of poly erasure here too). However, the actual studies on bisexual individuals are much more grim. Nearly all health problems that homosexual individuals suffer from show higher incidences among bisexual individuals. Social stigma against bisexual individuals is just as strong or stronger because the straight individuals who are homophobic consider them as homosexuals rather than straight individuals once they know and they get additional exclusion from the homosexual population because heterophobic individuals perceive them as straight once they know their identity. I feel like something similar sometimes happens to nonbinary individuals as soon as people start to understand that they don't identify with either binary. Because they don't neatly fit into male or female categories, it's easy to other us and direct the part of their own phobia at the side they are afraid of. If you don't identify as either male or female, someone can paint you as male or female to fit their own biases and this additional hate and fear can be especially exhausting. Who do I decide to come out to and to what extent when I know they have existing biases? When do I come to the defense of my male and female peers when they too are victims to sexism? The obvious answer is both because sexism towards any gender will negatively affect any and all nonbinary individuals because they are intrinsically perceived through the binary lens. But the problem is that I'm inviting this behavior to be done to me when I come to the defense of others because it's giving them the chance to perceive me as whatever gender or sex they have a problem with. I'm perceived as being stuck between a rock and a hard place, when the reality is that I don't recognize or understand the existence of either. I exist in another plane altogether, but lack the necessary tools to either explain this or even define it for myself. The tools I need to perceive this plane are incredibly hard to come by, because so few have found themselves here and the tools to critically examine it haven't been invented yet.

    26 votes
    1. kfwyre
      Link Parent
      Gaywallet, I want to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for this response. I've talked before about how you have the ability to shine the brightest of lights on a subject, illuminating it...
      • Exemplary

      Gaywallet, I want to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for this response. I've talked before about how you have the ability to shine the brightest of lights on a subject, illuminating it with clarity, for all to see. This post is another example of your talent, and it is particularly noteworthy for its striking clarity regarding just how unclear things can be. This sentence in particular is an image that has stuck with me ever since I first read it:

      I'm confused about what my perception of self is and understanding when I'm internalizing how society treats me versus what I feel about myself is like viewing pavement in the distance in the desert on a hot summer day.

      Just... wow. It leaves me speechless. And that's only one part. There is so much more here that is so rich in insight. You provide an honest, thoughtful, considered, lived perspective that we are very lucky to have here.

      You said that you exist in another plane altogether, but I want to let you know that I am very happy that plane intersects with ours. Our community is made much richer for having you in it. Thank you.

      6 votes
    2. bloup
      Link Parent
      I like what you have to say, but I wanted to address this: I don't really think your link suggests that. Sure, there is no record of the word "she", but that doesn't mean there wasn't a pronoun...

      I like what you have to say, but I wanted to address this:

      Never mind the fact that she was a neopronoun in the 12th century.

      I don't really think your link suggests that. Sure, there is no record of the word "she", but that doesn't mean there wasn't a pronoun for the feminine third person before "she". If you look up the etymology of "he", you will find that in Old English, there was only the third person pronoun "he-", which came in the following cases: "he" (masculine, survives today), "hio" (feminine, replaced by "she"), and "hit" (neuter, eventually became "it").

      Nobody can really say why "hio" fell out of use and was eventually replaced by "she", but it seems like a big leap to assume it was a "neopronoun" akin to what we see in the modern world.

      6 votes
  2. GreaterPorpoise
    (edited )
    Link
    Having to be the one to educate and explain my identity to others. I've been lucky to have close online/long-distance friends who are somewhat attuned to LGBT identities so I can come out and...
    • Exemplary

    Having to be the one to educate and explain my identity to others. I've been lucky to have close online/long-distance friends who are somewhat attuned to LGBT identities so I can come out and that's that.

    But in real life, being from and living in a conservative country, I have heard nonbinary identities mentioned exactly twice:

    • Local reddit forum where the commenter opined that all nonbinary people appeared to be privileged white women with too little [i.e. too few "real problems"] to worry about.
    • I was discussing Billions (tv show with explicitly nonbinary character who immediately explains their pronouns) with a new friend, the only other LGBTQ person I've ever met, who proceeded to deliberately misgender the character to "keep things simple", moments before I was planning to come out to her. The shock of the misgendering shook my confidence and she didn't hear me in the end.

    Gender identity here is a fringe hot topic, things are still not very open. We don't have any LGBTQ rights or openly activist movements. Being gay/lesbian is socially accepted in a your-business-is-your-own kind of way amongst younger people but it's still illegal (and transgender identities have it far worse, socially). With the older/religious majority, being gay is taboo to the point that politicians actually use sodomy accusations (with alleged video evidence...) to "take down" more liberal opponents.

    My point being, we're still some decades of progress behind more liberal countries. And I don't know if that kind of environment has lowered my expectations and led to my own gender identity being entirely "internal": I present as my assigned gender, I accept all pronouns (though nobody uses anything but she/her) and I'll cringe but identify as a woman in my paperwork.

    It's very very easy to just never come out and I constantly ask myself if I'm presenting as feminine most of the time because that actually suits me or because it gives me less to hide? If I accept all pronouns, does that stop me from being misgendered? (edit: this is pretty similar to what cfabbro said, actually)

    Anyway, I'm going to try coming out to my friend again at some point, this time loudly and explicitly. And I'm worried about how I'll explain being me, with reference to the nonbinary tv character she's been misgendering. I'm worried that she'll misgender me somehow... even though I do accept all pronouns and would ask to keep using she/her around others I'm not out to. I'm worried that she'll think I'm overcomplicating my life, instead of "keeping things simple". I'm worried that because I express my identity differently from the character, that she'll devalidate myself or the character. Or that she'll see us as the same and that the impression and explanation I give will influence her view of all nonbinary identities from here onwards.

    I might not be sure about my identity but I don't want other people to use my uncertainty against me and my journey, or against anybody else.

    So it's just hard to be the one who has to explain it, to be the first nonbinary person that some one meets. Not the worst problem to have, no, but it's my problem all the same.

    20 votes
  3. cfabbro
    (edited )
    Link
    The confusion. Not knowing if I am, or am not any one thing, several, or none. ;) No, but seriously. Most times I feel supremely ambivalent about my gender, and honestly don't care which pronouns...

    The confusion. Not knowing if I am, or am not any one thing, several, or none. ;)

    No, but seriously. Most times I feel supremely ambivalent about my gender, and honestly don't care which pronouns people use to refer to me. I recently spent a bunch of time exploring gender wiki and discovered the term "greygender" which I feel like describes me to a tee.

    Greygender (graygender): a person who identifies as (at least partially) outside the gender binary and has a strong natural ambivalence about their gender identity or gender expression. They feel they have a gender(s), as well as a natural inclination or desire to express it, but it’s weak and/or somewhat indeterminate/indefinable, or they don’t feel it most of the time, or they’re just not that invested in it. They’re not entirely without a gender or gender expression, but they’re not entirely “with” it either, so to speak. In summary, they know they have a gender(s), but either it’s indefinable or they are just not invested in the concept of gender.

    However, if there weren't any cultural / societal / family pressures preventing it (or I had more courage), I would likely experiment with my gender expression a lot more... So perhaps I merely feel greygender because of those suppressive elements, and not because it's how I really want to feel. Hence the confusion, and also why I rarely speak about any of this publicly.

    20 votes
  4. cardigan
    Link
    Gendered language is acutely painful. Hearing a male pronoun used in reference to me is the worst. And while "they" feels closer, it's not perfect. I'd much prefer to just hear my name and not...

    Gendered language is acutely painful. Hearing a male pronoun used in reference to me is the worst. And while "they" feels closer, it's not perfect. I'd much prefer to just hear my name and not have to think about it. I'm likely too overly sensitive, but I can't shake the hurt I feel when it happens. For a while, I thought about changing the way I dress just to try and hear "they" more frequently. But unless the person you're talking to has a habit of using nonbinary pronouns for everyone they encounter, it's a lost cause, and experimenting with a differently gendered look would just cause me to feel more dissociative than I already do.

    It's possible that I've misunderstood it this whole time, but I resent how "nonbinary" has become a kind of third category instead of describing a state outside categorization. It's like getting a special option for you on a personality test when what you object to is the idea that such a test could ever presume to describe you. In everyday life, it seems that most people think of "nonbinary" as being in some kind of middle ground between masculinity and femininity, but this is not the case for me. I use that word to describe myself because it's more common and sounds less clinical than "agender," but truthfully I don't feel like I'm in between those two poles, or even on the same spectrum. When I think about myself, it just doesn't occur to me. I don't feel masculine or feminine, or somewhere in that spectrum; I'm just myself, feeling more like a spirit, a ghost, or an angel. I only think about it when I'm forced to by others around me. And the feeling of that is like crashing down to earth.

    19 votes
  5. river
    Link
    I don't speak for anybody but myself. But I think one thing that is very hard is having the courage for any kind of gender-non-conforming expression and presentation. Sometimes I feel like I am...

    I don't speak for anybody but myself. But I think one thing that is very hard is having the courage for any kind of gender-non-conforming expression and presentation. Sometimes I feel like I am more bigoted than the people around me because of how afraid I am.

    11 votes
  6. reifyresonance
    (edited )
    Link
    Invalidation is hard. Maybe someday I'll work somewhere I can say I use they/them exclusively and people will do it with no hassle, but I'm not exactly planning on it. It's better to tell people...
    • Exemplary

    Invalidation is hard. Maybe someday I'll work somewhere I can say I use they/them exclusively and people will do it with no hassle, but I'm not exactly planning on it. It's better to tell people "she/her please" and have them do it than to ask for they/them and they mess it up or just use she/her anyway. This is a sort of learned self-invalidation. Also, whenever I say "she/they is fine, a mix of both would be good" nobody ever uses they/them. If I ever switch to using only they/them irl (which honestly I would, if things were different), I'd be misgendered just about every time I go out - I live in the south and sir/ma'am is a part of life.

    This is doubly hard on people who present as one of the binary genders. A common refrain is "nonbinary people don't owe you androgeny."

    Figuring the whole gender deal out is hard. It's not like they teach this in schools. The language and concepts are still developing, and you have to go seek out new perspectives to refine your own. It's like someone hid your keys, individually, all over the house. Here's a few non-immediately-obvious keys:

    • For some people, gender is influenced by the gender of people they spend time with. This is likely a spectrum. (Gender is in part a function of one's environment.)
    • There's such thing as a neutral, positive gender (contrast with agender).
    • Gender unfolds through time. It is a process.
    • For me, liminality is what links my gender and spirituality.
    • Gender and sexuality are related, and not just in that if you like guys and you're a guy, you're gay, but if you're a woman, you're straight. How you love is directly impacted by who you are, and vice versa.
    • Nounself neopronouns are a helpful way for some people to express their gender. (fae/faer, star/starself (generalize to any noun)) What does this mean for what gender is? (My answer: Art.)

    Going around figuring out all these little pieces that add up to... something is work. It's not fun anymore. I would just like an answer, please, so I can get on with it. Due to the nature of the question, though, I don't think I'm going to get one.

    There's no defined social nonbinary genders. We all know what a mom or a dad is like, but what's a nonbinary (forgive the umbrella) parent like? How many of them do you know? You've got to chart your own path, and can't fall back on ones worn into the social fabric over time, especially if you don't want to appear a "girl who is nonbinary."

    All the stuff that's hard about being trans, as well (for those that pursue some kind of physical or social transition) - gatekeeping hormones, appearing visibly queer, legal name and gender changes (oops, x isn't an option, you gotta be m or f), legal and preferred name not matching (just builds up in little ways - I have two CVS accounts 🙃), can't really go to straight bars (well, I could, but I'd really feel safer if I didn't have to worry about people presuming to know what's in my pants and then getting disappointed/angry when it's not what they thought), acceptance from parents and peers, allll the self-doubt and questioning, significantly reducing the dating pool (though good riddance to those it leaves out), increased risk of mental health problems, the list goes on.

    Conflicting gender feelings is weird. Like I don't want to shave my body for reasons of gender appearance balancing, and it feels good to do so, but I also don't like body hair. What do. Also as a sidenote, when are they dropping nonbinary genitals?

    There's good parts, too, namely the self-actualization aspect, but that's not what the question is asking ;P

    4 votes
  7. [2]
    JXM
    Link
    Reading this comments has been very informative and interesting. If I may ask some of the non-binary people here: I have several non-binary friends and a few that haven't fully "come out" yet but...

    Reading this comments has been very informative and interesting.

    If I may ask some of the non-binary people here: I have several non-binary friends and a few that haven't fully "come out" yet but I'm curious what our friend group can do to make them feel welcome and safe? I'm not talking about me as an individual, but our friend group as a whole. Is there anything that you all have experienced that was helpful or not helpful?

    (If this is too off topic, mods can feel free to remove it)

    7 votes
    1. Gaywallet
      Link Parent
      Mostly, showing inclusivity or incorporating inclusive language. Avoiding or correcting gendered language can be one way to accomplish this - switching to 'y'all' instead of 'guys', for example....

      Mostly, showing inclusivity or incorporating inclusive language. Avoiding or correcting gendered language can be one way to accomplish this - switching to 'y'all' instead of 'guys', for example. When introducing yourself to others, you can say what your pronouns are but I would caution against asking others their pronouns as if they are not out yet or not comfortable with being out this can put them on the spot and force them to either lie or out themselves.

      I would also suggest having a discussion 1:1 to these non-binary individuals and asking them what you can do to help. It's especially complicated when they are not fully out yet - they may not want you to make their pronouns public yet (or may not have even chosen pronouns), but you can absolutely be the person to talk about when things are gendered or challenge assumptions based on gender or gender bigoted or reinforced notions. What bothers them, however, is a personal thing and can only be theorized until you actually have that discussion with them.

      6 votes