I think its best if I open this essay by clarifying that this is my own, personal meaning & experience behind nonbinary. There are so many different kinds of nonbinary people in this world, and I do not speak for all of us. I speak for myself. Some of what I say will resonate with other nonbinary folks, and some will not. This is me. This is why I am asking you to use my preferred pronouns, and why I no longer wish to be called by the name you may have known me as my whole life. This essay is to clear up the confusion around the subject and to keep that confusion from continuing to be used as justification for disrespecting & ignoring my identity.
My audience is intended to be those who aren’t aware of what nonbinary is already, or who need some questions answered in order to be more respectful of their nonbinary friends, loved ones, and even enemies. Remember, it’s never ok to purposefully misgender people regardless of how much you like or dislike them. Today, I’m explaining what I am, who I am, and why it’s important that you respect my identity.
The ‘Elevator Pitch’: What is Nonbinary?
A non-binary person is someone who does not consistently identify with the binary “male” and “female” identities. This can include gender fluid, someone whose gender flows on a spectrum, some days they feel more feminine, and on other days they may feel more masculine. Some gender fluid folks will change their pronouns based on how they feel that day, and others may not. Another possible identity is agender. Agender implies that a person feels completely removed from the gender spectrum, and doesn’t want to be associated with the masculine or feminine ideals. There are several identities that fit under the nonbinary umbrella, and you can find a more comprehensive list here: https://nonbinary.wiki/wiki/List_of_nonbinary_identities. I just use the umbrella term ‘nonbinary’ or ‘enby’ for my identity, as none of the more specific terms completely line up with my personal identity. Not all nonbinary folks use ‘they/them’ pronouns like I do, some may use ze/zir or hir pronouns among many others.
My queerness and my identity are exemplified by my rejection of the cultural coding around gender. This involves the perception of what I must be, how I must dress, how my mind processes, what duties I must perform, what ambitions I’m allowed to keep, and overall the way I’m treated as a gendered being based on what type of organs my abdomen harbors.
Community perception impacts every aspect of life. Your community’s expectations of you greatly influence your actions, your ideas, and importantly your self-worth. Your treatment & acceptance hinges on your ability to fit inside of designated boxes & labels. I do not fit the expectations set for womanhood, nor do I fit the expectations set for manhood, and I refuse to allow these expectations to define who I am allowed to be. I remove the notion that my fertility has any role to play in my daily life or my lifelong decision making, along with the instituted ideals of that which is “feminine” or “ladylike” enough to fit into the hierarchy of our culture. I refuse to base my self-worth and identity into boxes I don’t fit in. I will choose how I dress based on my own desires, regardless of what is “femme” enough for the hole between my legs or “masc” enough to claim my preferred pronouns.
Biologically, we have sex differences in genitalia and hormones, but gender differences are merely coded within centuries of oppressive ideals built into how we as a society raise our boys & girls. One of my favorite quotes on this subject is from Voltairine de Cleyre — “ Little girls must not be tomboyish…Little boys are laughed at as effeminate… then when they grow up ‘Men don’t care for the home as women do!’ Why should they, when the deliberate effort of your life has been to crush that nature out of them. ‘Women can’t rough it like men!’ Train any animal, any plant, the way you train your girls, and they won’t be able to rough it either.” Instead, I believe we should allow our boys to nurturing. We should allow ur girls to play in the mud. And we should allow those who don’t fit in these lines to identify as such.
The F A Q
Why Change Your Name & Pronouns?
Your name and pronouns directly impact the immediate perception of those around you. I have multiple reasons for changing my name. My core reason being that “Andie” just feels more right with my identity. I have never been a generically ‘feminine’ person, my whole family will tell you that. No one has been surprised by my coming out. In elementary school, I cut my hair, told the whole school to call me Aiden and use he/him pronouns with me. The kids took to this immediately and saw no issue with it. It was the teachers & parents that lashed back and chastised me for wanting to be treated in a way that aligned with who I was. Within a couple of weeks, it became a requirement that I use my assigned pronouns, and anyone caught calling me “he/him” or “Aiden” would have to see the principal for a talk on why that was wrong. Even at the age of 10, my use as a sexual being in society was more important than my identity & how I want to be treated. I’ve always been uncomfortable with the implied femininity behind my name. The immediate assumption that since I have this feminine name then I must like pink, hate bugs & dirt, and will raise children one day among many other things is damaging to my process of identifying who I am, not who I’m supposed to be. When I say “I have no interest in having children” I receive culturally incited backlash of what I am destined to be just because I have the right organs for the job. I’m treated as if I’ve failed my sole duty to society, and am now sub-human or too unintelligent or young to make my own decisions. This is dehumanizing and disgusting.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say I want to abandon my femininity altogether, nor do I want to fully embrace all of masculinity, because I am not completely masculine. Neither ‘He’ nor ‘She’ properly fits my identity. I chose the pronoun ‘They’ because it’s an accessible, well known, gender-neutral pronoun that doesn’t revoke my identity.
But you still do ____, so you can’t be ____.
One of the comments someone made was “Well you do dress like a girl sometimes so how can you be ‘nonbinary’?” This observation merely upholds my claim as a gender neutral person. He was right, I do dress like a girl sometimes. I also dress like a boy sometimes. I wear whatever the heck I want rather than letting my wardrobe choices be based upon what gender society has deemed my clothing to be. Today I want to wear a suit, tomorrow I might want to wear a floral print silk! Why do you choose the clothes you do? Are your choices based on your own desires, or are they based on what society has decided you must present so everyone knows your role?
But the singular ‘they’ isn’t grammatically correct!
Actually, the etymologists say the word ‘they’ has been used as a singular pronoun since the early 1300s according to this dictionary(dot)com article (https://www.dictionary.com/e/they-is-a-singular-pronoun/). Shakespeare and Jane Austen are among the famous writers to have used ‘they’ as a singular pronoun. On top of that, language is a living breathing thing that changes over time based on the needs of the people speaking it. 20 years ago we didn’t have “shook” to describe our surprise, the word “vape” was meaningless until smokeless tobacco was popularized between 2004-2014, and “toxic” wasn’t used to describe dangerous or harmful people or communities until the mid-2000s. The word ‘they’ as a singular pronoun is absolutely necessary as an addition to our language. I can assure you, your issues with the grammar rules make you a lot less uncomfortable than being purposefully misgendered by the people who love you due to their unwillingness to change in a vibrant, dynamic world.
What do I do when I get it wrong?
Correct yourself, and move on. Don’t make a big show of apologizing. I know you didn’t grow up doing this, and I know it’s a transition. You don’t need to make a speech on how hard I’m making your life, or derail the conversation entirely just to make a point about my gender. Don’t insult your own intelligence by telling me you can’t learn new things anymore because you’re too old, too practiced, or too confused. We, as humans, are smarter than that. When you correct yourself and flow smoothly back into conversation, this is just as respectful as getting it right the first time, and I will not be upset.
Why is this Important?
Put simply, because you live in a world full of people who deserve to be respected. People who do not fit within the confines built by our cultural hierarchy deserve to be respected just like the people who do. The act of purposefully calling a trans person by their deadname or using the wrong pronouns is hateful. We are not trying to take anything from you, nor are we trying to chastise you for being cisgendered (someone who identifies with their assigned gender), we are just asking for your respect. We are asking that you try to accept us into your worldview as we are, rather than as you want us to be. All it takes is just a couple of changes to your vocabulary. If you can learn what a ‘selfie’ is, you can learn to say the word ‘they’.