The year is 2005. My hair is tied in a knot at the top of my head and covered by a hat. My parents won’t let me cut it off yet. Not until after my aunt’s wedding. I have to wear a pretty dress and tie pretty ribbons into my long hair for pretty photos of pretty girls. To keep their promise, they’ve set up a hair appointment for the week after the wedding. So for now, bun, hat, cargo shorts. At school, I’ve told the other kids to call me Aiden and to use ‘he’ when they refer to me. The girls are always mean to me, and the boys don’t want cooties, so I flipped sides. My best friend Gracie changed her name to Greg for a short while and gave me the courage to really try at this. I take the name Aiden from my favorite book series. Puberty isn’t hitting yet, which I’m thankful for. My body has no real signifiers of what I should or shouldn’t be aside from my hair. The boys instantly welcomed me into their group, they said they always saw me as one of theirs anyway. The girls continued to bully me but now I had the boys defending me, so it didn’t matter. I ask my father, “Are you sure I’m a girl? I don’t feel like a girl.”

“We had you checked, we’re sure.” He says.

Then, there were the teachers.

“A pretty young girl like you shouldn’t dress like that,” she says, legitimately concerned for my health and well being, “You can’t go changing your name, how would your parents feel after they slaved so hard picking yours?” She says, concerned for important family values. When this didn’t stop me, or the other boys from calling me by my new name and “him” I see the principal. When the boys defend me, they see the principal too. Towards the end of the year, I start giving up. The school I went to is closing, so the next year I’ll be going to a private Christian school. I tried to call myself something other than the name I was given there, but I’m foiled again when I’m recognized by a former classmate. I bury my pride. I grow my hair. I try to fit the girl box.

I am sick and tired of being guilted for being brave enough to be myself in a world that hates me for what I am. I bury myself in pink plaid, ribbons, bows, and other forms of camouflage for a few more years. 

The year is 2015. I’m fresh out of an abusive relationship with a man who convinced me to join a sorority. They call it the “Women’s Fraternity of Music” but they can fight me, it’s a damn sorority. When I was with him I wasn’t allowed to make friends. I’m bi so everyone is a target for cheating, clearly. He told me I should join this particular sorority because the girls there are nice and club activities don’t leave time for me to fuck them. Funnily enough, he got this idea from the girl who would end up being my ‘big sister’ when they slept together, while we were dating. Hah. But now, I have the freedom to make my own friends with people I actually like, and I’m trapped in this damn sorority surrounded by people who don’t like me. Which is fine, I don’t like most of them. There’s nothing wrong with them, I just don’t fit here. Maybe its because I wear a suit instead of a dress, which I’ve gotten in trouble for a few times. Maybe its because I show up late and sometimes high after hanging out with my new friends. Ones who like me. I don’t think I’ll ever know the real reason, but a year of silent brooding judgment placed upon my every word, step, move, and outfit led me to write a strongly worded resignation. It would also be the first time I would describe myself as something other than ‘woman’ since 5th grade.

Now, I don’t have a copy of the original letter I wrote anymore, it disappeared when my laptop crashed, but I do remember calling out the way people treated me when I wore a suit as my main reason for quitting. My main line was: “I don’t feel like I identify as a woman anymore, so I really shouldn’t be a part of a women’s fraternity.”

The room fills with silence. The circle we sit in, which moments before had been a shape with no beginning and no end, now comes down to a single point, me. Each stare, each “What the hell does that mean,” each whisper to a neighbor, each laugh, was for me. I make eye contact with my roommate, who is also in the sorority. She’s disappointed. I didn’t tell her I was doing this today, because I knew she’d talk me out of it. She’ll get her word in later. I need to be out of here. This place carries the weight of femininity that I simply cannot carry in this body. I remove the bow from my hair. I lay down my pearls. I walk out. As the door closes, I hear the room burst into laughter. I laugh too. Good riddance. I am sick and tired of being guilted for being brave enough to be myself in a world that hates me.

That night I go to the Stage & Screen dept.’s prom as the only girl in a suit. One guy danced with me, to be nice. I still don’t tell anyone else about my identity brewing inside me, in part because I don’t have a word for it. I don’t feel like a man, but I certainly don’t feel like a woman either. Nothing makes sense, and there is no box for me. I move forward for several years as the woman I know I’m not.

The year is 2018. One of my friends nicknamed me “Andie” on accident a couple years ago and I tested it out as a stage name for a while. I feel warmer when people call me this. Its still short for Alexandria, my full name, after the library. I’ve considered having people call me this instead, but it sounds difficult to change. When people ask me for my pronouns, I say “no preference. They/them, she/her, he/him. Its all the same to me.” It’s not, but I don’t want to be any trouble. I have a word for myself now, ‘nonbinary.’ I know a few people who use this word, I look up to them, I wish I had their courage. At this point, I’m also coming to realize I’m undeniably polyamorous. I don’t want to cheat on my partner, but every inch of matter under my skin says this isn’t right for me, just like how every atom burns when I’m called ‘she’ these days. In October this burn builds into bravery. I start by telling close friends and family members “It’s Andie now, don’t call me the other one ever again. And please don’t use ‘she’.” Some people accept it immediately and work hard to show me this respect. Some of my friends haven’t slipped up once. My parents try their best but don’t get it. They aren’t surprised, mind you, after the notes home from teachers my whole life, but they don’t get it. Some people are frustrated that they can’t just call me what they’ve always called me. Some people are great with the name but haven’t used my pronouns once. Some people chastise me for it. One person threatened to kill me for it. 

He was a stranger at a bar. He struck up a conversation. He worked at a recording studio that happened to have my deadname in its title, I decided not to comment on that. He kept saying he needed a female vocalist, and told me I’d be the right girl for the job, a pretty lady like me would look great on the cover, women just have better voices, you know? This was just a couple weeks after coming out, and my bravery was still powerful in my gut. I told him “Actually, I identify as nonbinary so I prefer non-gendered language to refer to me if that’s ok.” It wasn’t ok. His sister (who he was calling his brother) is trans, apparently, and she seems to think its ok to go in the women’s bathroom (it is). He thinks its unsafe for people like that to exist. Now, he says, there are some 30 fucking genders someone can call themselves. I’m sorry, but if you have a vagina you’re a girl. Tell me otherwise and I’ll fucking kill you, get what I’m saying?

I got his message and stormed outside. My phone was in my coat, which I had forgotten to grab on my way out the door. I huddled in a ball in the cold for the next half hour waiting on something to change. The band started. I went back inside. My coat was in a corner which he happened to be guarding. I don’t think he knew it was mine, but he was blocking my escape either way. Another guy I’d met that night asked me if I was ok. I explained the situation and asked him to get my coat for me. He did. The only person I knew in the building was in the band, so I was essentially alone, but I promised I’d be there for her show. Now at least I could run if I needed to. Later on, one of the security guys approached me and asked me to explain. The guy who’d brought me my coat had alerted them. The man was searched, and they found a gun on him. He was banned from the facility from there on out. After the threat was gone, he said to me “Don’t worry, we protect our women here.” 

“Thanks, but I’m gonna go home now.” I sighed because he clearly hadn’t paid attention to the part where I explained why the guy wanted me dead. I was emotionally exhausted, tired of explaining and re-explaining myself only to be disrespected again, and again, and again. I am sick and fucking tired of being guilted for being brave enough to be myself in a world that hates me for what I am.

The year is 2019, and this story might be about you. This story is about a lot of you. I’ve shown you my bravery by coming out of the closet for the 12th time this week, and you immediately slip up and call me ‘she.’ I do understand, yes, that accidents happen. Accidents are easy to fix. Say “Sorry, they” (or even just “they”) and finish your sentence. Simple. Clean. Easy. Respectful. Not what anyone ever does. No, instead the conversation is completely derailed into a cacophony rude apologies “Oh my god I am SO sorry. This is just so hard on me, you know. Its such a big, difficult change to make because your grammar is wrong and I just don’t call people ‘they’ its just so impersonal. This is just too hard to get used to, surely you understand.” And from there, we lose the focus of what we were talking about in the first place. You’re too busy explaining how difficult I am to respect. You’re too busy complaining about how hard it is to change a single word in your vocabulary. You’re too busy guilting me for my identity. I still love you, my friend, but please stop doing this. I probably walk away from you, to the bathroom, to someone else to talk to, I don’t want to hear it anymore. Now that we’re on the subject of my person, my body, my mind not fitting into the schema of what you find real and respectable you won’t change it. I make an excuse to leave. You are probably still thinking to yourself “I did so good, apologizing like that. I’m doing great at this respect thing.”

I don’t want my unrespectability to be the only topic of conversation I can have with anyone anymore. Do you understand why that pit lives in my stomach? Do you see now why that speech is exhausting for both of us? I am sick and fucking tired of being guilted for being brave enough to be myself in a world that hates me for what I am. I’ll say it again and again until you can hear it. 

I Am Sick
And Fucking Tired
Of Being Guilted
For Being Brave Enough
To Be Myself
In A World
That Hates Me
For What I Am

Can you hear me now?

I’m Nonbinary.

What I Am, Who I Am, and Why it’s Important.

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 Identity

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’.