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Got a few questions about what it means to be NonBinary?
Glad you are here.
Let's start with the basics.
I identify as NonBinary Transgender. That's a lot of words, so let's take it apart.
Whoah. Transgender? What?
Simply put, if someone is transgender, then the sex they were assigned at birth does not align with the gender that they are. Even if you are familiar with the term transgender, here is a page with a little more info because that one sentence answer I gave is really short and maybe there will be something new in there for you!
Wait. I'm confused. Whats the difference between gender and sex?
Here is a Ted Talk on Gender, Sex, Sexuality and Gender Expression that really gets into the basics of gender and what it is. I'm going to waaaaaaay oversimplify here but, basically your sex was (probably) assigned to you at birth as Male, Female, or Intersex, based on the physical appearance of your genitalia. Gender expression is how we present ourselves to the world, like how we dress, act and talk, etc. Sexuality is who we are attracted to and have "sex" with. And Gender (gender identity) is your own feeling and perception of yourself. For more info on LGBTQ terminology in general- go check out this free ebook from Sam Killerman.
What does Nonbinary mean?
The word "binary" means "involving two things". In this case those two things are "male" and "female" gender. Thats the gender binary. People who are nonbinary do not identify as exclusively male or exclusively female. That can mean a lot of different things. That can mean they identify as male AND female, as neither, or as a little of both.... This is a big (and controversial) topic and deserves a whole page to itself. Here's a page with a little more info, and then a little more here, and here. For ME (and I'm just one person- I can not speak for all nonbinary people)- I'll say this -I know I'm not female. I know it in my bones. It feels bad, like punch-in-the-stomach-bad, when people see me as a woman, or label me as a woman, whether its calling me "ma'am" or "miss" or "she" or "lady" (shudder). It's never felt right, ever, ever, in my whole life- I didn't know why, and I always chalked it up to something else, but now I know. And...Although I don't identify as a man either, I do prefer to be viewed and recognized as male.... I wear men's clothes, and I lean toward a male presentation whenever possible. (But remember- gender expression is NOT the same as gender!)
So why "Transgender Nonbinary"? I'm still confused.
Wearing men's clothing doesn't make me non-binary, or transgender. What makes me transgender is that the gender I actually am (which is no gender or mayyyyybe male) does not match the sex I was assigned at birth (thats called gender dysphoria) and when I look at my body it doesn't seem "right" (body dysphoria). What makes me nonbinary is that I am not male or female. Dysphoria is a complicated thing to explain to someone that has never experienced it. This is NOT like feeling like your thighs are too thick. That's something else. I know that feeling. That's uncomfortable and yucky and I get it. This is something else. It's CRIPPLING. It will bring you to tears. It's a knowing that your body will betray you as soon as you walk out the door because this part or that part will expose you to everyone as a female/male. Its not like- "oh I want big man muscles" or "oh my hips are too wide" (because some men don't have big muscles, and some men have wide hips...) , it's more like- "why don't my shoulders look like they are supposed to look?"... "Why does my chest look like a girl chest?" ... "Why do I see a girl look back at me in the mirror?"... "Why won't my voice sound like it's supposed to sound!" ...Thats dysphoria. I feel male (mostly), but when I look, I see a female look back at me. That's dysphoria. That mismatch is what makes someone transgender. It doesn't have anything to do with what clothes I wear- it's about how I feel.
You really don't/do look like a "they"...
OK. First, no one is a "they". Even if they use alternative pronouns, thats not how you say it:) Some people say enby, or non-binary person. Or GenderNonConforming (but that to me implies it is just about presentation so I don't really use it for myself). Some people say agender (as in no gender) or gender neutrois. Nonbinary works for me, because I feel like the male-female binary has no place for me in it.
And also- non-binary isn't a "look". Androgyny is a look, but thats gender expression, not gender identity. The way I dress doesn't really have anything to do with my gender; Gender and gender expression are two different things. Just like a man wearing lipstick is not any less of a man, a non-binary person does not have to look androgynous. I just happen to LIKE to look male. That doesn't make me nonbinary. It just makes me someone who likes "man" clothes (cuz duh they're like a bazillion times more comfortable and they have actual pockets and a million other reasons but most importantly... I just like the way I look in them!)
So you must be pansexual/bisexual etc etc?
The people I have had sex with in my life, or am attracted to (since now I only have sex with one person as I am in a monogamous relationship) doesn't have anything to do with my gender. I was floored the first time I was asked this. And then I was asked AGAIN, and again. And Again. Gender and sexual orientation are two different things. Just like you can not look at a man (cis or trans) and assume that he's gay - you can not assume the sexual orientation of a nonbinary or trans* person. The two things have nothing to do with one another.
What does it mean to use "They/Them" pronouns?
Many (not all) people who are nonbinary feel that gendered pronouns ("he" and "she") don't accurately match who we are, so we use alternative pronouns, like the singular "they" (thats what I use), or "ze", "hir", "sie", or others. This means whenever you would use "she", you replace it with "they".
For example: "I love Alex. They teach the best Hiit class in Seattle. They are so awesome. What a badass they are. Damn, their classes are just so great." (I'm writing the examples so I can write whatever I want.).
Lets get specific: This is how it works-
(she/he/they ) "She went to the store." becomes "They went to the store"
(her/him/them) "I went with her." becomes "I went with them."
(hers/his/theirs) "The key is hers." becomes "The key is theirs."
(her/his/their) "This is her room." becomes "This is their room."
(herself/himself/ themself) "She designed this herself." becomes "They designed this themself"
For verb agreement, you treat it exactly like the plural "they". So, for example, you DON"T say "They is here". That sounds wrong and it IS wrong. You can think about this in the same way we use the singular "You". We conjugate this like a plural too. We say "you are", when talking to one person or a group. We never say "you is". Same thing.
Wait, but "they" for a single person isn't grammatically correct.
Yes, it is. Your English teacher probably taught you this in 3rd grade but maybe they didn't make it clear (see what I did there?). It has been in the English language as a singular pronoun since the 1300's. We use it to refer to people whose gender we don't know (just like, wait for it... ME!) For example, "Someone left their water bottle in the studio this morning. Maybe they will come back this afternoon to pick it up." We don't know who that person is, and whether they are male or female or non-binary, so we say "they".
And here's the kicker- even if it were not grammatically correct, we should probably value people over grammar anyway. I will make that choice every time. I choose to lead with my heart, as cheesy as that sounds, and my heart says- love people, treat them with respect.
What about Miss/Mrs/Mr?
It's "Mx" please, and it's pronounced "mix". As in "Mx and Mr Rosenblum". How neat is that?!? Good job, whoever thought of that. "Blady" is used A LOT in my house instead of lady. As in "boy-lady"... and my husband calls me "sir" or "young man".... I'm sure other people do this differently. And maybe people would be offended by "blady", but it works for us. And my little nieces and nephews call me "Auntle Alex" (like "aunt" plus "uncle") which I think is the cutest thing I've ever heard in my life, ever.
What do your kids call you?
I get asked this ALL THE TIME. I think this is the number one most asked question. My kids call me "mom", as a name. It's the only gendered term we've kept. BUT- they call me their parent when referring to me to other people, and I call myself their parent. I never use the word "mom", and I ask other people not to as well. Only my kids get to use it, because they get kid-privilege:) Maybe this will change one day but for now we still use it.
That's great that you've figured out who you are. But since YOU know what your gender is, why do you care what other people think? Why tell anyone? Why do other people have to change their language for you?
Well, first- they don't. Nobody HAS to do anything. We don't have to be polite. We CHOOSE to be polite. We choose to behave and interact in ways that treat other people with respect. And second, it's about validity. If you are a man, but everywhere you go, people refer to you as "she" and "her" , and every time you buy something the clerk says "thank you, ma'am", and you get directed to the women's clothing section instead of the men's, and you get weird looks when you try to go into the men's section, and aren't even ALLOWED to go into the men's locker room to change clothes at all.... well. It wouldn't matter if YOU KNEW you were a man. That wouldn't be enough. Because at the end of the day, it matters what other people think of us; it matters how the world perceives us. We want and need and DESERVE to be seen and validated by others.
I'm still confused about why I should change my language for someone else.
Ultimately it's about respect. Know that nonbinary/ transgender/GNC (gender non-conforming) people get misgendered ALL THE TIME. All day long. And it adds up- It feels bad. Every time someone gets my pronoun right I feel like I'm HOME. I feel seen. I feel like they actually SEE ME. Why wouldn't you want someone to feel that way?
This page has some great videos on the importance of using the correct pronouns, here's a page with some good questions and answers, and this one has great and simple ways to make your language generally more inclusive (yessssss!)
Ok, fine. I'm just not going to use any pronouns for you at all. I will only refer to you by your name.
Thank you, first, for not using the "wrong" pronouns. And second, from my experience, you will, actually, use pronouns, you just won't notice it. We use pronouns all the time. We can't help it. And if you haven't spent a gazillion hours thinking about gender and language then you probably won't notice it. But the people that you accidentally misgender will notice it... So, I would encourage you to just give the alternative pronouns a try. Just try. Practicing really does help, I promise! Think about our pets- we use gendered pronouns for them even though they don't "look like a girl/boy" and we get it right- we have to memorize that! Languages are living things that are changing all the time. We can change with them.
I'm worried I will have trouble with learning and remembering a new pronoun! It seems hard!
Thats fair! It is hard. Thanks so much already for trying.
Here are some tips that have worked for me, my family, and my friends-
1) Remember that you already DO use "they" to refer to singular people. For example- "Who parked their car in front of my driveway???" This is a real life example by the way. Why do people not see my driveway?! Anyway...."They" as a singular pronoun is already in your vocabulary!
2) Practice, practice, practice. When I realized how many assumptions I was making about people I didn't know (by using pronouns and gendered language), I began to make myself use "they" for everyone. Seriously. It sounds a little over the top, but it's a good exercise to make you think about how much gender plays a role in our language. And language impacts our thoughts. So, if I don't know someone well, I use "they" for them. For a new student in the gym: "You can put your step down next to their step right there". For the barista at the coffee shop: "They said this was vegan, can you double check for me?"..... I do this in general conversation now ALL the time. At first I was self-conscious and I was worried everyone would think it was weird, or call me out on it, but guess what- NO ONE NOTICES. Because it's totally a part of English already.
3) My youngest daughter -who is the fastest to correct people, NEVER makes mistakes, and was the first to really master the pronoun change in the house- said the way she "got it" was to simply imagine that I was wearing a shirt that said "they" on it. SO every time she saw me she would also "see" the shirt. And it just stuck. And I swear that child has never made a mistake. Everyone else, but not her. Ever. She also very early on made the comment to me that when she started to use the different pronoun it changed the way she thought about me- she could really tell the impact language had on her thoughts ... and remember, she was 11 years old. She could see the power and importance of language, and she was 11.
4) A friend of mine said she thinks of me being non-binary as if I have a man AND a woman inside of me, and so it's like actually I am two people, and so "they", which is plural, works for her just fine.
5) Keep it light. Make it into a game. See who can correct each-other the fastest (in a fun, not mean, way). Have a friend who always will correct you if you get it wrong, and vice-versa. My spouse has a friend at work and they always catch each-other if they slip up- they keep eachother honest and its a great way to practice. It makes me feel super respected and validated. Also, once, with friends in Italy, we made it into a drinking game (I don't drink so I was always the winner!) The point is just to find light, fun ways to practice and make it a part of your everyday language.
*And finally- Don't worry if you make mistakes. Just apologize and keep going. It's hard to change our habits. And language habits run deep and we often talk before we think (although thats yet another reason to work on it maybe?) ...Check here for some ideas for what to do if and when you DO make a mistake.
Ok. I'll try to do it for you when I'm with you... but...it doesn't matter what I do when you're not around though... right?
I'm taking my answer from an amazing website that everyone should read- TransEtiquette101- " Call everyone by their preferred name/s and pronoun/s. Use language and behavior that is appropriate to their gender self-identification. Do this for everyone, all the time, no matter how much you think they deviate from what a “real man” or “real woman” should be. " Do this always (Because really, don't you want your interactions with people to leave them feeling better), but especially when the person is not around.
If you don't (try to) use the correct pronoun when the person is not around, then you're 1) just reinforcing the wrong thing which will only make it harder and harder to change your language, and 2) actively misgendering that person. Seriously. Think about it. Imagine if someone you cared about (or didn't) sat at home and every time they talked about you they referred to you as "he" (if you use "she"). It's weird right? Like, why would someone do that??
I understand that some people think "nonbinary" isn't real. I get it. I understand how something that YOU don't feel yourself doesn't feel real. I've spent hours (literally hours and hours) talking about this. Its actually why I think everyone in the world is bisexual- because I literally can't imagine what it would feel like to be straight (...I'm kidding.... um, kinda...). But, especially something as deeply inherently intrinsic to WHO WE ARE as gender. I get it, I really really do. But that doesn't mean it isn't real. It just means its not your experience. Things just aren't as simple as A and B. There are over 7 billion people in the world- the idea that we would all fit into two categories of anything is a little crazy.
If you are cisgender (meaning the sex you were assigned at birth matches the gender you feel that you are), then chances are maybe you haven't spent a ton of time thinking about your gender. But trans* people think about it allthetime, ALLTHE TIME. Constantly. In every interaction, with every choice, they think about it. Our culture has gender so deeplyingrained into it that we don't even notice it. So even if you don't understand it, even if the terms "nonbinary", or "agender", or "gender-fluid" sound like nonsense because YOU can't imagine what that would feel like- You can STILL be respectful. I don't understand anything about how the Japanese government works but I still respect it. Just because things are different from our personal life experience doesn't mean they are wrong or any less REAL. ... Any person who comes out to you as transgender or non-binary (sometimes people, like me, identify as both) is guaranteed to have spent a WHOLE LOT of time thinking about their gender. Treat their decision to share it with you with respect... because everyone deserves respect. Kindness is free. The more you practice this (pronouns AND kindness), the better you'll be at it, and the next time you meet someone who uses alternative pronouns you'll already be ahead of the game.
Are you going to transition/take testosterone/have "the surgery*"?
Some nonbinary people choose to transition in medical ways and some do not. It's important to understand that gender transition doesn't happen with one operation so please don't ask if we've had or are having "the surgery*". There are many ways of transitioning, medical and surgical, and all of them are incredibly personal choices. To be honest I was really open about my choices at the beginning and quickly realized that I had to defend so much about what it meant to be transgender, about hormones, about myself, about my family, about medicine and safety and just so many other things that it became incredibly overwhelming and really really difficult. That was the end of that.
If you are close to someone, and you really want to know something, just be their friend. Be there for them. If they need to open up, they will. If someone IS transitioning in ANY way, I guarantee that even though it is really exciting and positive, it is also really overwhelming and stressful and scary! And LONELY. Because it is ultimately something you do on your own- and the world is not always so kind to transgender people. Having a friend to just listen, without judgement, is priceless. There aren't that many people who just listen. Be THAT person. If you trust the person then you know that they are doing what is best for themself. Don't say "But is it safe?" If you trust them, you know they wouldn't do anything that wasn't safe. Don't say "Maybe you should wait". They've probably been waiting a really long time already, and have probably had to jump through a million hoops for doctors, and maybe family, work or money. Don't say " Are you sure?" Because, yes, they are sure. I promise, no one goes these transitions if they aren't sure.
*If, god forbid, you are asking about "the surgery" because you are curious about someone's genitalia- don't. Just don't. Seriously. Unless you are a doctor or a sexual partner, there is really no reason AT ALL for you to need to know this. This type of question reduces trans people to our genitalia and reduces gender to genitalia and is also just super creepy, intrusive, and weird. I'm sure you think it's a harmless curious question- It's not. Its really private (come on- its genitalia!!!!) and you are not the first or last person to ask. Just don't.
But you look like a girl (or boy) at work!
Again from TransEtiquette101- "Do not assume that just because you know us in one way, that we are able to, or choose to, live that way in every other part of our lives. Some of us express our gender in different ways in different parts of our lives. For example, we may not be able to find work as the gender we truly are. Or we may only find peace by living some of the time in a more masculine gender and some of the time as more feminine." TO "PASS" *(i e , be read as, or look like) a man, which is my preference, I have to flatten my "female" chest. This is done by wearing what is called a "Binder". This is exactly what it sounds like; it binds my female chest, and it is not safe or healthy to wear at work and would be dangerous for me (to my ribs, my ability to breathe, and to my ability to sweat properly) to wear one while working out (yoga and group fitness both count as working out, sorry yoga gods). The fitness industry expects form-fitting clothes that show off the body, which, combined with my female body parts, make it hard for me to present as male at work. Even when I wear male clothes to work, my body "gives me away". It is one thing for me to walk into a restaurant in a suit and look like a man (ok...really a 14 year old boy, lets be honest), but at work I can not hide my female body. It's physically dangerous. So, please, pause before you judge, or make any assumptions about transgender people. And this is just my situation. There are a million other scenarios and reasons - family, cost, etc etc etc.. why trans* people might present in a variety of ways.
And remember- as I've repeated over and over, gender expression and gender are not the same. The way you dress isn't your gender. Looking androgynous doesn't make someone nonbinary, and nonbinary people don't have to look androgynous. I could go into a HUGE rant about this, but I won't:( (shoot, maybe I already did?) No one, NO ONE, owes it to anyone to look or dress a certain way. People can and should present themselves in whatever way they feel most comfortable and confident.
Also.... it would be weird if I didn't note that it is much "easier" for me to go in public wearing men's clothes then it is for someone who is AMAB to go in public wearing women's clothes. There is real privilege here that is important to talk about. I'm white. I'm able bodied. I'm (relatively) thin. All of this makes it MUCH easier for me to go through this than, for example, a black transwoman. Our society values men differently than women, values thin, white, able-bodies more than just about everything else, and that needs to be addressed and fixed by all of us, but ESPECIALLY it needs to be adressed and fixed by those of us who are benefitting from it- like those of us who are male, white, thin, and able-bodied....
Anyway... Just because your sex or gender is something, does not mean you have to express anything specific to the world. We all take it for granted that of course women don't have to wear dresses (duh). But just like that much is true- Non-binary folks don't need to look androgynous and trans*men don't need beards; It's just not how it works. That being said... I would ROCK this beard. Ugh. Literally my stomach hurts I want it so bad...
But I refer to you as a "she" and you've never corrected me!
Quoting Transtorah again- "For myself, even though I hate being called “she,” if someone refers to me that way, I might or might not correct them depending on many variables: whether I’m going to have to see them again, how confident I feel, who I’m with, how much backup I have, etc. " I have said this quote almost word for word. Sometimes correcting someone who doesn't know means I have to out myself to them AND the 5 other people standing around. And that means finding out just how OK those people are with transgender people, with non-binary people, and with gender neutral pronouns. And sometimes it means doing this at work- which is incredibly intimidating. And potentially dangerous. But I DO want people to know me, and to use the correct pronoun for me. I also want to keep it light and not annoy people. I don't mind correcting people, and I absolutely don't mind mistakes, but there's a difference between people who I correct every once in a while because they slip up, and people who "know" but NEVER get it right. That type of correction is really hard, especially when they use the wrong pronoun over and over. I honestly don't know the right way to correct people sometimes, so then I just stop doing it, because I don't want to make THEM uncomfortable, and then I just leave feeling beat up and deflated.
If I am in a space where correction is appropriate and safe, I am so grateful when my spouse or kids jump in with a correction- it takes the weight off of me and puts me in a less vulnerable position. If you know the pronoun(s) someone uses publicly, you can ask them privately if they are ok with you correcting other people if you overhear mistakes. I know I, personally, would LOVE to have someone else on my side.
And remember, not all people are out with their pronouns/gender in all parts of their life (for lots of reasons), so make sure to get their OK first!
Also, know, if you are reading this-
Thank you. Really.
And, you have my permission and my wish that you
a) use my correct pronoun/gender in ANY and ALL spaces and
b) correct anyone who does not use the correct pronoun for me,
if it feels safe to you to do so.
REMEMBER, always, OM MANI PADME HUM...Compassion and Wisdom....
Lead with your heart, always seek to learn. and you will probably end up in the right place.