I am a genderqueer non-binary woman…
Not to start off on the wrong foot, but I’m terrified that everything I’m about to write is wrong.
— Audrey, staff writer at Autostraddle from What It Means To Call Ourselves Non-Binary: An Autostraddle Roundtable.
Audrey’s quote sums up just how I feel. The first rule of LGBTQ labels (or any labels, really) is that the only one who can identify you with a label is you (or not, if you so choose). So I want to make it clear that what I’m writing about are my opinions and experiences as they relate to finding a place and a label for myself in the world of gender.
First, a quick couple of words about gender identity and sexual orientation: not related. Okay, a few more words… gender identity and sexual orientation are not related. From the PFLAG Glossary: sexual orientation: Emotional, romantic, or sexual feelings toward other people; gender identity: One’s deeply held core sense of being a girl/woman, boy/man, some of both, or neither. One’s gender identity does not always correspond to biological sex.
And now, to expand on that definition… Gender is a spectrum, but not just a line between male and female where you pick your spot
somewhere between 1 and 10. It’s a spectrum with both an X and a Y axis (chromosome pun somewhat intended – sometimes the jokes just write themselves!). So, folks who don’t fully identify with the gender they were assigned at birth (which is based on external characteristics) fall someplace along this spectrum (or not on it at all for some people). This means you can identify as a man or a woman (regardless of your assigned birth gender) or neither, or some of each, or any combination of those things.
The range of label identifiers people use to describe their gender identity is almost as limitless as where you can fall on those X and Y axes: gender non-conforming, gender expansive, genderfluid, genderqueer, non-binary (aka NB or enby), demigirl, demiboy, and on and on, including combinations of those words. Language is ever-evolving and words for concepts that are relatively new in the public eye often crop up and then change faster than language normally does. So there’s no doubt in my mind that these labels will change, some will fall out of fashion, some will be co-opted by detractors, and new ones will emerge.
For our purposes here today, I will use the term “non-binary” to cover the range of these identities. But what makes someone identify as non-binary? Good question! I’m so glad you asked!
Have you ever felt like you just didn’t fit the category you were put in? “Boys line up over there! Girls over here!” “Ma’am, do you need help finding something?” “Women love shopping and makeup.” “Guys like beer, belching, and baseball.”
We have a lot of “shoulds” in our society when it comes to gender. And when you don’t feel like those shoulds fit you they way they seem to so easily fit others, you start to wonder if there’s something wrong with you.
Of course, there are about a gazillion valid ways to be a woman or be a man. But for me, discovering that I could express my gender feelings though these new-fangled terms “the kids” were coming up with (yes, old fogey Gen X-er here, get off my lawn!) felt like figuring out the memory of something long forgotten. It was similar to the experience I had reading Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. “Hey! I don’t have to feel like there’s something wrong with me! I really am different, and legitimately so. And there are people like me out there!”
Over the past few years, I have spent hours online Googling, reading Tumblr posts, and watching YouTube videos by non-binary folks (mostly in their 20s) talking about what they wear, how they identify, and what their gender journeys were like. I’m so grateful for their openness and the social norms that they are challenging and changing that have made their generation more vocal and visible regarding gender (and sexual) identity.
It has been empowering and validating to be able to opt in to a gender identity rather than only opting out. I like being able to describe myself as someone who is a non-binary/genderqueer woman rather than as woman who doesn’t act or dress like a “traditional” woman.
To close out, a couple more quotes that really resonate with me from Autostraddle’s roundtable article What It Means To Call Ourselves Non-Binary: An Autostraddle Roundtable: Cecelia – “For me personally, gender helps me match my inner feelings with an outer expression.” And from Alaina – “Even though it’s not perfect, being able to identify as non-binary has been freeing.”
How do you identify? What do you think of all these options for identity?
“Yes you can be non-binary AND a woman” Riley J. Dennis’ great YouTube video on being a non-binary woman.