Even within the LGBTQIA community, non-binary issues are largely misunderstood, or ignored altogether.
“There were days I felt like a girl and days I felt like a boy, and those days wouldn’t always correspond with the body I was in. I still believed everyone when they said I had to be one or the other. Nobody was telling me a different story, and I was too young to think for myself. I had yet to learn that when it came to gender, I was both and neither.”
These are the words from the novel “Everyday”, by author David Levithan, which tells the story of a main character named A, whose soul journeys into the bodies of other people, taking all shapes and forms, leading to a path of self discovery.
Although the novel isn’t a centerpiece on gender identity, it depicts compelling details of what it’s like to navigate gender fluidity.
As transgender and/or gender nonconforming people (TGNC) our identities are often overlooked and erased. From the Trump administration’s continued stripping of policies to protect the TGNC community, to living in a cisgender heterosexual society which largely does not center or make our voices heard enough.
Many TGNC people experience gender dysphoria, a feeling of disconnect between one’s gender identity and their bodies. And although gender dysphoria is not something we all deal with, the pull is strong enough to leave most of us feeling our bodies are not valid, which is conjugated with the way society demonizes our sense of self.
For those of us who identify as non-binary, there is a striking lack of awareness surrounding the issues we face. Even within the LGBTQIA community, non-binary issues are largely misunderstood, or ignored altogether.
According to a study in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, genderqueer and non-binary individuals are more likely to suffer physical assault (32% vs 25%), experience police brutality and harassment (31% vs 21%) and opt out of medical treatment due to discrimination (36% vs 27%) compared to transgender people who identify within the gender binary (i.e. trans men and trans women).
The study also found that non-binary people of color were more likely to fall victim to these forms of discrimination (30% vs 23%) beginning younger (under 45) than binary transgender people (89% vs 68%).
With all of the haunting statistics that transgender and gender nonconforming people have to face everyday, I believe visibility for the trans community should be more uplifting in an attempt to foster inspiration, encouragement and hope for a better future.
In an attempt to spread more awareness around non-binary people’s experiences, Wear Your Voice interviewed five non-binary people on their favorite parts of their transition, the parts of their identities that feels the most affirming, and that parts of their identities that show cishetero society that they will not be erased nor limited by the binarasitic standards gender nonconforming people are far too often, pressured to fit into.
Eliza, 26, She/They
Something I realized early on was that no matter what gender I’d been assigned at birth, I would still be seeking to modify my body, and to break out of what society expected of people with bodies like mine.
Androgyny doesn’t have to mean a 50/50 split of boy/girl, it can be floral/earthy, muscular/curvaceous, vibrant/minimalist. You don’t have to transition to a known destination, and the thing that has brought me the most euphoria is when I feel that tension and balance between energies I’m way past seeing as masculine or feminine.
Dysphoria made me hate my body because of the limitations that I thought it placed on my gender, but modifying it has taught me to love where I started almost as much as I love where I am now.
Max, 18, They/Them
I’m agender. This means that I’m genderless. I’m not a girl, I’m not a boy, I’m nothing. This is something that I know about myself. What I don’t see a lot of nonbinary people
talking about is the difficulty finding comfort in your physical existence as a person existing outside of the binary.
As I am genderless, I am uncomfortable with being referred to with a lot of gendered terms, unless I’m on good terms with you. This can be easily remedied with people using genderless terms and my pronouns, but the discomfort I have with my body isn’t quite as easily fixed.
A lot of the discomfort I have stems from the western ideas of sex and gender, which are often conflated as one and the same. This causes a lot of issues, because as a person who does not fit within either binary, how am I supposed to physically exist? Do I just become an androgynous ken doll, with no determining features?
As a non binary trans person, I must consider what would make me happiest, outside of how people will view me. I personally do not want to physically transition – occasionally I will bind my chest for comfort, but this is rare. I know that I would not be any happier if I were to, for instance, take testosterone, or get bottom surgery. I cut my hair short to be androgynous, sometimes shaving it and often colouring it. I cannot see myself with long hair ever again, as it’s too feminine for me, though sometimes I wish my dysphoria were less so I could try it.
I am an enigma, and that’s how I am happy. You can very easily tell what kind of day I’m having, dysphoria-wise, based on my outfit. If it’s colourful, bright, femininely-coded or just plain well put-together and I’m wearing feminine makeup, my dysphoria is good to non-existent. On the other end of the spectrum, if I’m wearing little to no makeup and jeans and a hoodie? It was awful that morning.
I used to want to steer so far clear of femininity that I over-steered into masculine to balance out my discomfort. I conflated my dysphoria and need for expression with my identity. Now that I’m more comfortable with myself and my identity, I have slowly corrected back into the middle lane. So my issue is not my identity, but rather how I am perceived by others.
Liz Byrne, Age: Timeless, Pronouns: Any
I haven’t really done a “coming out” of any type, though my presentation has changed over the years, especially after HRT and top surgery. That’s because I’m still me, I just see someone that looks more like I imagine myself to be.
I joke that I’ve gone from acute dysphoria where I would panic at the thought of continuing to exist in a body that felt foreign to a standard level dysphoria where I am focusing on a healthy relationship to my body instead of fixating on media images of tall, lean, hyper-fit people in perfectly tailored clothes. It’s hard still because I imagine the day that I’ll have abs and more defined muscles, but I’m so much happier these days with where I’m at.
Kali, 30, She/Her/Ou
I only recently realized that I was non-binary, since women in cisheteronormative society have a lot of freedoms, and those they don’t have, I’d rather fight for them to have than claim as a non-woman person.
The part of transitioning that makes me feel less dysphoric is when my friends affirm my gender identity, and when I can dress as the gender I’m feeling that day and get recognized as that rather than people defaulting to treating me as female. Being able to wear loose clothes, or a binder, along with my newly-short hair and naturally androgynous features, means people are more likely to assume I’m male. I enjoyed that as a kid, when I got my hair cut short, or would hide my long hair in a ballcap; it’s only recently that I’ve realized why I liked it so much.
I decided to cut my hair, for various reasons, after growing it out for seven years. I have small breasts, so when I’m wearing loose clothing I get called “sir,” and I love that, especially when people don’t notice their “mistake” and “correct” themselves.
I also really really love my LARP friends who call me “captain” when they see me, after the viral post of someone talking about not knowing whether to call an enby “sir” or “ma’am” and panicking and calling them “captain.”
My other favorite part is writing enby characters into my novels. When I was 12 years old, I had some enby characters in a Harry Potter email-based RPG who were of unspecified gender, before I even knew that being non-binary was a thing.
I used e/em pronouns for them and didn’t know their assigned gender at birth. Now I have enby characters who get their own love stories with people who accept them as they are, sometimes based in part upon those old characters, sometimes based on my own experiences.
[Editor’s Note: a former version of this article included a fifth person’s testimony but it was removed to ensure their safety.]