Nonbinary vs Gender Neutral

Nonbinary or Genderqueer are not the same thing as Gender Neutral.

There are people who describe their gender as neutral but for the most part, people usually have a lot more nuance than that. Gender neutral is a good way to describe pronouns like they/them or xe/xir, but it isn’t a good way to refer to nonbinary people unless they have explicitly said that.

My gender is anything but neutral. For me, it is relatively stable and not fluid, but it lies solidly in the realm of femme with a twist of tomboy. I am both a woman and a nonbinary person because my gender is queer and defies a single category. Queerness at its heart is about breaking boundaries and holding the tension between seemingly disparate concepts.

I see your categories and reject them because they don’t reflect my reality.

Nonbinary beyond a third gender

What do you think of when you imagine a nonbinary person? Hopefully if you’ve been reading my work for awhile you know that doesn’t mean slim, white, and “androgynous” as in indeterminate.

You may think of it as a third gender. But I believe it’s really important to make the distinction that it isn’t a unified single gender. It is a broad category that we use in a colonialized Western culture to define ourselves in opposition to the boxes we were given.

In many ways, it is a temporary placeholder word that we are using to gain recognition. A way to make it obvious to people who have never questioned gender that we aren’t the same as them. Genderqueer was another umbrella term that many of us originally adopted to describe ourselves in opposition to “traditional” genders.

Ultimately these are all simplifications that we use for the benefit of cisgender people and as a shorthand so that we don’t have to explain ourselves to everyone. If you were a fly on the wall in conversations that enbies have among themselves, you would see that we are an infinitely diverse group. We exist in hundreds of genders that exist in far more than a spectrum between masculine and feminine.

The language is still evolving to accurately describe the various aspects of our identities. And words mean different things to different people. But I hope what you take away from reading about my experiences and others is that we are not a single gender. We are an experience!

My gender

After further thought I think I can say as clearly as life will allow right now that I am definitely nonbinary but I would much rather be assumed to be a woman at casual glance than assumed male. I’m not sure exactly what my transition will look like yet but I will likely be doing what looks more like a binary path from the outside but rest assured, even when the beard disappears I’ll still be your lovable genderqueer tomboy. That’s all for now.

What is gender anyway?

There has been SO much written on what gender is from a theoretical or definitional standpoint so I’m going to skip the theory and go straight to my experience which is the only thing I’m qualified to speak on anyway.

Gender for me is less about presentation and outward appearance and more about a framework for explaining my experience of the behaviors and expectations around what it means to be a man vs a woman vs being me. We live in a binary world where regardless of what diversity there actually is in behaviors and ways of being for men and women, there are still expectations of what it is “supposed” to look like. Moving away from those expectations helps everyone in my opinion. But after a lot of thinking on it, I believe that even without binary expectations, my nonbinary gender would still exist as a way for me to explain just HOW different my experience is from the norm. Categories may feel restrictive to some people, but for me it is somewhat freeing to have a place where I fit.

My genderqueerness started as a mental scaffolding for me to explain and create structure around my experience of the world LONG before it resulted in any outward changes. As I gained more language around gender, that scaffolding grew and took shape. Without terminology, it was merely a swirling mass of confusion for me. That is part of why I am a big advocate of language that evolves and grows to meet the needs of a society rather than strict and static definitions. Without this new language, I think I would still feel lost in that void.

I believe that gender more about your own internal experience than it is about how you are externally perceived. Things like gender presentation and clothing can be helpful in signalling to people how you would like to be treated (not that it is frequently respected) but more often than not, especially in this unexplored middle area, I think it can be a barrier to people claiming their gender identities. I see many people in closed groups and discussions talking about how they don’t feel like they can “be nonbinary” if they don’t want to or can’t access an androgynous appearance. I know those feels and it held me back for a long time. So I’m here to say “to hell!” with that model of gender!

If genderqueer or agender or genderfluid or one of the numerous other new words to explain the uniqueness of nonbinary/trans experiences feels like it fits or explains things for you, then try it on. Take the time to think and feel about the description and explore the diversity of ways other people are using it. One person or site may be using a very narrow definition that you can’t see yourself in (like genderqueer for me at first) but I bet there are already people pushing and expanding the boundaries of that new category. And you could be next!

If man or woman describes your experience then great! Life may not be easy because both have a heavy burden of expectations, but at least you don’t have to fight to be recognized. If they don’t fit, then leave them behind and find the real you. You owe it to yourself to be authentic. Other people can fight you about it but rest secure in knowing that you alone are the expert on yourself.

Unexpected affirmations

I promised myself I was done posting for today but I just had the most amazing experience walking down the street in my very genderqueer outfit. I was heading to get coffee with a friend down a back street in Seattle on a scorching hot day minding my own business with my headphones in. Suddenly I see a guy across the street calling to me and waving me his direction. I’m skeptical but he seems friendly so I head to find out what he wants. Turns out he’s the shop owner of LICK Pure Cream and wanted to take a picture of me because my fuchsia and purple outfit perfectly matches his shop. He pulls out a pink waffle cone and fills it with blueberry chai ice cream on the house and asks to take a picture of me for Instagram in his iconic yellow chair. He even asked my pronouns. Sometimes life really surprises you!

**** Update 2017 – Sadly LICK went out of business so you can’t go meet the wonderful owner there anymore. ***

Also, I wanted to gush about how happy I am to finally have found some heel boots that fit! I’m size 13W in women’s and it’s nearly impossible to find anything, much less something both comfortable and stylish. But these David Tate shoes arrived from Zappos last night and look fabulous so I geared my outfit today around them.


What I’m doing here

I’ve never been much of a writer so I hope you’ll pardon any mistakes and infrequency in posts. But I believe in the power of seeing people like you and feeling like you’re not alone. So I’m putting myself out there to share a bit about my nonbinary “transition” such as is is and my thoughts as I seek to become more fully myself every day.

When I search things like genderqueer fashion or androgyny I usually don’t see myself or anyone like me in the results. We’re in a new frontier when it comes to gender identity – not that there weren’t people like us before, we just didn’t have the wealth of language to describe it or the visibility. But as has happened with homonormativity, it seems to me that the AFAB dandy has become the fashionable icon of androgyny and masculine-of-center presentation is the default assumption. Not that there is anything wrong with that look, in fact I think it is very attractive on many people. But I don’t see myself represented and I don’t see many AMAB femmes visible in mainstream queer culture. That’s part of why it took me until I was 26 to realize that I could be genderqueer and that my beard and my body didn’t exclude me from being nonbinary.
There are a few notable exceptions and visible figures who I look up to and admire -people like Jacob Tobia, Jeffrey Marsh, and Alex Drummond. I appreciate them being the pioneers of fashion and making the world a safer place for me through their openness and vulnerability. I don’t want to become a public figure like them but I do want to share in that vulnerability by putting myself outside my comfort zone and showing a bit more of what my daily life is like as a bearded genderqueer.

So that’s why I’m here and starting this blog. I’m not special and I’m certainly not as confident as most people think I am. I often struggle with not feeling queer enough or trans enough. It takes a lot of bravery to walk out the door into non-queer spaces wearing a dress and a beard. I am pretty much guaranteed to garner stares wherever I go, even in Seattle where we have a high density of trans people. And that attention, even when it’s not malicious, is exhausting. Simply going to the grocery store dressed as myself takes a lot of energy and I don’t always have what it takes to do it in every space.

So to everyone else out there who struggle with the same things I want you to know you are not alone. We are here and we are genderqueer. But that isn’t easy and it’s ok to be kind to yourself and it’s ok to hide your gender in unsafe spaces or even because you don’t have the energy that day. You are trans enough, even when you’re not presenting how you feel like you should.