Coming Out About My Non-Binary Gender

First in a series on my non-binary gender identity.

Late last year, rather abruptly, I came out as non-binary. It was National Coming Out Day and I decided I was going to tell everyone, just like that. I IMed my partner and told him first; he was as unwaveringly and lovingly supportive and understanding as he always is. Ten minutes later, I’d posted it to my Facebook wall. Thankfully, due to the self-selection and curation I’ve cultivated online for years now, I was met with congratulations and love and support. Outside of carefully-created spaces (or at least ones where I can block people), however, I’ve mostly kept my mouth shut about it. I don’t have enough fight in me to deal with yet another Othering aspect to my person.

It wasn’t something that I’d consciously thought a lot about or planned to do. It was more a slow and lurching realization, backburnered to everything else I’ve always thought and talked and written about. In a lot of ways, it resembled the way that I “became” an atheist: I didn’t talk or think too much directly about it, not even with those close to me, and didn’t want it to be true, but stopped fighting it and eventually submitted to the truth.

While the act of coming out was a surrender to what I’d known was true on some level for a while, a building up to a realization of something about me, there were markers along the way.

Disney's Aladdin-themed Tiger hand held game

The simplest sign of these goes back to my childhood. Until about eighth grade, I was always the tallest and overall biggest kid in my class. While the teasing for being fat hurt, it never occurred to me to be fussed when someone called my short-haired, grubby-fingered, shorts-and-tee-wearing self “a boy” or “he,” especially not when the person was some passing-by stranger.  Why should I care if Random Old Lady at Supermarket, an extra if there ever were one in the story of my life, called me “little boy”? I had more important things to care about: Tiger Disney handhelds to beat, my Mario skills to perfect, books to read, Power Rangers to watch, favorite stuffed toys to rescue from my younger sister, Barbies to style, soccer cleats to put on and take off, necklaces to chew on to the chagrin of my mother, mud to play in.

Older female relatives taught me that I was supposed to care to the point of offense about being called by male designators. “That’s a little girl,” they’d clarify. “That’s my [daughter / niece].” Some of the more forward-thinking ones would even give a lecture about how modern 90’s girls were allowed to wear shorts and have short hair and didn’t have to wear dresses and have long hair to be girls. I learned that being a girl was not just a thing I was but also something about which I had to be defensive. A naturally obedient type, I internalized that rule.

“You must assert that you are a girl” joined the many other things that I was taught were important but that I never really intrinsically understood to be important. I was equally as befuddled by the significance of, say, ritualized exchanges of greetings whose words I understood but where I wasn’t meant to give a sincere answer. “Hello, how are you? “/ “I’m fine, how are you?” was a social script I knew. “Little boy.” / “I’m a girl.” was just another nonsense-to-me but world-ending-for-adults call-and-response “conversation.”

Gender, then, was something about myself that other people have assigned to me rather than anything I’ve known about myself. I was told that there were two primary categories of people and that, by virtue of my genitalia and other associated factors, I belonged to one of them. In conversations I’ve had with people whose identity aligns along the gender binary, cis and trans people alike, I’ve learned that many (though certainly not all) understood themselves to be boys or girls from a young age. The ones who didn’t know as children eventually, at some point, realized that they were men or women.

What is most striking to me is that way that binary trans people know what gender they are. Despite the best efforts of society to force them to be what they are not, they fight to be recognized and accepted for the gender that they know they are. If binary gender is something that you know about yourself, regardless of what society tells you that you are or aren’t, then I never have fit into that paradigm. I’ve never had a gender identity that aligns with my being assigned female at birth, but I certainly don’t have a male gender identity, either.

At its core, that’s what my non-binary gender identity means: I do not know that I am a man or a woman, so I am not a man or a woman.

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Coming Out About My Non-Binary Gender
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16 thoughts on “Coming Out About My Non-Binary Gender

  1. 2

    Yay, non-binary atheists FTW!

    Took me a while to realize I was genderqueer. I kinda always had the feeling I was kind of a boy and kind of a girl at the same time, but I just assumed I was just a sissy boy. It wasn’t until a few years ago I heard the word genderqueer and said, “There’s a word for that?”

  2. 3

    Thanks for sharing, of course 100% support in your coming out.

    I’ve always wondered about this, I mean in many things I don’t accept or identify with male signifiers of gender, but on the other hand I just intrinsically seem to know that I’m not a woman. I’m not even sure how I could tell whether I’m non-binary or binary, apart from contrasting myself with other people who identify as men and women, in which case it feels like I’ve never experienced what women experience and so can’t identify with that.

    The way I definitely feel non-binary is in strongly disliking when people gender certain behaviours. As a parent I’ve tried (and sometimes failed) to be The Best Dad Evar™, but no one is going to tell me some parenting activities are “Mum things”, and others “Dad things”, or that some topic of conversation or part of culture is “for men/women only”…

    Anyway good luck Heina and once more thanks for sharing =8)-DX.

  3. 4

    My partner shared this post with me. Recently I began to realize I am probably non-binary, and reading this… hit amazingly close to home. To your reactions to people calling you a boy as a child (I went through the same), to feeling your gender is assigned through others… and how you end off the post. I am blown away, and really looking forward to the rest.

    I’ve only discussed it with a few close friends, but this gives me hope. Thank you so much for writing it.

  4. 5

    I think it’s really cool that you wrote this, you explained it very well. I discovered that I was err… gender-neutral – I’m choosing to call it that – here on dear old FTB, in the process of explaining, mostly to trans people that no, I really wasn’t cis. It was quite something trying to develop a language to articulate it because frankly, until a few years ago, I’d assumed everyone was like me deep down, and was just clinging to all the gender stuff out of a misguided sense of tradition. Oh well, we live and learn! I wonder how many people share this trait?

  5. 6

    I’ve always found the gender distinction to be rather moot. Most of this distinction is society trying to maximize the divide.

    As for “non-binary gender identity”, unless one has a split personality, I don’t think anyone can have a “binary gender identity”, so neither can one have a “non-binary gender identity”. Perhaps “bi-gender” or, better, “a-gender” would be a better description?

    1. 6.1

      A binary gender identity means that it’s along binary gender lines, i.e. male or female. “Bigender” implies that I’m both genders, which I am not, but I am not without a gender identity, so “agender” doesn’t fit, either.

  6. xyz
    7

    This is really interesting, Heina! Thanks for writing about your memories and experiences. It makes me wonder how many people just see ourselves as cis by default, and would have different ideas about our gender in a different society.

  7. 9

    Wait since when is gender something in your head and not the result of chromosomes. It’s not that psychologist that forced children to have sex right(I think he might have done it). I thought most thought the same and that the stereotypes sprang forth from culture.

    1. 9.2

      entropino, #9:

      Wait since when is gender something in your head and not the result of chromosomes

      Who said it’s not the result of chromosomes? It’s not the result of genitalia, it’s the result of how your brain is. Chromosomes cause both of those. But gender is not sex.

      Now, other people in society (hospital staff delivering a baby; parents and relatives; etc.) look at sex characteristics and assign gender. But those people can of course be wrong, since we don’t have a way to know what gender an infant is and that gender might not correspond with the sex of the infant.

      As Heina says, and despite long-standing confusion over the matter in human society (and hence in human language), the two have never been identical.

  8. 10

    Thank you for writing this, Heina. Even though I identify with my assigned gender, a lot of this resonates for me. Yes, I’m a woman, but that doesn’t mean I agree with everything I’m told that a woman’s supposed to be.

    For example, I went to get my hair cut the other day. I keep my hair short for convenience, mostly. But when the stylist was verifying with me how I wanted it cut, she said, “we’ll make it whispy along your neck to feminize the cut.” I wanted to say that it was already a feminine cut, because it was my cut, but I just said “ok” because I didn’t want to seem rude. I like my haircut, but that really irked me.

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