Until college, I had never met anyone who did not identify with the gender they were given at birth. When I met my first friend who was nonbinary, I had a lot of questions.
Not wanting to be disrespectful, I kept a lot of them to myself, but after reflection, I realized that I would rather ask questions and be informed in order to respect my friends.
Recently, when the topic of being nonbinary has come up in conversation, I realized that a lot of people I know ignore it because they are confused by it. I find that completely ignorant. There is no excuse not to respect how your fellow humans identify.
I decided to write this article to spread awareness and help people understand what it means to be nonbinary. I am not nonbinary myself, but I have many friends who identify as nonbinary. It is not a phase or a trend, and they are real people.
When you google "nonbinary," this is what comes up:
Everyone expresses gender differently, so that is why I decided to interview a few of my friends in order to get a full understanding. Gender, just like sexuality, has no right or wrong answer. It is a spectrum.
A few of my friends have taken new names, which means that the name that was assigned to them at birth is now their "dead" name.
(Some of the interviewees are not publicly out, so I am writing under a fake name for them!)**
1. Emma, 20, Pronouns: They/Them
Emma continued to use their birth name after realizing they were nonbinary, but their dead pronouns are she/her.
"The way I explain it is that I'm not a girl, I'm not a boy, I'm just Emma. Some days I may feel more feminine, some days I may feel more masculine, but overall I don't necessarily associate with a specific gender, I'm just somewhere in the middle I guess. I always felt like I didn't belong with how everyone saw girls, and I was always super in touch with my masculine side, especially as a kid. It wasn't until my sophomore year of college when I met someone who was nonbinary that I realized I felt the same way."
Emma also told me that their friends were super supportive, even if they did not understand what being nonbinary was.
2. Max, 20, Pronouns: They/Them
Max told me that their dead name and pronouns are "irrelevant to who they really are". They explained that "the majority of folks who have a dead name and pronouns don't want to talk about them or have them brought up, and it can be quite triggering to bring up a 'dead' and irrelevant aspect of one's past."
When people ask Max about being nonbinary, they "simply tell them that being nonbinary means something different to every nonbinary person". To Max, identifying as nonbinary means they don't "subscribe to the idea of gender." It is the norm for people to believe that gender corresponds directly with someone's sexual anatomy, but this is not accurate.
"To me, gender doesn't really exist within my body or mind. To other nonbinary people, gender is a very real part of them, but different than society normally tells us. It is completely subjective, which is pretty cool to me.
Identifying as nonbinary means I get to live as I truly am and always have been, but now free of irrelevant labels that constrain me and put me into a box that I don't fit in. It's not for everybody. But it's definitely for me."
3. Sam*, 19 (two weeks away from being 20!), Pronouns: They/Them
@lgbtactivist on instagram.com
Even though Sam is not out as nonbinary to their family, they detailed that their friends are so amazing and supportive. They did say that "although, when I started questioning my gender, my girlfriend at the time told me I probably was just super gay and wasn't actually anything other than female. Other than that, though, everyone I care about has been the best".
Being nonbinary to Sam "just means being me. Gender has always felt so constricting to me like I was in a tiny box and I was suffocating. Finding out that I could be something ELSE, something outside of a girl or boy was so freeing for me. It made so much more sense in my head. I feel so much more like myself now, identifying as nonbinary, than I did before. I've never been so in tune and true to who I am. I love it.
Being nonbinary doesn't always mean being androgynous! It isn't always that person with short hair, flat chest, and a flannel who you can't quite put a gender label on. Sometimes a nonbinary person is hyper-feminine and wears dresses and makeup all the time. Sometimes they're hyper-masculine and love to lift weights and punt footballs. Just because someone enjoys something that is typically binary doesn't mean they aren't nonbinary."
4. Kas, 18, Pronouns: They/Them
@deanxcastiel on instagram.com
Kas noted about their dead name and pronouns that, "They aren't as dead as I'd like them to be." Unfortunately, people still use that name and the wrong pronouns to refer to Kas. Not using someone's preferred name or pronouns may not seem like a big deal, but it can actually be extremely hurtful and triggering.
To Kas, identifying as non-binary means that, "I'm not a boy or a girl, and neither of those labels or their accompanying pronouns feel right for me. They actually make me feel super bad. Pretending I'm a girl makes me feel like I'm wearing an itchy, ill-fitting costume.
Being nonbinary feels freeing, I don't have to pretend anymore when I'm with friends or at home with my significant other. Being nonbinary means being true to myself and being honest with the world."
As honest as Kas wants to be with the world, they explained that the backlash they have received in the past has made them more cautious about who they tell about their identity.
"I wish people would be kinder and more willing to try and understand me before deciding I'm weird, trying too hard to be special, or going off and *explaining* to me that there are only two genders."
5. Alex*, 20, Pronouns: They/Them
@SECRETLYPRETTYGAY on instagram.com
Alex explains nonbinary as "some days that I feel like a 'boy', some days I feel like a 'girl' and then there are some days I feel like a mixture of the two. I dress according to these moods and feelings. Because I feel a mixture of the two main genders, I, therefore, do not fit into the category of either male or female."
Growing up, Alex always had been a tomboy but was often called a "lesbian" by their peers and family because of the way they dressed and acted. Freshman year of college, they finally had a close friend who was nonbinary, and this prompted them to question their identity.
"I always just felt like an outcast. My NB (nonbinary) friend opened my eyes to this hidden gender and ever since I met them it made sense. We had so much in common. I didn't tell anyone because I was scared, but it made total sense for once in my life. I didn't officially come out until less than a year ago."
Even though their friends are 100% supportive, their family is another story. Alex said their family completely rejected them as nonbinary. "My family still refers to me as my dead name. They think it's a phase. They also attempted to cut off my college tuition because of it."
Even though they keep this part of their life hidden to their family, they still are optimistic and feel proud and free to finally be who they want to be.
I hope this has given you a better understanding of what nonbinary is. Just remember to be kind and respectful of one another.