What Does It Mean To Be Nonbinary?

For as long as I can remember, I haven’t been particularly feminine. People were surprised every time I wore a dress; I’ve always preferred pants to dresses; makeup has always been a mystery to me. When I was a kid, I was a tomboy and I’m sure that the adults in my life thought it was just a phase. There were so many times where I was regularly pushed to be more feminine and the few times I cut my hair short (and shaved half of it once!), my mother cried.

In college, I was introduced more thoroughly to the LGBTQ/queer community and was then introduced to the transgender community. When I came out as pansexual during my second year at college, my community rallied behind me and I started to delve deeper into the queer community/organizing. I attended workshops about the intersectionalities of queer life (what it’s like to be queer at work, trans health care, etc) and I even facilitated a few LGBTQ 101 workshops.

During this time, I was still a bit androgynous in how I expressed my gender but identified as a cis woman. It wasn’t until after college that I started to think about being non-binary and over the past few months, these confusing thoughts about gender have been clouding my brain and I have so many questions. What does it mean to be nonbinary? What does nonbinary fashion look like? What does it mean to be fat, queer, and nonbinary?

The National Center for Transgender Equality recently described non-binary gender as “one term people use to describe genders that don’t fall into one of these two categories, male or female”. Non-binary, as an identity, seems to be one of the most common terms for those who identify in the space in between man and woman (or entirely out of the gender binary) but there are countless other identities, as that space is much larger than what most people might think. People all around the world identify as genderqueer, genderfluid, agender, bigender, or something else entirely. Some indigenous/native folks in the Americas identify as two-spirit while there are some in India who identify as hijra, a legal third gender.

For me, non-binary has become a term defined by its lack of specificity and a general term for those who fall in the space between man and woman (or completely out of it). It’s a term, label, and identity that’s not going to look the same for everyone and exists as an umbrella term for those who do exist outside or in between the gender binary. Some people express their nonbinary identity very androgynously while others might switch between masculinity and femininity. Others still might find a way to express it in their own way.

A few years ago, Sam Dylan Finch wrote about how you can know if you’re non-binary for Everyday Feminism, writing in particular that imagining the person you might become can be an exciting part of figuring out your own gender. Who do you want to be? How do you imagine yourself if given the chance to express yourself fully? How do you personally express your own gender? And it can also be important to question your understanding of gender, both how your gender exists and how society frames gender and sex for all.

Finding and seeing nonbinary people just exist in the world and happy with their gender (or lack of gender!) has been life-changing. Jeffrey Marsh is a literal ball of sunshine but their acceptance and expression of their own gender have helped me immensely on my own journey. Folks like Asia Kate Dillion, Tommy Dorfman, Shamir, and Amandla Stenberg are just some of the many people who also identify as non-binary, genderfluid, or genderqueer and offer an array of possibilities for how one can identify as nonbinary (or something else) and express that gender.

I think that there’s a lot of wiggle room in gender and the non-binary identity is no different. There’s really no one right or exact way to be nonbinary other than feeling like you are nonbinary. That space between ‘man’ and ‘woman’ or the space between ‘masculinity’ and ‘feminity’ offers a wide array of expressions and experiences.

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