reader question: how do you know your gender is non-binary?

a reader messaged me with questions– and i’m flattered.  thank you for asking!  i’m also very anxious to be helpful– and i hope other people will add their own advice in the comment section.  cuz i’m prone to talking about, say, finger paints and space ninjas instead of the topic at hand (look! a t-rex reclining in a tutu!).  so here it is:

“I’ve been struggling with my gender alot lately and I don’t know who I am anymore.  Can gender change?  If somebody thinks they’re a guy can they change their mind and realize they’re non-binary?  How do you KNOW? How did YOU know?  Thanx.”

first of all, gender can and does change.  many people experience their gender as fluid, fluctuating (ir)regularly throughout their lives.  other people experience a slow shift from one gender to another and don’t realize they’re trans* until later in life.  in other cases, someone’s understanding of their gender is dynamic even while their gender itself is relatively static.  people experience gender in many ways– and some people don’t experience gender at all.  there is no wrong way of “doing” your gender.

still think it’s silly to change your mind about your gender? refer to #3 of the gender bill of rights.  you have rights, my friend.  neat, yeah?

“How do you KNOW?  How did YOU know?”

i can only speak for myself, so i’ll tell you a bit of my own history.  i knew my gender as a toddler in the same way that most toddlers know their gender.  at first, i didn’t get that everyone around me was male or female.  i didn’t know words like “transgender” and “cisgender”.  i didn’t know about the gender binary.  but i knew i wasn’t a girl or a boy.

i slowly realized that the other kids were all girls or boys, but i was still completely open about my non-binary gender.  i still thought i wasn’t allowed in gendered bathrooms.  i still thought i wasn’t allowed to wear/do/play with “girl things” or “boy things”.  i didn’t even realize that the world considered my gender invalid until i was 8-ish years old.

my mom, my teachers, my grandparents told me to stop being silly– everyone had to be a girl or a boy.  my dad took it upon himself to teach me that women can be/do ANYTHING they want.  my elementary school teachers started making sure that i didn’t sneak off to piss outside and they escorted me into the girls’ bathroom on many occasions.

i shut up about my gender for a few years.  i tried to be a girl– not by wearing dresses and behaving in a stereotypically feminine way, but by allowing people to call me a girl, a daughter, a sister.  then i tried to be a boy.  then a girl. then a boy.

honestly, i think i sorta buried what i knew.  i spent years believing i was a girl before i started wondering if i might be a boy.  when you think about it, it’s pretty fucked up that i forgot myself so completely.  it’s no wonder i was confused, though; it’s not like society admits that trans* people exist and that nonbinary gender is a thing.

finally, i said, “fuck it!  i told all these assholes the truth when i was in preschool– why am i still trying to change for them?!”  i began to gravitate towards openness– a slow process.  i still have to come out on a regular basis.  i get misgendered every day and sometimes i have to roll with it.  but mostly, i am open about my gender and that’s fucking splendid.

my story is just one story of many; there are tons of ways to experience/understand/become open about your gender.  having known my gender as a kid DOES NOT make my gender more/less valid than anyone else’s gender.  likewise, having forgotten/buried my gender doesn’t make my gender less valid than anyone else’s gender.  i hope other readers will share their own experiences and their thoughts.  i think the most valuable answer to your question (“[h]ow do you KNOW?”) will contain numerous answers from numerous people.

so keep an eye on the comment section.  and seriously, be yourself, whoever that might be.  be open-minded/hearted and feel free to check out my blogroll; there’s good stuff there and reading is always a good thing.  i hope that helps!  and thanks again for asking stuff!

6 responses to “reader question: how do you know your gender is non-binary?

  1. For me, I spent my childhood very uncomfortable with my assigned gender. I was always fighting it, there was something about me that never felt like a girl, I couldn’t put my finger on it either. I wasn’t yet forward thinking enough to think totally outside the binary options, so I started looking really hard at all of them to see if I could get any of them to fit. Boy didn’t fit. Neither did Lesbian, or Fag. And especially not Straight or Girl. It was a long process for me, but I had gone through all of the binary options I could think of, tried on every label, and they were all the wrong size. In the end it was a simple process of elimination, I could only be sure what I wasn’t, and I wasn’t any of the binary options. But I wasn’t able to reach that conclusion for about 22 years.
    The thing about gender is the experience of it is so personal that sometimes everyone elses’ experience with gender sounds nothing like yours. You just have to go with whatever feels the most comfortable for you at any given time, regardless of what label, if any, you choose. Because whatever label there is, who you are will always be more than just that. Just be sure to give your self the space, energy and time to sort through it. Annoyingly sometimes the question or the process just takes time, and there is no way to get around that.
    Best of luck. Just remember to love yourself, no matter who or what.

  2. Good post Mx. Punk. I think the biggest reason why people struggle to understand gender is that the normal narrative we are taught to uphold is full of holes and overly simplistic. Also, personal development is shirked in American or Westernized Cultures. You don’t spend any time trying to find words to express your sense of self. See there is still a mentality that “Children are blank slates” – “automaton like” rather that being seen as intelligent and individualized creatures.

    As such people who subscribe to that see fit to shape your personal dimension and a binary manner. For me I knew when I was 3 that I was female internally. At the time I knew it as “I am a girl inside and a boy outside”. I always identified as such internally, but does this mean I identified with the binary? No. My gender identity never fluctuated, though situationally I was forced divide myself into two people… A. The person I was that wanted out, and B. The person I was forced to be, and was allowed to be.

    I am a great story teller, I have the mind for it so my “façade” was especially good. But even all the effort I could put into it only produced a shell that shallow people fell for. Deep, insightful, and intelligent people always saw through it. So where does my feeling of non-binaryness come from? It comes from the fact that though I identify with women, and have a female gender identity that I feel myself outside of the scope of 2 genders. I am a woman, but uniquely so having some very androgynous elements.

    My gender identity and my gender expression are very much separate, because the things I need for my gender expression are different than what I need for my gender identity. I intend on surgery because my body demands that completeness, but I my gender expression is totally fluid and depends on what I like, don’t like and what I feel comfortable with rather than alignment with the binary. I also refuse to repress or deny on part of myself or the other simply for social roles.

    So I embrace those things about me that are masculine and feminine. My personal history is unique and I celebrate rather than scorn that. That being said, my gender expression is rather conservative because of financial limitations. I like wild and unique clothing, unfortunately it’s also expensive or tediously hand made. I look at clothing and style as more than just a form of gender expression, but a form of self expression.

  3. thanks for your input! totally valuable stories. yay!

  4. Pingback: "T and Conversation": Beyond Binary | Queering the Church

  5. Pingback: Gender, Sex and Intersex: A Primer | Queering the Church

  6. Pingback: belonging-ful | rainbowgenderpunk

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