Being nonbinary

Many people seem to assume that nonbinary means that someone looks androgynous or even slightly masculine-presenting. It’s a bit more complicated than that. Then there’s the people who think it’s all nonsense, which is pretty depressing.

I am not sure if I am genderqueer, gender-fluid, or nonbinary. My assigned gender is female, so this post is written from that point of view. If your assigned gender is male and you’re nonbinary, it’s perfectly fine to have days when you present as masculine, if that’s how you feel that day.

It’s OK to be nonbinary and have femme days, or nonbinary and be femme all the time, or nonbinary and femme-presenting whenever you feel like it. The key is that you are doing it because of internal feelings, not because someone else told you to do it. It’s taken me ages to really get this. It’s hard to distinguish between feeling like presenting as femme because the over-culture told you to, and genuinely feeling like presenting as femme. I do know that long skirts generally trigger some sort of dysphoria in me. I didn’t really have a name for this feeling until recently, but I think that is what I’m experiencing.

When everyone else has always told you off for your masculine- or butch-presenting days/weeks/years, and told you that you look nice when you appear to be conforming to gender stereotypes, it’s really hard to know accurately when you do feel like presenting as femme. That’s why I struggle with this.

I saw this great tweet pushing back against expectations that nonbinary people have to be vaguely masculine:

This is helpful because people tend to assume that I’m cisgender because of my body shape.

Some days I present in a more androgynous way, other days in a more butch way, other days a bit more femme.

Recently I was having a great conversation with some friends about being able to discuss the menopause in a non-gender-essentialist way. The next day I mentioned it to someone else who completely dismissed my ideas, which was painful, because I naively thought that person got where I was coming from.

It’s hard to create your own meanings of “masculine” and “feminine” when the over-culture is constantly telling you what they should mean. This is why we need to view gender as a landscape or an ocean, not as a spectrum and definitely not as a binary thing. If any gender can be nurturing and any gender can be protective, why do we attribute these and other qualities to any specific gender? They’re just qualities; no need to gender them at all. The same should apply to clothes — but sadly, it still doesn’t.

I want to be able to talk about what my body is up to without it necessarily becoming a gendered thing. I want to be able to discuss hormonal changes in the body with trans women. I want to be able to discuss fluctuations in my identity with other nonbinary people. I want to be able to create safe and inclusive spaces where people can talk about this stuff without being told they’re “too much”, without other people trying to shoehorn them into the gender binary.

Wouldn’t it be great if no one ever assumed someone else’s gender identity? There’s a move on Twitter for everyone (cisgender people too) to put their preferred pronouns in their Twitter profile, which I think is really helpful. If it became the norm to ask people for their preferred pronouns, it would be easier for everyone. I was having a conversation with a cisgender ally who wasn’t sure if it was okay to ask people for their pronouns. I reassured her that it was definitely a good thing to do.

When I went to one Pagan moot in the UK, I was delighted when they handed out sticky labels and invited people to write their names and preferred pronouns on them. Great idea!

If you enjoyed this post, you might like my new book, Dark Mirror: the Inner Work of Witchcraft.

Dark Mirror: the Inner Work of Witchcraft

7 thoughts on “Being nonbinary

  1. Great post! And I recognize the struggle… In the end I decided for myself that when speaking of gender in binary terms, I am cisgender female, as my energy seems to be more of that type… (I had the chance to feel strong masculine energy a few times during experiences of possession by a masculine deity, and that felt not familiar at all). But do not make me wear make-up or high heels or anything like that: major dysphoria!! That just feels too much like pretending to be something I am not. Add to that that I need to shave or I’ll be ‘woman with beard’, and you’ll understand my confusion.

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  2. Putting pronouns in profiles is a good idea, except I have one friend who feels female one day, male the next. Actually uses different names depending on his feelings. I always feel a little on my toes, not wanting to upset, but not knowing how to address.

    Gender is something I think we are all struggling with, but eventually we will all get it worked out. Just when I thought I had it right, someone tells me they prefer the pronoun “They”. No problem. But then, do I say They are a good person or they are good people? I don’t want to appear to be mocking anyone… I’ll figure it out eventually.

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