Image by Kye

Navigating Beyond the Gender Binary

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When I was a young child, I thought my parents wanted me to be a girl so badly that they secretly surgically altered my body so I’d be a girl (i.e. have a vulva). I never brought it up with my parents, I just frustratingly accepted it. I was taught gender and sex were synonymous, and that I am female, even if my body was an artificial one.

I left it at that for most of my life, and as I grew up I realized that scenario was highly unlikely (my dad wanted a boy, after all). When we were given sex-ed in high school, sexuality and gender identity was brushed over quickly, taught for a dyadic and binary audience. When we are not given the option or knowledge or freedom to explore our gender identity, how are we to know if what we are is not an arbitrary assignment based on nothing but a doctor’s assessment of our genitals at birth? While I didn’t exactly feel like a girl growing up, from what I knew about the gender binary, I knew I wasn’t a boy, either, or at least not completely. So I stuck with what was familiar, no biggie.

While some people may have known their gender since the moment they recognized their own identity as an individual, others can’t realize because they aren’t given the option of something else until late adulthood. When I found out about nonbinary genders around two years ago, I didn’t understand them at first. Gender as a spectrum? No gender? Multiple genders? It seemed like a minefield. Even though I’m confident in my gender identity now, there are still days where it looks like a navigational nightmare.

Just like with compulsory heterosexuality, most people in our cisnormative society argue that if a person never questioned their gender, then they’re probably cis. The idea that cis is default, and one isn’t trans or gender variant unless it’s constantly on their mind is harmful to and debilitates individuals, and as a result, entire LGBTQIA2+ communities.

So, I suggest everyone to ask themselves the questions I’ve asked myself:

  • Am I happy with my assigned gender?
  • What if I were assigned a different gender?
  • What if I weren’t assigned a gender?
  • Which parts of whom I am makes up my gender?
  • Do I want to be this gender?

Some of these questions might be difficult to answer. Sometimes it’s just a feeling that’s difficult to explain. And if after exploring your gender identity, you find you’re cis, then excellent! You’ll know yourself better by analyzing parts of your person and being confident in the identity you claim.

I happened to find that I was not exactly happy with my assigned gender. And something happens when you realize who you are, and realize others don’t see you the way you see yourself. That’s when you start thinking about coming out; sharing with the world, or a slice of the world, who you are. I was lucky that the slice I’ve chosen to share it with were accepting enough of it.

So here are a handful of things I’m thankful for in my coming out process, and I’m sure others will be in their own coming out process.

Respect

Throughout the process, there will be questions. Ranging from “what pronouns do you use?” to “is this just a phase?” and the inevitable “aren’t ‘they’ plural?” I’m lucky enough that I didn’t have to deal with the more aggressive variations.

Relationship Maintenance

I’ve been fortunate to not have lost any friendships after coming out. Sometimes it’s difficult to accept the friend you had is no longer the person they used to be, or the person you thought they were, especially if they choose to transition.

Support

Perceived gender plays a large part in social dysphoria for trans and gender variant folks. Sometimes, it gets difficult when people get my pronouns wrong, or when people stubbornly refuse to use gender neutral language. While I’ve accepted that, for the meanwhile, gender variance is not widespread knowledge, it helps to have a safe space to be able to just be.

Acceptance

Coming out was exciting and a bit nerve wracking, each and every time, and almost every person I came out to had not heard of nonbinary genders until my introduction to them. Sometimes it was difficult to explain, and I could tell that some didn’t really understand the concept. However, they were all accepting, all willing to learn and put in the effort to adjust to my new identity.

And the chance to write for The Talon and share my ongoing experience. Thank you.


This article was submitted in response to The Talon’s call for submissions related to the Pride Collective’s Outweek. 

  • Student

    “While some people may have known their gender since the moment they recognized their own identity as an individual, others can’t realize because they aren’t given the option of something else until late adulthood.”

    I don’t think anyone inherently knows their gender, as I’m of the opinion that gender is a social construct. I certainly wouldn’t know my gender if I was never taught it from birth. I personally think the difference is acceptance: whether you accept or reject the behaviours and propensities to certain objects and places that society has associated with your sex (i.e. things that are gendered and then matched with your biology based on our culture’s ideas of what should be matched and what shouldn’t).

    Some guys are just never going to like Batman and will just always want to get manicures, while some girls are just never going to like dresses and are going to want to be mechanics. But these behaviours and propensity toward culturally gendered places and objects are natural, even if they don’t fit cultural preferences. To me, it comes down to how much you accept or reject the boundaries that were given to you based on your anatomy; not how much you identify with it “naturally”. What I mean by this is that I have certain opinions that seem rash, and some that seem soft. Some things I like are feminine, and others are masculine (as we have determined them in today’s western society). I really do think the key to acceptance not just from others but from one’s self is to learn to accept these gendered propensities until they become ungendered: equally acceptable for male, female, and intersex people to enjoy.

    Although I accept everyone’s personal decisions on how to present themselves, I don’t always like it (not for superficial reasons). I do get uncomfortable when sex classes are essentialized through these gendered stereotypes and then Othered by appropriating that supposed identity through these essentialized stereotypes. You (not you, personally, just “you”) couldn’t possibly know that you’re Other if you don’t know how it feels to be Other; all you know is that you don’t feel right in Self. But by essentializing and appropriating the identity of Other, there is a gap in experiences and socialization and understanding between the two. So, I think it would be nice if these discussions could be held in a way that is safe for people who aren’t comfortable in Self and who are exploring ways to heal from their questioned socialization and rejection of it, without jeopardizing the safety of the Other, who are also looking for ways to heal from the gendered experiences they’ve encountered through their life of hegemonic socialization.

    So while I look forward to the day where everyone can wear, like, and act whatever and however they want, I think it’s also important to acknowledge and respect the real life, material consequences of sex as they are now (as class systems), and work together to eliminate gender inequality and sex inequality while respecting Self and Other. I’ve tried pretty hard to be respectful in this post, as I do think this conversation needs to be had without it turning into a dichotomous, with-us-or-against-us battle that so often happens online when it comes to gender and sex identity, and honestly suppresses a lot of voices. It would also be nice if social justice literature would read as a spectrum of diversity and complexity, because I really do feel that it has become formulaic, somewhat of a “checklist” of “acceptable progressiveness” (part of the with-us-or-against-us dichotomy), where negative consequences of unchecked progressive intention (unthoughtfully carried out) are often ignored.

    • Tracy

      Gender is a social construct, I agree. I wouldn’t know my gender if I didn’t have the resources to understand and explore genders myself. Society has also constructed the idea of gendered things and preferences like Batman and mechanics as ‘masculine’ and manicures and dresses as ‘feminine,’ though none of these things would exist outside of society. Of course, people should not be bounded by these gendered ideals of what is a ‘girly’ or ‘boyish’ thing to enjoy or consume. However, we’re all bounded by society, and while these social constructs are, in fact, social constructs, they do dictate how we think and how we see the world. This makes our language and our abilities to explain new concepts difficult, which I think contributes to why some people may never find definitively what their Self is, and it might be a difficult, ongoing experience. Misogyny and binarism overlaps sexism and gender identity, along with a myriad other things like race, size, ability, just to name a few. I didn’t mean for my article to be an all-encompassing statement on the experiences of gender variant folk; after all, I’m only sharing my own (limited) experiences here.