Voices: Non-binary doesn’t look like you think it does – I would know

·4-min read

It’s Non-Binary Awareness Week, a time for celebration of the broad spectrum that makes up this wonderful, yet gravely misunderstood, community. And it is misunderstood – painfully so.

First celebrated as an internationally recognised day over 10 years ago, it would be fair to assume that our understanding of what non-binary means would have improved. Unfortunately, gender nonconformity remains a somewhat mythic creature. We are pigeonholed time and again because it’s far easier for outsiders to put their definitions on us, than allowing us to exercise our own. I speak from experience.

I’ve only been out as gender-fluid for just under two years now, and still people are confused by my identity. At this juncture, I should make it clear that while some gender-fluid individuals (like myself) also identify as non-binary, the terms aren’t one and the same. For many non-binary people, there’s no fluidity with their gender identity, and that’s perfectly okay; we aren’t fixed labels like in clothing. We’re diverse, and we all relate with different identities in various ways.

Arguably, the fact that so many of us express ourselves so differently – be it pronouns, language or appearance – causes those removed from gender nonconformity to feel almost lied to. We’re only meant to look and act a certain way, else we can’t be genuine. Well, I hate to break it to you, but the whole point of being non-binary is to work outside of this either-or system.

Take our clothes for example, one of the defining ways many of us express ourselves, yet the moment you come out as non-binary you’re expected to change to suit everyone else’s ideology. Suddenly, presumption hounds my every choice. How can I wear dresses, skirts, and make-up if I’m outside the binary? Simple: because these things aren’t inherently gendered, and expressing femininity doesn’t mean you’ve caught me in a lie. I wear what I’m comfortable in.

In fact, since coming out as gender-fluid, I’ve felt more comfortable than ever in expressing my femininity. I don’t feel like I’m trying to “play” at being a woman anymore, I’m merely playing at being myself. What once made me feel awkward and confined, forever trying to meet this standard of feminine beauty I didn’t relate to, I now find freedom. The clothes aren’t wearing me anymore, I’m wearing them.

For years I spent hours agonising over what to wear, how to truly express how I felt as a person, forever ending up disappointed. Breakdowns before attending a social event were commonplace because I couldn’t find myself under all the binary I’d been taught to conform to.

The conditioning we’ve endured for centuries has only served to shrink our world, and with it, our understanding of who and what we are. We don’t have to look or act a certain way to belong.

This is why it’s important to realise that non-binary doesn’t “have a look”. If you think we do, that is largely down to pop culture only highlighting one small example of non-binary to better package it to the masses. The same is seen with sexualities – lesbians are butch, gay men are effeminite, and bisexuals are promiscious. Yes, sex and gender are two separate entities, but when it comes down to how they’re limited through representation, they’re inseparable.

To keep up to speed with all the latest opinions and comment, sign up to our free weekly Voices Dispatches newsletter by clicking here

Limitations placed on us by others affects more than our appearance, it permeates through to our pronouns as well. You wouldn’t believe the amount of DMs I’ve received on Twitter telling me I can’t be gender-fluid because I sometimes refer to myself as a woman, or because I used she instead of they. It’s the bigoted “gotcha” moment. Yet, you haven’t got me at all; my pronouns are she/they, though I’m happy to use he as well. As for referring to myself as a woman, I still feel an enormous connection to womanhood, one which I, personally, don’t want to sever.

Why should I? If you want to understand the world with such rigidity, be my guest. It only serves to restrict one of us. While you get upset about our pronouns, and how different we all look, I’ll be celebrating the pure joy that is our diversity. LGBT+ is a rainbow for a reason, one I fully intend to embrace.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting