Non-Binary in a Binary World

As a rule, transpeople know all to well about the construct of binary gender. It is, after all, at the heart of being a transperson. And despite all the heartache binary gender has caused them, the majority of transpeople still hold a binary view of gender – sometimes, even more strongly than non-trans people. There are also those of us who hold the view that gender is not binary construct – that there are many other – an infinite number – of possible gendered identities.

In general, the binary minded transfolk don’t like us much and have no problem letting us know as much. We get labeled gender freaks or gender outlaws and are often described as shamelessly flaunting our transness to the world. While there are those people who want to be all ‘in your face’ about their transness, there are also those of us who – like so many other people – just want to get on with our lives. And yet, we are considered an embarrassment to other transpeople because the dichotomy man and woman – masculine and feminine – does not resonate for us.

The construct of binary gender doesn’t resonate for me. It’s not about making some political statement or a treating gender as performance piece – it’s who I am. And as sure as any transwoman is that she is a ‘woman’, I’m sure that I’m not a ‘woman’ – and I’m equally sure I’m not a ‘man’ either.

At one point, I assumed I was a woman because what I felt did not resonate for me as ‘man’. But as I sorted things out, it became clear to me that what I felt didn’t resonate as ‘woman’ either. And if I play the game of sorting personality traits, likes, dislikes, thoughts and feelings – I find that I wind up with crap all over the place. There is no preponderance of ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ feelings – no clear affinity to one team or the other: there is just me.

I can no more ‘be’ a woman all the time than I can ‘be’ a man. Neither polar extreme actually feels ‘right’. I will concede that ‘woman’ is a better fit for me than man, however it is still an ill fitting identity and one I would not be able to maintain for a long time. And had I been born female as opposed to male, I’m quite convinced that I’d still be in about the same place identity wise – although I would more likely identify as lesbian than trans.

I present myself as I do (crossdressed / androgynous) because within the confines of binary gender, my options are limited. From a functional standpoint, androgynous / bi-gendered / non-gendered – all are about the same. Some people will gender me as a man, some as a woman – and some as WTF? Averaged together, I consider my presentation to be about as good as I hope for.

What does this make me? Quite frankly, I don’t really know how to ‘categorize’ myself. I use Trans / Genderqueer because, well, I do – it seems to be about the closest label(s) I can find without making up something new. And while it works well enough (usually) I do still have to explain my particular flavor of trans to people.

I like to think that I (and other non-binary types) can have a place in the trans community. It is because I feel such a huge amount of commonality with so many other type of transpeople that it is profoundly painful to be rejected – to have my identity not just marginalized but out and out dismissed by these same people with whom I feel such a deep connection. It very much leaves me with no place to call ‘home’.

I’m sure it all seems quite silly, this ‘non-binary’ thing – especially to those people – trans or not – for whom the gender as a binary seems to work. You have your identities as ‘man’ or ‘woman’ regardless of whether it originated as trans or not. And perhaps you’re even willing to entertain the idea that maybe there is something else as well. But at the end of the day, your’s is a world of men and women – interacting with other men and women.

I can stand in a room full of people and feel completely alone – unable to to claim ‘either’ side as my peers. The people with whom I interact daily gender me as they see fit – i.e. as either a man or a woman – I have little say in the matter. I live in a world organized around a construct which does not resonate for me – and every day, I have to somehow force myself into one box or the other. Every day I’m reminded of how I don’t fit in.

There is often talk of the transgender hierarchy – the implicit (and sometimes explicit) pecking order within the transgender community. Each group does its best to claw it’s way to the top of the hierarchy – often at the expense of some other group. For those of us who do not see gender as a binary, there is no place for us on the trans hierarchy. There is no ‘clawing our way to the top’ for us because the one thing nearly all binary-minded transfolk seem to agree upon is just how wrong and screwed-up we we non-binary types are – and how our inclusion in the greater trans community somehow dilutes what it really means to be ‘trans’.

In short, we are culturally unintelligible – to both the trans and non-trans communities – and ultimately marginalized by both.

So why do we do what we do – identify as we do?

Simple – It’s who we are. What other choice do we have?


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