Navigating as Non-Binary in a Very Binary World
(lead image of: Cyree Jarelle Johnson)
Everywhere we look the world is filled with gender markers. Since the very day we are born we are marked and then conditioned to think, dress, speak and behave accordingly. Many today are stepping outside those marked roles and going against the gender binary. According to a 2017 study published in the US National Library of Medicine, roughly 1 in every 250 adults identifies as a gender other than they were assigned at birth. That makes about 1 million Americans that do not conform to the gender binary. I am 1 in 250 adults.
At birth I was assigned female. Now in my 30’s, I live freely as a male. Some days are like ice cream sundaes—sweet and delicious. Other days, not so much. Living and being authentically who I am can be a challenge in a world that operates on the ideas of what men and women are suppose to be. That leaves those of us that defy gender labels left out and forgotten. In discovering and owning my identity as a male, I have had to make my own way in order to navigate the gender situations that society thinks we need to have to maintain order.
Things that should be simple such as using a restroom, changing clothes in a locker room and even being called by my chosen name were difficult at first. I strongly believe it is only because society feels uncomfortable if they cannot categorize you. You must fit into a box or a square to check off on a paper. The second you no longer conform to those boxes and checklist, it is as if you are no longer human.
Even with all of societies attempts at trying to erase me and people that identify like me, I have decided to remain steadfast in my authenticity. I (mostly politely) correct people when they call me “ma’am”. When I am first attending an appointment or event, I immediately point out that the name on my state identification is not the name I use and give my chosen name. Even with all this, there are people that wrongly believe if they call me “ma’am” enough or continue to use my birth name, that I will suddenly identify as female. Those people then get my not-so-polite side and get ignored altogether. Although I do believe there is no specific dress code for males, I mostly shop at stores labeled for men and stick with jeans or sweatpants. Authentic living means to live comfortably in my skin— and this is how I do it for now.
Transcending the binary has certainly helped me take my life back and learn to be my own best advocate. It has also helped me view the world differently. In some aspects, it has made me guarded because I know every space isn’t safe. Even in some spaces designated “safe” , those who live without the binary are still finding their place within the lesbian and gay communities. In other aspects, it has made me free because I can get rid of a mask of identity that doesn’t fit me. Just by existing, I am making a statement that we cannot be erased or forgotten. While we work and wait for the world to catch up, I am happy to say that some places are catching on and putting in efforts to make a place for us.
Many school districts, elementary and college alike, are offering gender neutral restrooms and changing rooms. Largely populated places such as New York City and California have been ahead of the curve in offering gender neutral accommodations. Presently, many smaller cities such as Kansas City and several cities in Missouri and Georgia are redesigning schools to include such facilities. Basketball fans will be pleased to know the Milwaukee Bucks new arena will be the first NBA arena to offer gender neutral restrooms in addition to the gendered restrooms.
Lack of places to use the restroom comfortably is a fear for many people that don’t identify as the gender they were assigned. Many fear being “outed” or are harassed if someone determines they don’t belong in the bathroom that they choose to use. Sometimes it may seem better to just stay home rather than navigating through the bathroom intimidation. Websites such as Refuge Restrooms and Yelp are helping you before you even leave the house. These sites are designed to tell you which establishments offer single stall or gender neutral restrooms. This makes it easier for gender non-conforming people to feel comfortable going out in public.
Restrooms are not the only issue at hand, and states are slowly starting to make moves in the right direction. Oregon, California, Maine, Washington, The District of Columbia and most recently Minnesota offer an ‘X’ option on drivers licenses to represent the non-binary identification.
Being gender non-conforming is not all about restrooms and identification, though those things can certainly make you feel valid. Transcending the binary is owning all of who you are and disowning what does not fit you. Readers of Lesbionyx, along with followers of my Instagram @tyler.n.training weighed in on how they fit comfortably in their skin. Kay Martinez @k_pmz, a gender non-conforming activist and educator in Philadelphia says, “I do what I want. I take good notes and I have a lawyer on retainer.” Very solid advice, because living in the binary world can get a bit tricky and you will at times have to battle for what you need. Another reader who wishes to remain anonymous gave a rousing speech to all that identify as “other”. “You have to give a f—k about yourself. You have to exist in a realm of your own, where your best interest is priority. The only way to keep that energy is to BE YOURSELF AT ALL TIMES! F—k conformity and society’s boxes the masses can’t wait to jump into. Be other, be yourself and have an IDGAF attitude about anything that doesn’t serve your greater good!”
All in all, it takes courage and strength to live in a world that is seemingly designed against you. It is my hope to one day live in a world where compassion and understanding reign, and where people refuse to be closed minded. Until that day comes, I will continue to live authentically and use the existing resources and new ones that make themselves available. As they say “Live your best life!” I know I will.