Non-Binary in a Binary World

Being non-binary (NB) in a binary world is a tricky thing. There are just so many ways we do not exist to the world.

I am my children’s parent, but what should they call me? There is no generally accepted good gender neutral alternative to mom & dad. There are a few out there such as “ren” or “renny” (short for “parent”), but mostly I don’t like the options that currently exist. The only one I kinda like is “mada” (combination of “mama” and “dada”). But am I really ready to fight that fight with basically everyone? Am I ready to automatically stand out that way in a society that doesn’t readily accept folks who don’t fit the binary. Is it fair to ask my kids to fight that fight when someone inevitably questions their use of the term? Or what about my nibblings (gender neutral niece/nephew)…what should they call me? There’s no gender neutral alternative to aunt.

Everyone sees a parent with breasts and that automatically means the only reasonable option is “mom”. Everyone sees a pregnant person and automatically that means the only reasonable option is “mom”. Baby groups are always called “mom” groups as if only “moms” need support after giving birth and in being the primary caregiver raising a new baby. Sure, you can still go unquestioned if you pass as female and you might even be able to be upfront about your identity, although even that can be a dicey gamble, but it’s still a clear sign that the system is not designed for you. Gender reveal parties automatically not only falsely assume you can tell gender by genitals, but they also assume that the only gender options are boy or girl.

Being married to a straight cis man, I automatically get assigned to the roll of “wife” by others and all the expectations that come with it. There’s this unwritten pressure to bond with and hangout with the wives when hanging out with our other friends and family who are in heterosexual relationships. There’s also more expectation placed on me to be primarily responsible for the kids, or at least expected to do so more so than Greg is. Yes, it’s all subtle. Yes, no one says it out loud. But it’s also very definitely there.

If you move beyond the social scene, legally speaking on basic identification forms in most states and federally there’s no way to be represented as anything other than male or female for gender. In most forms you fill out for any number of things, there’s no option other than male or female. It’s like you don’t exist. Sure things are slowly changing in some states, but not at a pace that there’ll be any federal recognition any time soon. Especially under the current administration.

In work, it feels borderline unprofessional to ask coworkers and bosses to use they/them as pronouns. It shouldn’t, but it does. Having them switch to Alex instead of Alexandra was awkward enough. Asking them to switch pronouns, especially to something unconventional, and especially to something that many (incorrectly) consider grammatically incorrect when our field and my job in part focuses on editorial tasks. It just seems so personal of a detail to reveal at work, too personal, but it shouldn’t be. I shouldn’t have to feel like I’m rocking the boat just to ask people to recognize my basic identity. Heck, I shouldn’t even have to ask at all…imagine a world where employees whose pronouns didn’t match others assumptions didn’t have to make a thing of asking fellow employees to use the correct pronouns and it was some how just built into the systems and the expectations.

And then there’s growing up…

Where you aren’t even aware that such a thing as non-binary exists. And don’t discover the concept until your mid 20s.

Nor are your parents aware such a thing exists. So when you mention to them at age 3 that you’re both a boy and a girl, they and even the therapist you were seeing at the time (some family issues at the time) correct you insisting you’re a girl without even thinking for a second that there might be anything going on other than sibling jealousy of your younger brother. This is something I just found out recently, but has really thrown me for a loop. On one hand, I know they didn’t intentionally stifle my identity, but on the other hand, it means it took me another 20 some odd years and lots of self doubt to refigure out what I already knew at 3…which is a tough fact to swallow.

Most of my childhood and teen years I had a strong sense of not fitting in and of not being able to fit society’s rules and expectations. Except since I didn’t know why so I internalized it as some personal failing. Not cool enough. Not pretty enough. Not likable enough. Not fashionable enough. Not fitting in enough even when I try. Failure. Etc. Had I known then that I was both a boy and a girl, so many things would have made so much more sense. And yes, I would have had different problems…maybe bullying, maybe being an outcast, etc. But I would have known myself and who I am and I would have known why. So at least when facing some of these other struggles, knowing why, knowing that I was being my true self, and having a way to explain it all would have made it all easier to tolerate. Which friendships did and didn’t work and why all make so much more sense. My feelings on clothing, makeup, and other issues of personal style and grooming make so much more sense. My interests as well. If that stuff had made more sense, I have better understood what I was looking for in friendships or at least getting a better idea as to why I seem to kinda confuse people and not always fit in. And knowing the “problem” would help me figure out how to solve it or how to work around it. Perhaps knowing what was going on would have helped me find my confidence and “my people” earlier and helped me have a better idea of what I was looking for in friends and romance earlier. Perhaps it would have helped me realize that fitting in isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and that “my people” are mainly not the ones who are the popular/quasi-popular “fit in” types instead of only starting to figure that out my senior year of HS and took me nearly a decade to get a full handle on…at which point I was out of school and married and suddenly making new friends was a lot harder and I had missed the boat on figuring out a few things that are important to me in a relationship.

But nothing in my childhood indicated anything about trans people, much less NB trans folks. I had to wait until I met a genderqueer person in my mid 20s before I even got a clue as to what my gender identity really was. And it took several more years of serious self doubt brought on by a lifetime of conditioning, both subtle and explicit, telling me I was a girl and not knowing there was any other option.

Although all that speculation about my childhood is just that…speculation. It’s entirely possible that I’d have lacked the guts to come out then just as I mostly have lacked the guts to do so so far now.

It’s so hard to claim a space by creating one where it doesn’t exist …

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