8 Things Non-Binary People Need to Know

The image features the non-binary pride flag.

The non-binary pride flag, via Gender Wiki

Coming out as genderqueer and non-binary was this big, beautiful, scary thing for me. I didn’t know what exactly I was moving towards – I only sensed that I was moving in the right direction.

Navigating something as complicated as gender with just my intuition was like running through a corn maze at night. There were a lot of dead ends. There were a lot of bumps and bruises. And it was, at times, totally exhausting.

There’s so much that I wish I had known when I started transitioning that I simply wasn’t able to find. There’s a lot of validation that we all need, but fail to get.

The internet is still tripping about our existence, so there are plenty of articles about what we are and there’s lots of 101. But our lives exist beyond 101. We need something more than that.

That is why, this week, I wanted to write an article – by a non-binary person, for non-binary people – about the important stuff that we need to hear but often don’t.

If you don’t identify as non-binary, you should read this anyway. You’ll learn something, I promise.

So to the non-binary folks out there, here are eight things that I really, really need you to know:

 

 

  1. You don’t have to be certain and yes, you can change your mind.

People assume because of my confidence or something that I have a very clear idea of what I’m doing.

Haha, that’s funny.

Do I want testosterone? No clue. Do I want top surgery? Uh, maybe? Do I want a more fluid presentation or a decidedly “masculine one”? Ask me again later.

I’m the magic 8 ball of gender. You can ask me the same question ten times and you’ll get at least five different answers.

I don’t know what I want. For a while, though, I felt like I needed to know exactly what I wanted, and I spent too much time agonizing over it. I wish I hadn’t. I wish someone had given me permission to be confused, to be unsure, to be afraid.

You don’t have to be sure about your (a)gender, your presentation, or what steps, if any, you’re going to take. And guess what? You can change your mind! You can change your mind as many times as you’d like, and you are still valid in every single way.

Take your time. Gender is not a race to the finish line; gender is not a competition that you can win or lose. It’s your personal journey, and you can take as much time as you need.

 

 

  1. You are valid, and you are doing it “right.”

Regardless of what you do, regardless of what choices you make, your identity and your gender (or lack thereof) is 100% valid.

There is no right or wrong way to do gender. And yet there were times when I didn’t feel “trans enough,” times when others questioned my transness, or times when I was excluded because I didn’t fit into this box of what it means to be “trans.”

Others will gender police you, even other trans people, or try to push you back into those boxes – but I want you to know that when they do, they are in the wrong, not you.

You are enough. Always.

 

  1. You deserve respect – so don’t apologize for demanding it.

I spent a lot of time apologizing when I asked people to use my pronouns. And that was a ridiculous thing for me to do in hindsight.

I deserve respect; I shouldn’t be misgendered, I shouldn’t be excluded, I shouldn’t be made to feel unsafe. So asking people to respect me should never have been something I apologized for – and you shouldn’t apologize, either.

People will, at some point or another, make you feel like your identity is some kind of burden on others, or that they’re doing you a favor by treating you like a human being. But you don’t need to kiss anyone’s ass just because they treated you the way that you should be treated.

And your identity is not a burden – society’s strict adherence to the binary, and failure to recognize and affirm you – is the real burden here.

The constant misgendering, microaggressions, harassment and even violence that we face as non-binary is a burden that far exceeds what anyone who calls YOUR identity a burden will ever experience.

You deserve respect without pandering, without begging, without people asking for cookies or pats on the back. You deserve respect, period.

 

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

I know firsthand, from being in the community and connected with you all, that NB folks often grapple with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. And because we’re afraid of being misgendered and we’re afraid of having our identities dismantled or interrogated, we’re less likely to seek help.

I didn’t come out as trans to my therapist until much later in our time together, because I was afraid of being forced into an educator role in a situation where I was supposed to be the client. I silently and needlessly suffered from gender dysphoria because of that fear.

If you are struggling with your mental health or with dysphoria, ask for help. Please, please, ask for help. I know it can be uncomfortable to be put on the spot, and I know misgendering, especially by so-called professionals, can be grueling. But your mental health is important, and if you need help, it’s important that you get it.

Seek out a therapist. Seek out a healer. Seek out a support group or an online community.

And don’t settle for lousy care – if you aren’t getting what you need, keep looking. You are worth it.

 

  1. Your body is a non-binary body, no matter what it looks like.

When I was trying to get an idea of what I, as non-binary, wanted to look like, I couldn’t help but notice that there was an abundance of thin, traditionally masculine, able-bodied white people without a single curve to be found that were being advertised as androgynous bodies.

There weren’t any bodies that looked like mine.

But here’s the truth: You can be fat and curvy and be androgynous. You can be a person of color and, undoubtedly, be neutrois. You can have boobs and be transmasculine.

What makes a body non-binary is not what it looks like – it’s the person that lives in that body, and identifies that way.

If you feel pressure to pass, to conform, to look a certain way just to feel valid as your gender, I hope you know that your body is a valid non-binary body no matter what shape or form it takes.

 

  1. External validation is great, but self-love is revolutionary.

It’s powerful when we receive validation from others. But I wish someone had reminded me a little earlier on how important self-love is, too.

Over at Everyday Feminism, I wrote a little about the importance of self-love as trans folks.

The gist of it: As we weather microaggressions and dysphoria and oppression, we need to take care of ourselves.

The act of loving ourselves in a society which seldom acknowledges us or affirms us is politically powerful, and psychologically necessary.

While it’s important that those around us respect us, it’s equally important that we put in the work and respect ourselves.

How often are you practicing self-care and self-love? If it’s not often, it might be time to reevaluate your priorities – and put yourself first for a change.

 

  1. You are not alone.

It can feel that way, to be sure. The loneliness is compounded because most folks still cannot see us the way that we see ourselves. It’s complicated to exist outside of what most people have never been asked to imagine.

Yes, being non-binary can be a lonely road.

But it’s worth remembering that you are not the only non-binary person in this world. NB folks have existed everywhere, across cultures and across time. You are not alone in your feelings, experiences, and fears.

If you are feeling isolated, there are so many resources (and more resources, and more), as well as online communities that are waiting for you. And you can come exactly as you are – you don’t need to be out, and you don’t need to be certain.

Sometimes it helps to know that you’re not the only one going through this.

 

  1. Your voice is important, and you deserve a seat at the table.

Your experiences of marginalization, oppression, and fear are important. And every community that you are a part of – whether you’re a person of color, a person with a disability, working class, atheist – should be including you, and valuing your unique contributions.

We are too often pushed to the margins, both in the trans community but also in other communities that we are a part of.

And I want to remind you that your voice is important to all of those conversations – you should never be excluded from any discussion that you are personally connected to.

As an atheist who is also non-binary, for example, I often wonder why the most vocal and visible atheists at conferences, panels, and events are white, cishet men.

Similarly, when transgender folks are talking about transphobia, are they including non-binary people? Why or why not?

It can sometimes feel like we don’t belong in these communities, despite identifying so strongly with them. But your perspective is important, and you should have a seat at the table in every discussion in which you have something at stake.

If you’re being pushed out, don’t apologize for pushing back. Spaces that do not succeed in including you need to confront their failures – especially those spaces that present themselves as being socially just.

* * *

There is so much that I wish someone had told me when I first came out.

In the beginning, it felt as if I was completely in the dark – and I withstood abuse, aggression, and loneliness that, in hindsight, I didn’t deserve.

Sometimes I was convinced I was doing something wrong because I was unsure.

Sometimes I let others step on me because I didn’t feel worthy.

Sometimes I settled for disrespect because I thought respect was too much to ask for.

Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t “enough.”

Sometimes I felt alone and I was afraid to ask for help.

Sometimes I hated my body because I thought it wasn’t an “androgynous body.”

Sometimes I thought the validation of others was more important than how I felt about myself.

Sometimes I let others exclude me because I thought I had to wait my turn.

This was my early experience of life as a non-binary person. It was difficult, and scary, and oppressive. And while in some ways things have remained the same, thankfully most things have improved a lot.

I wish someone had stepped in to let me know that I was worthy of respect, worthy of love and support; I wish someone had told me that there was no right or wrong way to be non-binary, as long as I was being myself.

Most of all, I wish I had realized sooner that I wasn’t alone in everything I was going through.

I hope that my words can offer some comfort and validation, and act as reminders of how deeply worthwhile and important you are. In a society which tries so hard to erase us, it can be easy to forget.

I wish you, and all of my non-binary siblings a safe, healthy, and beautiful journey as you explore your (a)gender. Please know that I am with you every step of the way!

Sam Dylan Finch is a queer activist and feminist writer, based in the SF Bay. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, his blog and labor of love. With a passion for impacting change through personal narrative, Sam writes about his struggles and triumphs as genderqueer and bipolar with the hopes of teaching others about his identity and community. When he isn’t writing, he’s probably eating takeout and dancing to Taylor Swift.

Connect with SDF: Website ; Facebook ; Twitter ; Tumblr

New to LQTU? Check out Sam’s articles on being genderqueer.

26 thoughts on “8 Things Non-Binary People Need to Know

  1. The Valley Vegan says:

    I’ve been reading, following & commenting for a few months now, and unexpectedly a couple weeks ago, a student confided in me her big sister is transgender. That her sister is being bullied, and she (the little girl) feels scared for her sister.

    Though I feel uncertain at times, your blog had given me some insight, empathy and hope that I can be a part of the solution.

    Thank you for all your sharing!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Becky says:

      Seven transgendered women were murdered in the first seven weeks of 2015. The suicide rate in young transgender people is extremely high.

      Education needs people like you!
      Namaste.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. PlainT says:

    Thanks for writing this. I identify with so much of it: not having the “acceptable” androgynous body (short and curvy is hardly read as attractive masculinity), feeling like these feelings are not valid or not important or not worth bringing up with a therapist, etc. It’s good to remember these things, that certainty is not a marker of validity, that it’s ok for this stuff to be confusing. That just because binary genders accommodate most people doesn’t invalidate those who exist outside of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. tiffany267 says:

    Congratulations! After reviewing lots of WordPress publications for March, I’m awarding you with this month’s edition of my Gender-Bender Award! https://tiffany267.wordpress.com/2015/03/18/gender-bender-award-8-messages-for-non-binaries

    My Gender-Bender Award is an opportunity to celebrate those who challenge and disrupt the gender binary. Thank you for being a part of that 🙂 As an award-winner, you are welcome to use my exclusive Gender-Bender Award graphic on your blog (if you linked back to me, it would be appreciated).

    Please nominate a post for April! You can nominate anything you’ve seen on WordPress, even another post you’ve written yourself.

    Thanks again and congratulations!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. sbd61 says:

    I’ve just recently discovered your blog, Sam, and I am so impressed with both your writing skills and your insight. I look forward to reading your ongoing thoughts and perspectives. One word choice you made, though, begs for further examination: you stated “I didn’t come out as trans to my therapist until much later in our time together, because I was afraid of being forced into an educator role in a situation where I was supposed to be the client. I silently and needlessly suffered from gender dysphoria because of that fear.” Maybe I’m being hyper-critical, but when you, or anyone else says that you “suffer” from gender dysphoria, I think you create the false impression that it is a malady, or disorder. I think a better word choice would be to state simply that you experience gender dysphoria. Likewise, I hate to be “mistaken” for a guy, as if there is something inherently wrong with my gender presentation. I believe that words like “suffer” and “mistaken” serve only to reinforce the notion the negative stereotype all-too-often associated with transgendered people.

    Like

    • Sam Dylan Finch says:

      Thank you for the suggestion! It’s hard to pull myself away from that language because dysphoria, for me, is something that causes me pain and suffering. I do understand though how it could uphold some negative assumptions about trans folks. I’m not sure if saying I “experience” dysphoria adequately captures the pain and destruction it has created in my life, though.

      Word choice is tricky and something we should all be thinking about!

      Also, on the topic of word choice, I would suggest using “transgender” over “transgendered.” More on that here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joanne-herman/transgender-or-transgende_b_492922.html

      Thanks for reading and for giving me this feedback! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • sbd61 says:

        Sam, I stand corrected! Your blog is extremely helpful AND enlightening. I marvel at the wisdom you display at such a young age! I have only recently become aware of the fact that I am transgender, and as a result, have made a conscious effort to eradicate any negative connotations from my language. I kept telling myself not to say that I “suffered” from gender dysphoria, and instead, use the word “experience.” But you make an excellent point: gender dysphoria does cause suffering. And to say instead that you merely “experience” it is really too clinical, void of any acknowledgement of the emotional angst gender dysphoria creates.

        And, incidentally, I intended to use the word “transgendered” as an adjective to describe myself, certainly not as a verb! I now understand the err of my word choice, and truly appreciate your sharing the Huff Post link with me. Clearly, I have much to learn! Thanks for taking the time to write this blog. You will help me help others to understand what it means to be born transgender.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sam Dylan Finch says:

        The language that we use is so, so difficult at times, because we want to be able to capture our experiences and struggles BUT we also don’t want to turn our lives into medicalized or stigmatized “conditions.”

        I think I’m going to try using “experience” for a while, at least in my articles, as not to assume anyone’s experience of dysphoria and to make sure I’m not reinforcing any stigmatizing ideas about being trans. I think you raised an important point and I’m going to explore new ways of describing this. Dysphoria is often already synonymous with discomfort anyway, so the “suffering” bit could go without saying anyhow. I’ll let you know how that goes. 😛

        I might ask some other trans folks I know as well! Maybe they have some ideas. I have a lot to learn too, you know! The journey never ends. 🙂

        Congrats on your realization! And welcome to the family. ❤ I'm glad that this writing can be helpful. If you ever have questions or have an article that you'd like to see, don't hesitate to contact me!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Victor says:

      It’s called dysphoria for a reason. It actually does hurt a heck of a lot. Thanks for belittling that and calling it “false.” We don’t get that enough. (That was sarcasm.)

      Like

  5. Natalie says:

    My daughter is in a new relationship with a very lovely person who is biologically female but presents as male & prefers male pronouns. I really am thankful to have found your article on non-binary and Trans gender people. I am very supportive of my daughter’s relationship and am enjoying welcoming her boyfriend into our family. I did not know much about non binary or Trans before and am so glad to have found a place for information and a voice to listen too. I will be following your blog. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. johnnyquest42 says:

    Hi Sam! I don’t know if I can say how moving your blog has been for me. I read about your experience on the 880 bus via Everyday Feminism on FB, clicked through to LQTU! and have been reading for about 2 hours now. My whole life I’ve been struggling with mental health, seeing therapist after therapist in my childhood and teenage years and being prescribed a pharmacological panoply for anxiety, depression, and ADHD symptoms. I also knew on a semi-conscious level but never dealt with the fact that I didn’t resonate with the heteronormative values of the small-town conservative Christian culture in which I was raised.

    Almost exactly 2 years ago, I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2 and placed on both Latuda and Zyprexa. During what I later realized was a manic episode, I had done something awful I couldn’t forgive myself for and the guilt spiraled me into a place of serious suicidal thoughts, which I hadn’t had since high school. On these meds I, having been a pretty skinny person since reaching my adult height, had gained 30 pounds and was bordering on obesity. I don’t want to compare my experience to your or other transpeople’s but my albeit mild feeling of body dysphoria when I looked in the mirror was devastating. I had just begun to own my identity before my episode and now felt unable to date at all. I felt worse than unattractive: I hated my body and by proxy, myself.

    Today, things are much better. A year ago I was able negotiate a switch to Lamictal with my psychiatrist and am now back to my baseline weight, thanks in addition to a healthier diet and a simple exercise regimen. When my father had an affair and left the family the day before my birthday early last December, it led to some very dark times during finals week and over break but ironically also led to the happier and more stable place I find myself in today. I was able to shed the subconscious shackles of my upbringing that had confined me without my realizing it, come out to my close friends, mother and brother, confront my identity, and date whomever I wanted.

    This post brought tears to my eyes as you told me that there was no right or wrong way to deal with these issues and I realized I really wasn’t the only person like me out there [NPI 😉 ]. Today I feel proud to be a queer, masculine, pansexual two-spirit person with bipolar II disorder. The words to say how much that means fail me and I so look forward to following your blog and embracing my newfound community.

    P.S. I love that you mention tattoos as integral to your process of self-acceptance. So were mine :).

    Like

  7. johnnyquest42 says:

    Reblogged this on Quest in the City and commented:
    Sam Dylan Finch has instantly become my new favorite blogger; he is an openly genderqueer person with bipolar disorder. This article is an important read, making a huge impact on me, and I felt the need to write the comment you can read below. Expect more coverage of queer issues in the future at Quest in the City.

    “Hi Sam! I don’t know if I can say how moving your blog has been for me. I read about your experience on the 880 bus via Everyday Feminism on FB, clicked through to LQTU! and have been reading for about 2 hours now. My whole life I’ve been struggling with mental health, seeing therapist after therapist in my childhood and teenage years and being prescribed a pharmacological panoply for anxiety, depression, and ADHD symptoms. I also knew on a semi-conscious level but never dealt with the fact that I didn’t resonate with the heteronormative values of the small-town conservative Christian culture in which I was raised.

    Almost exactly 2 years ago, I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2 and placed on both Latuda and Zyprexa. During what I later realized was a manic episode, I had done something awful I couldn’t forgive myself for and the guilt spiraled me into a place of serious suicidal thoughts, which I hadn’t had since high school. On these meds I, having been a pretty skinny person since reaching my adult height, had gained 30 pounds and was bordering on obesity. I don’t want to compare my experience to your or other transpeople’s but my albeit mild feeling of body dysphoria when I looked in the mirror was devastating. I had just begun to own my identity before my episode and now felt unable to date at all. I felt worse than unattractive: I hated my body and by proxy, myself.

    Today, things are much better. A year ago I was able negotiate a switch to Lamictal with my psychiatrist and am now back to my baseline weight, thanks in addition to a healthier diet and a simple exercise regimen. When my father had an affair and left the family the day before my birthday early last December, it led to some very dark times during finals week and over break but ironically also led to the happier and more stable place I find myself in today. I was able to shed the subconscious shackles of my upbringing that had confined me without my realizing it, come out to my close friends, mother and brother, confront my identity, and date whomever I wanted.

    This post brought tears to my eyes as you told me that there was no right or wrong way to deal with these issues and I realized I really wasn’t the only person like me out there [NPI 😉 ]. Today I feel proud to be a queer, masculine, pansexual two-spirit person with bipolar II disorder. The words to say how much that means fail me and I so look forward to following your blog and embracing my newfound community.

    P.S. I love that you mention tattoos as integral to your process of self-acceptance. So were mine :).”

    Liked by 1 person

  8. FlorLola says:

    Hi!
    I’m FlorLola, and along with a friend mine we’re running a websitec alled Torta en el horno.
    I found your article via Facebook, and liked it very much and I would love to have in on the website. Thought it’s for lesbians and bi women, I find it could help a lot of young people on the spanish speaking side of the world, and though it talks about being genderqueer, I find it also aplies for bisexuals and pansexuals. So I was wondering if it’s alright with you for me to translate it and post it there? Of curse I would credit you properly and link back to this post

    Liked by 1 person

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