When we think about non-binary folks, we often think about agender, neutrois, or “gender neutral” people who do not identify with the categories of man or woman in any conceivable way.
Those folks are real, and absolutely deserve visibility and validation.
But I also think this is a very limited understanding of what it means to be non-binary. If we only think about non-binary identities on these terms, we fail to encompass the diversity of this community and the radical ways of doing (or not doing) gender.
Non-binary is defined as someone who does not identify exclusively as masculine or feminine (thus apart from a cisnormative binary). This can actually include quite a number of people and (a)genders.
But we forget sometimes that non-binary can encompass more than just someone who disowns the binary altogether – it can include someone who reclaims it for their own ends, expression, or performance.
For me, I am a very femme and genderqueer trans guy, who occupies masculinity and femininity and androgyny in a pretty equal and eclectic measure.
My experience of my gender is fluid and moving, non-linear, queer. So while I do identify as a trans guy, my masculinity and my body are experienced through a very queer and non-binary lens.
In other words, I can be a trans guy and be non-binary simultaneously.
I do not exist in an exclusively masculine, binary space. I can embrace all the queer, femme, glittery, tender, and alien parts of my gender while simultaneously honoring the masculine identity that they are wrapped up in.
And I would argue that if we held more space for folks identifying as men or women to queer their gender and expression, we might find that non-binary community exists in more places and in more ways than we’d ever thought possible.
I don’t believe that being non-binary is about rejecting the binary out of hand for every single person. For some of us, it’s taking back the binary from oppressive and rigid social norms and breaking down those expectations.
I think that there is a way to take what is meaningful, resonant, or beautiful about what we’ve uncovered within the binary and take back what’s rightfully ours, making it our own.
For me, there are elements of being a “trans guy” that speak to my experiences – but it’s not quite enough to hold all the other queer, femme, and fluid aspects that make me who I am.
Non-binary, for many of us, is a placeholder because nothing else could contain us.
And at the end of the day, who’s to say that there aren’t men and women that are so queer, so infinite that they need that space held for them, too?
We should talk about the power dynamics and privileges embedded in how aligned someone is with the binary, sure. But that’s a very different conversation from the ones I’m being asked to have.
I have found a certain amount of skepticism of my non-binary identity since I started claiming “trans guy” as an identity as well. Many folks felt these categories were at odds, and that I shouldn’t call myself a non-binary writer or seek to represent the community if it wasn’t my experience.
But I believe that non-binary is a spectrum of experiences that can be held by people of many (a)genders, and that we can make room for all of those experiences without stepping all over each other or denying someone a label that really resonates with them.
If non-binary is to mean “not exclusively masculine or feminine,” we should be open to the possibility that anyone of any gender – especially in a binary system in which few, if any truly fit – might find themselves looking for language that gives them permission to be who they are.
And really, we should always be cautious and self-critical if our skepticism of someone’s truth is turning into identity policing. Denying someone the right to identify as non-binary is simply upholding the binary and imposing it onto someone else.
As non-binary, isn’t the imposition of that binary the last thing we want to be participating in?
I don’t believe that non-binary men or non-binary women are contradictions at all. If anything, it’s an indication that people are catching on.
The binary, on absolute terms, serves very few – and at least for me, being non-binary is about making room for every part of myself. I’m not surprised that others feel that way, too.