I Am Queer, I Am Non-Binary, and I Don’t Know What it Means to Feel Safe

[The image features the author, Sam, glancing nervously over his shoulder while a hostile stranger smirks from across the aisle of the bus.]

Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik

From the moment I stepped onto the bus, there was something about me that didn’t sit right with you.

You couldn’t put your finger on it, but I knew what it was from the start, from the way that you looked at me.

You heard my voice as I greeted the driver. As you eyed me up and down, searching for my curves, you decided that I was, indeed, “a woman who was trying to be a man.”

And I think that’s what got your goat. I think you didn’t like that I had the nerve to stray outside of what you thought I ought to be.

I took my seat, and after I did, my partner – a masculine queer who, shocker, you also didn’t care for – sat next to me. You crinkled your nose at us, as if we smelled vile, as if we were rotten to you. But you moved over a seat to be closer to us anyway, to be sure that we would hear you when you spoke to us.

“You getting married soon?” you ask us. This would normally be a harmless question, but you say it with a growl in your voice, staring daggers. You say it in a way that sounds angry, hostile.

I begin to feel afraid, wondering how many of my trans siblings had conversations that started just like this one but ended with blows to their skulls.

“We’re…”

I remember the time we were nearly run over by an SUV, the way I screamed expletives down the street while bystanders pretended that I didn’t exist and that I didn’t hurt. I remember being told, shortly after, “Sam, the police don’t care about hate crimes. Let’s go home.” I remember our friend being beaten with a baseball bat, found unconscious and bloodied and broken. I remember all the close calls that felt too close, too near, and too present.

In my panicked state, I blurt out, “We’re… sisters.”

I pretend to laugh, and my partner, playing along, nervously chuckles.

“I want you to get married,” you push. “I want to be there. I want to watch.”

Your eyes widen, and you laugh, licking your lips like a carnivore staring down fresh meat. I begin to feel nauseous.

My partner and I get up to move to the back of the bus, and when I turn around to see if you’re following, your face contorts as your throat makes a deep hacking sound. I watch, seemingly in slow motion, as you rise from your seat to spit at us. I watch your phlegm splat onto the bus floor, inches away from my heels.

I want to yell obscenities at you. I want to tell you to rot in hell. I want to scream until I fracture your ear drums.

But I say nothing. I say nothing at all, because being transgender means never knowing if a small altercation could lead to violence. And because getting the last word between us runs the risk of those being the last words I ever speak. And it’s a risk I won’t let myself take.

The driver says nothing, and the other passengers on the bus say nothing, and you, satisfied with yourself, take your seat again.

I shroud myself in the silence, and I try to steady my shaking hands. I spend the next fifteen minutes – which feel like a lifetime – pretending to stare out the window, while I feel your eyes on me, your mouth forming a gleeful, delighted smirk.

You’ve put me in my place, haven’t you? Seeing me so powerless makes you feel something, something you enjoy, something that makes you straighten your spine a little and bare your teeth.

I try to imagine what you must be thinking. Maybe it’s the same thing that teenage boy was thinking when he tweeted to me, “Die, tranny faggot scum.” Maybe it’s the same thing those men were thinking as they blew that red light, nearly hitting us as they yelled, “Straights have the right of way!”

Or maybe, just maybe, there were no words for it and, instead, you imagined a perfect, circular wound in the center of my forehead, matching the bullets held in the belly of your shotgun.

I can’t ride the bus for a week after the incident. I skip all my classes. I order takeout instead of going to the grocery store, and I call in sick to work. Not because this is the first time it’s ever happened and I’m shocked, but because it happens all too often and I am afraid that the next time will be the last time.

Every time I approach the bus stop, I can see your face, and the foul, disgusted looks you give me. When I close my eyes, I can hear the crackling sound in your throat as you prepare another loogie to spit in my direction. And everywhere I turn, I wonder which ones are like you, the ones who have forgotten my humanity. The ones that see me a wild animal to be put into submission.

For too many of us, when you are transgender, there is no such thing as feeling safe.

I try to remember a time when I could ride the bus, or walk the streets, or encounter a stranger and not feel that sudden twinge in my gut, that wound up feeling that readies my body for fight or flight. I try to remember a time when I was more gentle, when I smiled at people I didn’t know, and I met the eyes of every person who looked at me and I did not look away.

These days, my head hangs low, and I look through everyone as if I were walking amongst ghosts.

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

Editor’s Note: We at LQTU! want to acknowledge and affirm that, by and large, trans women of color carry the burden of violence in our community. That being said, Sam shares his experience with the hopes of offering some insight into his fears and experiences around street harassment as a white queer and non-binary person. We previously wrote a brief piece about the street harassment that trans women face as well, and today’s piece is not meant to talk over, compare/contrast, or ignore this reality. We encourage anyone in the trans community to share their stories and contribute to this ongoing conversation.

7 Ways to Lovingly Support Your Gender Non-Binary Partner

This is a piece I posted over at Everyday Feminism that I wanted to cross-post here. This advice, while geared towards romantic partners, can more generally be applied to anyone who has a gender non-binary person in their life.

The image features the author, Sam, playfully biting his partner's face while his partner appears both confused and amused.

My fiance, Ray, and I. Yes, I am biting Ray’s face. Yes, there was consent.

I still remember the moment I came out as genderqueer to my then-partner. I was finally sharing a deep and important truth about myself: I was ready to transition and was overjoyed at the prospect of having my partner by my side.  

But for him, my transition was threatening.

“I just wouldn’t find you attractive anymore,” he told me.

That was all he would say about the matter. My heart broke that day.

While his sexual preferences are his prerogative, he had failed to be supportive. That made me afraid to transition. I was afraid of being abandoned, afraid that I could not be loved as I was.

I never brought it up again and delayed my transition until our eventual breakup a year later.

Partners can have a big impact on our transitions, for better or for worse. A partner’s reaction to our coming out can devastate us – as in my case. My partner’s reaction made me fearful that transitioning would ultimately result in tragedy.

I thought that it was better to live a lie than live without the person I loved, and that was not only unfair, but it was also untrue. It wasn’t my transition that was the problem – it was my partner’s lack of understanding and empathy for what I was going through.

Rejecting our transition is rejecting who we are on a deep and essential level, and the pain that comes with that can be agonizing.

But when our partners support us through this experience, it can make all the difference. It can make what can be a frightening beginning evolve into a beautiful journey.

This is why it’s so important to learn how to best support your non-binary partners.

If you are a cisgender partner looking to be supportive of your non-binary partner, you’ve already taken the first step. Making a commitment to being there for the person you love can make all the difference.

With that in mind, here are seven ways that you can support your non-binary partner:

1. Do Listen to Your Partner – Don’t Invalidate Their Experiences

If your partner has trusted you enough to talk about their gender and their experiences as non-binary, it is important not to break that trust.

If you aren’t non-binary, or even if you are, you may not relate to or understand everything your partner is saying. That understanding will come with time. Your job, for now, is to listen and validate those experiences.

Remember: This is your partner’s lived experience. And living as non-binary and coming out are often difficult experiences.

So telling your partner that their gender isn’t real, that it sounds absurd, or that you don’t believe what they’re saying are all offensive and awful responses. Your partner’s gender identity is for them to declare – and not for you to interrogate.

If your partner is coming out, believe them. If they are sharing something they have lived through, believe them.

A supportive partner is a partner that doesn’t undermine, talk over, or insult their non-binary partner. A supportive partner will do exactly that – support them.

Simply validating your non-binary partner’s experiences can go a long way.

2. Do Be Honest About Your Feelings – Don’t Prioritize Your Feelings Over Your Partner’s

You are allowed to be afraid. You are allowed to be confused. You are allowed to be sad.

Your partner’s identity can have an impact on your relationship, and that can bring about a lot of changes that are intimidating and even scary.

You should be honest about how you feel and talk about your feelings. However, it’s important that when you do disclose how you feel, you are doing it at the right time and aren’t prioritizing your feelings over your partner’s.

For example, when I came out to my ex, he didn’t offer his support or engage with what I had said.

Instead, he prioritized his feelings over mine. He de-centered a conversation about my identity, and instead, refocused it on himself, without indicating that he had heard what I said or cared.

Instead, think of phrasing it this way: “Thank you for trusting me with this. I am completely supportive of your transition and believe you should do what you need to do to be happy. I have some fears, but we can talk about that whenever you’re ready.”

When you’re discussing your partner’s gender identity, whether they’ve just come out or it’s years after the fact, it’s important to give your non-binary partner the space to talk about their identity without worrying that you will take it as an opportunity to talk about you and your feelings instead.

Be honest about how you feel, but discuss those feelings in a way that is respectful of your partner and allows them to feel heard.

3. Do Educate Yourself About Non-Binary People – Don’t Expect Your Partner to Teach You

If you want your non-binary partner to love you forever, doing some research on your own time is the way to their heart, I promise.

While it’s great to ask questions and be curious, your partner wants to be your partner – not your educator. The role of an educator can be stressful, tedious, and tiring. It’s also unfair to expect your partner to teach you everything there is to know.

There are great resources around the net. Everyday Feminism actually has a whole guide to non-binary gender. Reading about some myths regarding non-binary folks is always a good idea, and brushing up on your terminology never hurts.

Read about non-binary people and their experiences. I’ve got a pretty interesting blog if I do say so myself, and Neutrois Nonsense is another one of my personal favorites. If you’re on Twitter, I am a big fan of Charlie (@cutequeer96) who always keeps it real.

Tumblr has an abundance of resources. One of the particularly awesome ones, Ask a Non-Binary, allows users to anonymously ask questions about non-binary identities. They have tags where you can read up on previously asked questions as well.

Non-binary people can sometimes feel like mythical creatures if we don’t know where to look. But the Internet is a magical place, my friend, so use it!

4. Do Be Mindful of the Language That You Use – Don’t Forget to Use That Language at All Times

This is a given, but using your partner’s pronouns is not optional – it’s mandatory.

This also means the language you use to describe your partner may have to change.

Ask your partner if they are comfortable being referred to as a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend” or if a neutral term like “partner” is what they prefer. Be sure to check in about nicknames you’ve given each other, too; your pet names might need an update as well.

If friends or family are using the wrong pronouns, educate them and remind them of your partner’s pronouns.

Don’t expect your partner to do all the work. Be an ally, and call out incorrect language usage when you see it, so that your partner doesn’t have to shoulder the burden alone.

Finally, use the correct terminology at all times, unless they’ve stated otherwise. Don’t use their pronouns in front of them, but use the incorrect pronouns behind their back.

Yes, you might trip up sometimes. But as long as you’re putting in a sincere effort, your partner will definitely appreciate it.

5. Do Offer to Help in Whatever Ways You Can – Don’t Assume You Know What’s Best for Them

Your non-binary partner may need your help from time to time, as being non-binary isn’t always easy.

Dysphoria, for example, is a very real part of my life. I often feel depression and panic in relation to certain gendered parts of my body, like my chest, and need my partners to be patient when I’m having a difficult time.

I also feel particularly distressed after family gatherings, where I am misgendered or criticized for my gender presentation. My partners know that after such get-togethers, I may need extra support and care.

Ask your partner how you can help.

Do they need you to accompany them to a hormone therapy appointment? Do they want a chest binder for their birthday? Do they want you to accompany them when they go dress shopping? Do they need a nice, home-cooked meal on days when their dysphoria keeps them in bed?

Don’t assume that you know what they need or what their triggers are. Instead, let them teach you about their needs. You may be surprised.

6. Do Have Conversations About Boundaries – Don’t Push Those Boundaries

This article on having sex with trans folks is required reading if, at some point in the future, you and your partner plan on becoming intimate or if you’re already doing the deed.

Boundaries are an important thing to keep in mind with your partner, especially since you may be unfamiliar with what kinds of boundaries your non-binary partner has or what could trigger dysphoria.

Having conversations about what parts of the body are okay to touch, what kinds of sexual acts your partner is comfortable with, and what your partner needs during a sexual encounter are all important things to talk about before getting busy – not after something has gone wrong.

It’s important to have this conversation even if you don’t plan on having sex or if your partner identifies as asexual.

Physical boundaries exist in contexts beyond sex. For example, your partner may not be comfortable with PDA, or might find it triggering to be pulled in for a hug by their hips.

Talk about touch – what to touch, what not to touch, and where the boundaries are. And respect those boundaries, always.

7. Do Be Supportive Without Conditions – Don’t Discourage Your Partner from Transitioning

Regardless of how you feel about your partner’s identity, transition, or body, you should be unconditionally loving and supportive.

If your partner wants to bind their breasts, it’s their right to. If your partner wants to start wearing dresses, it’s their choice. If your partner is going to grow a beard, power to them.

Being supportive means respecting the choices your non-binary partner makes about their body and their gender expression, regardless of what your feelings about it may be.

There are no ifs, ands, or buts. No “if you don’t cut your hair,” no “and I can’t call you by that name,” no “but your pronouns are so confusing.”

If you can’t love your partner for who they really are, in whatever gendered or non-gendered form that takes, you need to ask yourself if this relationship is right for you both.

A transition could be a deal-breaker for you. And you need to be honest if that’s the case.

***

Today, I am happily engaged to my biggest supporter — one who helped me through every step of my transition. They helped me squeeze into my first chest binder, they were the first to try out my masculine pronouns, and they taught me how to tie a tie.

On more than one occasion, they left work early when my dysphoria had me hiding beneath the covers. Without a complaint, they crawled into bed with me where we watched home renovation programs and chatted about dream apartments and hardwood floors and termites until we fell asleep.

Having someone by my side through it all helped me to realize how much of a difference a compassionate partner can make.

At the end of the day, the best way to support a non-binary partner is to give them the love, encouragement, and room they need to grow.

Not only do they need that from you, they deserve it, too.

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Dear World: Stop Telling Me to “Love My Body” As Is

As a transgender person (or simply put, someone who does not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth), I have made a number of decisions in my life to be more comfortable with my body. One of these decisions was to wear a chest binder, which is a garment that is worn to conceal and flatten the appearance of one’s breasts. After experiencing years of depression and dysphoria about my chest, having a binder helped me to feel happier, more comfortable, and certainly more confident. Nonetheless, this is not a garment worn for comfort, as it constricts and literally binds your chest. Consequently, friends will sometimes hear me complaining by the end of the day about the physical discomfort my binder has caused me.

Most understand and are sympathetic. But some, probably well-intentioned but very misguided, opt for a different response. “Why wear it, then?” And the even more dreaded response: “Why can’t you just accept and love your body the way it is?”

Being transgender is not a matter of self-hatred. It is not about punishing my body. And most definitely, I can’t change my gender identity with a simple attitude adjustment. In other words, “loving my body” will not change the fact that I am transgender. And there is ample research that shows the most effective way of coping with gender dysphoria is to transition — not to pretend that everything is okay, or accept your body as it is.

Being transgender is not about what I wish to be, but rather, it is about making a change to reflect what I actually am. Being transgender is not about fulfilling a fantasy to be a boy. I already am a boy. I am simply making changes in my outward appearance to reflect my inner identity.

The reality is, society imposed a gender upon me. It chose for me. It decided the role I would play, and what that role would say about me. And when I was finally in a position to know myself and name myself, it became apparent that what my body told the world about me was not my truth. I am transitioning to proclaim my truth. I am transitioning so that, when I look in the mirror, what I see on the outside is an honest expression of my identity — that what I see in the mirror is truly me.

Asking me to “just love myself as I am” is problematic, in that it assumes that my unbinded chest accurately expresses my identity in the first place. It assumes that “as I am” is congruent with “myself.” It also suggests that transgender people have a character flaw — insecurity and poor self-esteem — rather than a valid identity with a different path to self-realization and fulfillment. That journey, though it may require a social or medical transition (more here), is not an indication of weakness or flaws. Transgender people are diverse in their needs and in their stories, but their being transgender is, in itself, not a character flaw.

Modifying my body to accurately reflect my identity is not an act of self-hatred. It is freeing my body and myself from unwanted misgendering and misinterpretation. It allows me to be seen as I actually am, rather than allowing others to presume how I identify before I’ve had the chance to speak. For me, binding is a gesture of self-love in a society that insisted it could decide for me who I am — before I ever had the chance to proclaim it. I am taking back my body from the social norms and assumptions that dictate my anatomy is my supposed destiny.

And reclaiming my queer body, not loving the body you tell me is mine, is a truly radical act.

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