Non-binary gender identity has become a bit more visible in the mainstream in recent years, but it’s still a new concept for many people. The idea that gender is a binary – male and female – are often criticized for being too reductive.
Whole doctoral theses exist on the study of gender, and any attempt by me to explain it in a short article would doubtless leave something out. So today, we’re going to hear from a good friend of ours about their personal experience.
Caitlin, who works as a sex educator and blogger at Sex-ational.com, agreed to be interviewed today about their nonbinary gender identity.
KIIROO: What does nonbinary mean for you?
Caitlin: Non-binarism is the closest word to describing how I’ve always felt about my gender; it’s a kind of umbrella term that a lot of different identities fit under so it doesn’t directly describe my feelings about my gender- but I kind of like that.
For me, it allows me to keep the details of my gender identity to myself and those who I feel like explaining it to. Of course, everyone who identifies as non-binary has their own feelings and reasons behind it, but that’s mine.
K: What would you say to someone who has never heard of non-binary gender identity before?
C: I usually tell people that being non-binary means that I don’t fit neatly into the boundaries that we’ve defined for gender. I then usually go on to talk about how gender identity, gender presentation, sexuality, and the body don’t necessarily align.
And explain that there have been many different definitions of gender and gender identities over time and in different cultures. If you’re interested in reading more about gender, I would recommend picking up a copy of Leslie Feinberg’s Trans Gender Warriors.
K: Was there an “ah-ha!” moment for you when it came to your gender identity?
C: For me, I’ve always fluctuated and never really fit into any prescribed box, though as a child I would try to and went through super feminine and super masculine phases, trying to fit in with the only options I was aware of.
Becoming more aware of my non-binary identity was a gradual thing, and I’m still learning about my gender and becoming more sensitive to how the expectations of others regarding my perceived gender affect me.
It’s something I came into slowly; there isn’t a concrete “ah-ha!” moment I can think of, but it has definitely been spurred on by meeting more non-binary and queer people and learning more about it on the internet- whereas before, I didn’t realize it was possible, even though I was already living it.
There have also been definite “ah-ha!” moment’s as I slowly uncover more about my gender, usually spurred by reading other people’s experiences or trans/gender non-conforming history.
K: If you hadn’t heard the term “non-binary”, how would you identify?
C: I’m not really sure. There are a lot of very different terms out there for the same thing. Androgyne almost fits, but I feel like one, the other, both, and neither- if that makes sense. There isn’t really a word for that, though.
Were it not for non-binary, I probably just wouldn’t really concretely think of myself as anything in particular, as I did before- I just let people presume what my gender was and ignored it.
K: How do you feel knowing that there’s a community of people who identify as you do?
C: There’s nothing like walking into a space full of people who are gender non-conforming in one way or another. A space where no one, or at least most people, don’t presume your pronouns or who you are. One of these spaces is the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, which I attended in 2013 and 2014, and plan on continuing to attend.
Another example was using a bathroom for everyone at Woodhull SFA in August; though I’m fine using “Women‘s” restrooms and don’t have problems since most people assume I’m a woman, it’s so relieving to be able to walk into an everyone space that’s usually heavily gender enforced. It’s hard to explain exactly how it feels.
In all of these spaces, it’s comfortable in a way I imagine cisgender people feel- whereas other places I feel this pressure to conform to the gender others perceive me as, and am treated differently because of my perceived gender. It’s also nice being able to talk online with people who can relate to how I feel, which is rare in everyday life.
K: Do you see your gender identity as fluid (ie: changing)?
C: I think my gender identity is fluid, but consistently outside the box, if that makes sense. I tend to present femme most of the time even though I’d like to present more masculine other times, simply because my physical body lends itself better to that- and trying to present more masculine looking as I do can be really upsetting, because my body doesn’t fit the ideal I have in my head.
Because I don’t look the way I’d like to in those situations. So although my presentation is often either casual androgynous or high femme, my gender is very fluid.
K: What has been your experience with dating and identifying as non-binary?
C: When I was first serious about identifying as non-binary I was in a polyamorous relationship but lived with someone who also identified as non-binary, and then identified as a trans woman, and I dated people who for the most part didn’t care.
The person whom I’m in a monogamous relationship with now probably recognizes who I am better than anyone else, and I’m able to play with that in a really liberating way with him, both in our relationship and our sexuality. It’s nice to not have to take it so seriously and stress out about it around him; I’m able to relax and just be me, with no added expectations.
Having such a comfortable and comforting private life really helps when I’m having a “bad gender day”- when other people’s expectations are really getting to me, or I’m having complicated feelings about my gender.
K: Are there political elements to your gender identity, or has your gender identity made you more politically active?
C: I think, for the most part, it has affected how I teach and how I talk to people. I try not to presume anything about anyone’s gender because I know I look a certain way that makes people presume my gender, and I’ve known femme trans men and other people who may present one way but not identify what most people may think of as corresponding to that presentation.
In terms of my teaching, I’m trying to bring more non-binary education through my workshops and I’m working on a proposal for a conference of sexuality professionals that talks about the importance of a non-binary approach to sex education and marketing- where you don’t say things for vulvas are “for women” or things for penises are “for men” and don’t presume the gender identities of the people you’re working with or teaching. I think that’s currently the farthest the “political” aspect of my gender goes because sex education takes up so much of what I do on a daily basis.
Thank you, Caitlin, for sharing your point of view with us!
If you’d like to be interviewed about your gender identity, sexuality, kink, or long distance relationship, please reach out to us via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Twitter (@KIIROO). A request for anonymity is always respected.