The nonbinary umbrella encompasses a plethora of gender identities that do not conform to the gender binary. It is a quite convoluted term because people may identify as nonbinary in different ways, making all nonbinary identities unique. For this post, I can only comment on what nonbinary means to me in terms of my own experience of gender; however, I also hope that readers find this article informative and that it may serve those who identify as nonbinary.
Nonbinary was one of the most confusing terms to me when I first encountered it after moving back to the USA in 2015. Honestly, I can’t say that my first interpretations were positive. I generally did not understand the term at first, and like many, I had been basically programmed by society to see gender in binary terms. At the time, I was just learning to accept that I was transgender and that I wanted to medically transition to a man. I was fighting against so many years of messages that taught me that being transgender was bad. Likewise, I also grabbled with an internalized sense of shame about who I was, and I feared the social consequences that I may face from transitioning, especially in a small, rural community. Depression, anxiety, and just brutal angst tormented me at the time.
I have not had bottom surgery, a decision that I made early on in my transition. Therefore, going into my transition, I already knew that I would need to accept myself as a man with a vagina. Despite this, I envisioned myself as stereotypically male, abandoning my makeup, my long, black hair, and anything that society labeled as feminine. I purposely forced my legs apart when I sat to take up space, forcing myself to end the habit of crossing my legs since I didn’t see many men sit that way. I became hypervigilant with my voice, cringing any time that the sweet, gentle, but soft voice spewed out of me, for I was sure it was a dead giveaway that I wasn’t cisgender. My typical smile vanished from my face in public as I tried to resemble the tough, stoic man that I envisioned in my head. In my mind, I missed the goth makeup and long hair. I missed my sense of style. When I gazed at myself in the mirror with no makeup, plain clothes, and short buzzed hair, it didn’t feel like me. I assumed that I fit in with the stereotypical male, but I don’t.
I joined some nonbinary support groups on Facebook because I wanted to understand these identities. I saw people whose appearance reflected aspects of the feminine and the masculine, but I also saw people who appeared stereotypically male or female but still used they/their/them pronouns. These forums started challenging me in terms of the binary construct. What if I have been thinking about this all wrong?
Growing up assigned female at birth (AFAB) and never feeling congruent in that identity, I resented my feminine characteristics. I believed that transitioning would rid me of them altogether. I had chosen to openly identify as a transgender man instead of a man for advocacy and educational purposes. I do not mean any disrespect for those who transition and do not see the need to identify as transgender. This is my personal choice. Nevertheless, I started to ponder more deeply into identifying as a transgender man instead of a man. I lived 38 years of my life presenting as a woman and interacting with society as a woman. It wasn’t just going to vanish, and I realized that I didn’t want it to vanish. This experience was part of me. The “woman” that I presented to others was still present in me as a man. That realization set me free.
I stopped caring about my voice. I love my voice! Plus, changing my voice just seemed to feel less genuinely me. I didn’t want to spend hours or years changing my voice. I stopped caring about crossing my legs or my animated gesticulations when I spoke. I always loved that I spoke with such passion, energy, and animation; thus, I didn’t want to abandon it just because I worried that others would label it as feminine. My masculine voice still emerges and has a place, but I allow the feminine to emerge when it feels natural.
Letting go of this stress freed me from the binary prison that was suppressing my true identity. After all, the goal was never to change myself just to place myself in another predicament of inauthenticity.
These behaviors helped me embody my nonbinary identity more concretely. I call myself nonbinary, transmasculine because I still identify more heavily on the masculine side; however, I am also comfortable with they/them/their pronouns because I also embody androgyny. Physically and mentally, I feel myself as an integrated form of male and female, and at times, one does not necessarily dominate the other.
This year, I decided to explore myself further as an integrated person. I started wearing eyeliner again, even though I only wear it in certain places. Living in a rural community, I harbor fear about social repercussions. Nonetheless, my goal is to become comfortable enough in myself to wear my eyeliner anywhere. With each passing month, I wear it more. I plan on purchasing some lipstick, eyeshadow, and body paint and artistically exploring my feminine side. I purchased a professional camera and am currently browsing wigs and other various outfits so that I can professional photograph myself. This new endeavor fills me with excitement! I have hated and suppressed my feminine self and now I want to embrace it and share it with the world! Unfortunately, the gender binary still bounds many people in our society. Excited, I already vomited out my plans to other people for exploring drag and wearing makeup again only to be met with, “But you want to use male pronouns?” Honestly, I fear that some people will use my nonbinary identity to delegitimize my masculine identity and preferred masculine pronouns, a battle that I constantly fight until this day. Nonetheless, I can’t let others stop me from being me.
I see a beautiful person inside myself; not because of the way I look but because I am authentic. Living authentically is a daily pursuit and lifelong commitment. I have moments of self-doubt, insecurity, and social anxiety. I wait for the rude, prejudiced remarks from others meant to attack me and pressure me to conform to the binary. No one will take away my power to be me. I hope that this article helps others think beyond the gender binary, for we are all masculine and feminine. Let’s us all honor and find strength in both.