Breaking the binary

By Elijah Hall

I was eighteen when I realised that I was nonbinary. I had spent a few weeks or so reading through articles and blog posts from other trans and non-binary people when I read a post titled ‘How to tell if you’re trans or non-binary’ and something just clicked. I’d been basing my gender identity on the idea that if I didn’t feel like a man, I must be a woman. Having another option was something that took me quite a while to understand, and that understanding is constantly shifting as I learn more about myself.

For me, ‘non-binary’ means that people referring to me by one of the binary genders makes me feel uncomfortable and upset, like I’m letting people believe a lie. I feel happiest when people refer to me with ‘they’ pronouns, and when I feel I can wear anything from a shirt to a dress without people trying to use it to disprove my identity. One of the biggest misconceptions about nonbinary people is that we’re ‘in the middle’ of male and female, but that’s only the case for some. Nonbinary identity is something that a lot of people find confusing – if they have even heard of it – because we live in a world constrained by binary gender. If I try to put into words how I feel about gender, I have two opposite options. I can describe myself as boy, man, masculine, macho; or I can describe myself as girl, woman, feminine, girly.

Whilst these words can be mixed and matched to some degree (for example, I was a ‘tomboy’ for most of my time at school), this is not perfect and there is no third option that I can use to describe myself. It makes my identity confusing for me and for the people around me. I think it’s also part of the reason that we have such a tough time from some groups.

Non-binary is a term that is growing in popularity and disdain in the media. Trans lives and issues are currently in the press, most likely because the government is reviewing the way that gender recognition works. Unfortunately, the views of the media can seep into other realms. Whilst many people of our generation have begun to accept that gender is not a binary, there are still many people who would not agree or simply would not realise what that means for other things, even within the University. If you’ve had a statistics lesson, you’ve probably used gender as a binary variable; if you’ve tested participants, it’s likely that you had to record their gender – perhaps you didn’t even have to ask what it was and simply assumed.

Not being included in a statistical analysis may seem like a small thing. However, when people either deny that you exist or act like you’re something you’re not every single day, it begins to affect your mental health. I can understand where people with good intentions are coming from and I don’t blame people for making mistakes. I simply wish they would make less of them; we notice every time, and it hurts just as often.

Still, it’s important to remember that things are changing. As I said, a lot of people in our generation are becoming more accepting, and those that do are able to go out and educate others who may not have the resources that we do. I’ve had nothing but respectful responses since coming out at university, and hopefully, that will be the case for all non-binary people in the future. When people deny that you exist it starts to affect your mental health.

Illustration: Marie-Louise Wohrle

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