Those of us who have genders that leap ecstatically out of the gender binary are stellar beings that disrupt, re-define, and challenge traditional conceptions of gender identity and expression, and there are just about as many ways to express and live a non-binary gender identity as there are stars in the sky. Let’s explore some of the ways that non-binary people push the limits of gender’s universe to new and exciting horizons!
1. We disrupt the tradition of gendered clothes.
Non-binary people are opening up new possibilities for fashion and physical expression for people of every and any gender. Skirts aren’t limited to only feminine people, suits aren’t limited to masculine people, and in my opinion, basically everyone rocks a sharp-tipped winged eyeliner. To top it all off, we have loads of fashion-forward individuals coming out publicly about their non-binary identities.
Amandla Stenberg is an amazing example of a publicly non-binary celebrity who rocks a powerful femme-witch vibe while maintaining a non-binary gender identity. Avie Acosta is representing comfort and happiness in a liminal space in her transition in the high fashion world, and Jaden Smith rocks it as the face of Louis Vuitton’s 2016 Womenswear campaign, stating in an interview that “I don’t see man clothes and women’s clothes, I just see scared people and comfortable people.”
With the mindset that clothes don’t necessarily indicate gender based on their cuts and colors, we are heading down a path where anybody can wear anything they feel fabulous in without facing the ever-looming threats of violent street harassment, bullying in school hallways, and emotionally-devastating ridicule from friends and family.
2. We are naming and exploring genders that exist outside of femininity and masculinity.
A lot of non-binary individuals are naming their genders as they discover the nuances of their identity. Rapper Angel Haze gave the Agender identity loads more visibility after she publicly came out on Twitter in 2015. Demigender lovelies connect to a certain gender identity while retaining a sense of gender neutrality. Bigender individuals such as myself connect to two genders simultaneously, genders which may be binary or non-binary.
While learning every new gender identity can seem like a daunting task, it can also easily be seen as an exciting new realm of human possibility. There are, or there should be, as many names for gender identities as there are people! Rejecting the binary idea that everyone is strictly a man or a woman depending on a series of behavioral and physical characteristics is a radical act in that it disrupts cultural paradigms of cis-centrism and patriarchy. By naming ourselves outside of this system, by creating our own systems and naming classifications of gender, we challenge cis-centrism’s self-proclaimed essentialism.
3. We open radical paths for self-identification.
This generation of non-binary, trans, and genderqueer individuals exhibit a deep intimacy with the self. We can name how we identify with such specificity that we are creating new terminology to help accurately describe us as we are. A lot of recent articles de-crying the selfishness and self-absorption of the Millennial generation focus on this intimacy as negative and as indicative of our inability to conform to their ideal of growing up.
But self-intimacy is revolutionary. Self-intimacy is in direct opposition to the aims of body terrorism, which wishes us to turn away in disgust from the identities and histories that make us who we are. Instead, we are embracing gender euphoria and are learning to love our identities for all their nuance and beautiful differences. By more accurately situating ourselves in the world in regards to our gender, racial, and cultural identities, we can more accurately begin to love ourselves radically, as well as begin to help equip our friends and family with the tools, language, and knowledge to love us radically, creating communities of radical, radiant love.
4. We de-center cis-centric ideas about gender identity, transition, and trans-ness.
The cissexist ideal would like to have us believe that trans-ness and gender identity is only authentic when following its own constructed narrative about physical transition. It goes something like this: a trans individual knows that they were “born in the wrong body” from early childhood. This has something to do with wanting to play with Barbie’s or Hot Wheels when one is not expected to. The trans individual explores their identity in isolation, in secret, as though it is a thing to be ashamed of. Then after a series of gender-confirmations, usually including a confirmation of said trans-person’s heterosexuality since lord knows cissexism does not know what to do with gay, bi, pan, and otherwise-queer trans people, the trans-person receives gender confirmation surgery, finally realizing their dream of becoming an “authentic” man or woman.
Rejecting the notion that gender-confirmation surgery and other physical transitions exist as the ultimate authenticator of transgender identity is central to the worldview of the non-binary community. Our gender or lack of gender should be taken seriously and respected regardless of how our appearance and physicality conform to a cis idea of femininity or masculinity. Gender identity does not depend on the desire to physically transition, and gender identity remains authentic even when an individual decides to stop their physical transition at any level of the process. To de-center the cis-centric narrative about gender identity and transition is to open up a whole universe of ways to be transgender, a universe of ways to be non-binary.
5. We’re forging new methods of expression in drag performance
The art of drag has a complicated history. On one end, drag has been a tool of gender liberation, allowing trans, gender non-conforming, and non-binary performers to show off their gender expression in exuberant acts. On the other hand, there is some drag which upholds harmful stereotypes about femininity, and especially about trans-femininity, usually performed by cis drag performers. However, anyone can perform in a drag show, and non-binary performers are influencing the evolution of drag by refusing to fall into the tired old tropes.
While most of the non-binary drag performances I know about are performances I’ve seen personally and in a local setting, these sorts of drag performances do exist and are transcendent. One performer I’ve seen really rock it goes by the stage name Esme Rodriguez (http://dragworld.net/tag/esme-rodriguez/), serving a full face of aggressive femininity and audacious sexuality. Along with their drag work co-directed the documentary “Genderf*kation: A Gender Emancipation”, which highlights the experiences of transgender and non-binary individuals living in the Twin Cities area.
Non-binary individuals rock because we spin our genders into shimmering art.
6. We rock because we share a common identity with non-binary space rocks!
The children’s cartoon “Steven Universe” has received much acclaim from queer and feminist communities for representing same-gender relationships and for representing a narrative of boyhood in Steven that rejects toxic masculinity. The non-binary community has found a lot of strength in the Crystal Gems, the protagonists of the show who demonstrate a rainbow of gender possibility. Amethyst fluidly and happily morphs to-and-from various forms, including Purple Puma, a macho wrestler who sports a stellar purple unitard. While Rebecca Sugar, who created the show, has never specifically used the words “non-binary” to describe the Crystal Gems, she has also publicly stated that the gems are genderless, which, for a children’s cartoon on a major network, is tremendously exciting.
There is also empowerment in identifying with characters who are possibly non-binary who also present as femme; too often, even in queer, trans, and non-binary communities, we associate masculinity as the ideal gender, whether that is in a pre-occupation with men’s wear or within a toxic characteristic in the gay men’s community to explicitly state in dating profiles that “no femmes” are desired. Femmephobia is real, and the fact of the matter is that the non-binary umbrella certainly includes feminine expressions. The existence of a cartoon that praises femme, possibly (probably) non-binary protagonists is fantastic, and will hopefully inspire scores of new cartoons featuring non-binary protagonists to come.
More Radical Reads: I’m Gender Non-Conforming – And I Need People to Stop Pressuring Me to Pass
7. We are experiencing a blossoming of non-binary youth
Our current youth are remarkably skilled at describing queer identities, non-binary identities included. Introducing oneself with your gender pronouns in group and organizational settings is becoming more common even in schoolrooms, thanks to the bravery of non-binary youth to advocate for basic respect and non-binary visibility. Previously mentioned Amandla Stenberg is one example of a non-binary youth blazing a new path for self-identification. With non-binary youth becoming more and more present in the media, more youth will assumedly become more comfortable with naming themselves as non-binary, creating a new precedent and infinite possibilities of gender expression and identity for the next generations.
8. We are actively influencing the evolution of language
The usage of the personal pronoun “they/them/theirs” has sparked a national academic debate about the pronoun’s grammatical validity. It’s becoming more and more frequently used, and has joined other articles of grammar to radicalize gender, such as the term “Ms.”, which was created to refer to a woman without depending on her marital status. Like the they pronoun, Ms. faced tremendous opposition from language purists and prescriptivists. Thank goodness for language descriptivists, those who study grammar and language transform with current usages! The Merriam-Webster dictionary recently added “They” into its database of “Words We’re Watching”, a landmark achievement in the fight against obligatory binary gender implicit in common language.
It’s also important to note that non-binary people are influencing languages other than English. The term Latinx was created as the gender-neutral alternative to Latino, Latina, and Latin@, explicitly to include those who fall outside of the gender binary. Hen is a gender-neutral pronoun, originating in the Finnish language, which recently was implemented as the standard personal referential pronoun in Swedish schools. A community that can transform language has real power. Let’s embrace that power, and that real, tangible change, and celebrate the non-binary community for all it can do!
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[Feature Image: A person with short dark hair. They are wearing large, ornate golden earrings and golden necklaces. They are wearing a yellow shirt and an ornate golden arm band. Source: Tjook]