Thanks to what Time magazine referred to as The Transgender Tipping Point in their June 2014 cover story featuring Laverne Cox, there is a growing awareness and allyship for the rights and realities of being Transgender in America. Well, that is to say there is a recent well-spring of support and understanding for those who transition from male to female or female to male. However, there is a group who falls under the transgender umbrella that appears to be largely misunderstood and often treated as less than legitimate.
Are you familiar with the terms genderfluid, agender, nonbinary or genderqueer? These are some of the many terms used to describe gender identities falling outside the “binary norm” of male and female. For the ease of reading this blog, I will use the term nonbinary to refer to all of them.
As a gender therapist in Orlando, I find that those who are not part of the gender binary can be susceptible to being on the receiving end of transphobia and experience more difficulty in being accepted by society in general. It seems as if people find it easier to identify with someone who can successfully dissolve/disappear into the gender that he or she internally identifies with (i.e. transition), rather than with those who find themselves somewhere more towards the middle of the gender spectrum when it comes to gender expression.
Gender is said to made up of three parts:
1. biology (our bodies)
2. gender expression (how we behave and dress)
3. gender identity (how we feel inside)
People tend make assumptions about a person’s gender that conform to their personal understanding of gender. As there are few nonbinary identified people in mainstream media, it can be hard for the average person to have any awareness of gender fluidity, unless they know someone personally who has shared their experience of being a nonbinary trans person. It is important to note that (although they may) a nonbinary individual does not have to undergo (or plan to undergo) any surgeries, nor do they have to undergo HRT to be considered part of the transgender community.
Being nonbinary does not mean that a person is ready and willing to constantly explain their gender identity due to perceived nonconformity. This is personal information to be selectively shared with trusted friends and loved ones. In speaking with or referring to a nonbinary person, gender variant preferred names should be respected as well as gender neutral or gender neutral/inclusive pronouns used (such as they or ze).
Some people who are nonbinary are readily perceived by others as violating gender roles (expressing conflicting gender cues) in a way that is perhaps construed as threatening. Others may present as androgynous or unintentionally ambiguous and blend in, so that they are not singled out for ridicule or harassment. Neither group should not be the victims of harassment. Family, friends, co-workers, fellow students and especially strangers may refuse to acknowledge the preferences of someone who is nonbinary. Name calling, taunting, threatening, refusing to hire or otherwise disrespecting these individuals is not entirely uncommon, and can lead them to seek the support and alliance of a trained therapist.
Ultimately there is a pervasive belief that there exists nothing beyond the gender designations of male and female. Nonbinary individuals are often put in the position of having to answer the question, “What are you (meaning male or female)?” This may happen in a variety of social settings including work, school, family get-togethers, medical appointments, etc. This kind of inappropriate and awkward questioning can place a person in the position of having to constantly come out to relative strangers. Further, the nonbinary person is forced to define themselves in a way that they may not want to be the sole focus of their identity in all future interactions.
Nonbinary.org The Nonbinary gender visibility, education and advocacy network
SURVIVAL Kit Voice Pack: Finding Your Female Voice Help for achieving a female voice
TSSurgeryGuide.com Guide to Transgender surgeries
TRANSWHAT? A guide to transgender allyship
National Center for Transgender Equality Social Justice Advocacy Organization