The word “non-binary” has been fundamentally misinterpreted inside and outside the queer community. This is evidenced by the way that many people who are not queer treat and use the label. Even people inside the community use the word incorrectly at times or reduce this identity which at its core is the description of a spectrum to individual segments. “Non-binary” encompasses a vast range of gender identities (and identities that lie beyond the traditional idea of what a gender even is), from demiboy to agender to xenogender, and the lack of education regarding this diverse universe of gender leads to LGBTQIA+ gatekeeping, infighting, and ridicule of the queer community from the outside.
In my search for a label that fit my gender identity the best (because truly, each person’s gender is individual to them), I was experiencing issues regarding my dysphoria. I had been considering whether or not I was nonbinary for a couple months, but every time I approached the subject it simply evaded my grasp. I told myself that if I was nonbinary, that I would be less of a girl and more of a man. Being in any way associated with my former gender presentation was anathema and made me dysphoric. In time, however, I realized that I was subconsciously thinking in the gender binary. Experiencing genders other than strictly female did not make me any more a man than an agender person is closer to being a man than a woman. I decided that the label “girlflux” fit me best: oscillating between different feminine gender identities, such as female, demigirl, and genderfae.
I think that this experience I had mirrors a deeper misunderstanding in the queer community: that there is one way to be nonbinary. Essentially, short, dyed hair, makeup, a larger frame… these are all the images that pervade our preconceived notions of what it means to be nonbinary. But by its very definition, “non-binary” includes everything that is not strictly male or strictly female. There is “no way to look non-binary”, a message that is frequently shared on social media among more inclusive queer accounts, and yet the subconscious ideas remain.
One day, I was browsing Facebook and came across a meme that explains this issue very well by showing us exactly what this misunderstanding is. It was the classic Skeletor motorbike format, saying “By dividing gender into binary and non-binary, you have created another binary! Until later!”. The meme struck me instantly as ridiculous, since there is a false equivalence there being made about the nature of gender. The essence of non-binary towers above the individual pinpoints of the distinct binary genders we were raised to understand. There are boys and there are girls, there are men and there are women… there is only male and female. But biology itself ridicules this concept by showing us the vast spectra of intersex conditions which defy this binary. Gender itself is a concept invented by humans to define social roles and functions more clearly, but it has quickly become a flawed construct that fails to encompass the vast diversity of human experiences.
This brings me to the association between neurodivergence and non-binary gender identity. Many people, even within the queer community, have the idea that the reason so many neurodivergent people are non-binary is because they are more easily “lured” into “unscientific” or “flawed” ways of thinking about gender. Even if this belief is not consciously held, it often manifests in how people interact with individuals who are xenogender. “Xenogender”, to those unfamiliar with the term, is a term that means “foreign gender” under the non-binary umbrellas that takes the deconstruction of gender to the extreme, associating genders with objects, abstract concepts, or nature. Even other non-binary people often exclude xenogender people from their spaces, claiming that xenogenders are not real genders or that acceptance of xenogender people brings ridicule to the LGBTQIA+ community. While the second point can often be true (anti-LGBTQIA+ attacks can take the form of xenogender-ridiculing “jokes” such as “I identify as an attack helicopter”), it makes another misunderstanding of the meaning of a community. The queer community was built on the foundations of acceptance and togetherness and excluding identities from it “because they’re too controversial” is counterintuitive. This ties back to the link between neurodivergence, ableism, and the queer community: the vast majority of xenogender individuals also express neurodivergent traits.
All this is to say that there are many shades of non-binary, each one valid and unique, whether that is simply calling yourself non-binary as a way to defiantly separate yourself from gender, using the term agender to describe your total lack of a gender, being catgender or pyrogender to display your association with these concepts, or being girlflux, showing the world that you are a girl, in quite literally every sense of the word.
Why is this important? Why is it important to understand the array of non-binary-ness? Simply put, it is to protect the little closeted non-binary children, wondering what could possibly be wrong with them because they don’t really feel like a boy or a girl. It is to protect the non-binary teenagers, at the most vulnerable time of their lives, from being harassed and ridiculed because of who they are. It is to protect the non-binary adults who still have to face enbyphobia in their day-to-day lives while confronting the other stresses of adult life. And finally, it is to honor the legacies of our non-binary ancestors and to pave the way for our non-binary descendants. This is a challenge that every person, binary or non-binary, must rise up to. This is a challenge to you, and a challenge to me, and a challenge to us as a species.
We must accept people for who they are, and not restrict that in any way. There are not two genders, there are not a thousand genders.
There is only gender.
Take it or leave it.
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