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On being Non-Binary and the toxicity of “just pick one"

Posted on July 07 2019

On being Non-Binary and the toxicity of “just pick one"


Many don’t understand how someone can be ‘non-binary’. The term has become an umbrella for those of us who don’t connect the genders we were assigned at birth, and don’t connect with our opposite. And no, we can’t “just pick one”.


When I came out as non-binary at 33, it felt like the sensation of freedom washed over me. Years of self-oppression began to strip itself from my body and mind; years of self-torture trying so hard to fit into a box that I was told I needed to fit into. I didn’t know the terminology at first, I just knew that despite being born female, I wasn’t female. But I knew I wasn’t male, either. I remember first saying this at 13/14 at my all girls Catholic school in regional-ish Victoria, but the 90s was not a good time for our community so I locked that belief away and tried to be the girl Dolly and Girlfriend magazines promoted.


The last twelve months have been a series of trial and error for me as I try to navigate through a world of gender expression and identity, new and strange terminology where we collect words and phrases to try and build structure to hold ourselves within. The joke of, “there are 63 genders and each time you complain we add five more” rings true when you’re trying to work out who exactly you are.


The pressure doesn’t solely come from social media where groups form in Facebook land full of those like us, trying to find our place in the world. The real world is just as confronting as it’s not just us as individuals are who transitioning in any aspect of the word – our family, our friends, our work colleagues are also experiencing it to some degree. No longer my birth name, no longer the pronouns associated with my genitalia. I am Rowan. My pronouns are those commonly used to describe a large group of people, they/them.


Within the mind it gets trickier again, because coming out was never going to be a simple experience. Through social conditioning, particularly those of us brought up in a world before the internet, my mind still tells me to “just pick one”. I found friends and family quietly suggesting, nudging, directing me into “just pick one.” Social media suggests that the best way for an afab enby (assigned female at birth non-binary) to dress is like a teenage boy, so bound that chest! Diminish any aspects of femininity! To one friend, my eyebrows was enough to suggest I should transition fully to male.


I found myself trying, again, to fit into the box on the other end of the binary scale and wondered why I felt so miserable. It was empowering at first but trying to be someone you’re not is exhausting. Not because of my eyebrows, but because I know I have a very masculine demeanor, an NRL build (once I lose weight) and am the spitting image of my father. I convinced myself that I hated my chest and genitalia. While I still believe that having PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) and PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder) is a curse, it’s not enough. I convinced myself that this was all attributed to the absolute fact that I was born “wrong”.


My closest friends could see what I could not, but I knew through coming out that I am often the last to my own party. My soul-sister said regarding me coming out as non-binary, “I knew that the first time I met you [twelve years ago].” Those around me could see that I was pretending, again, even though I could not. While I allowed myself to be led by society and bowed to societal pressures, my mind could not grasp the reality of gender being like the colour wheel as opposed to a rope being used for tug-of-war.


“Just pick one,” my mind continues to tell me. “It’s not that hard.” But it is. My girlfriend put it so beautifully and continues to laugh at the simplicity:


You were raised to be a cat. You tried to be a dog. But you’re really a fish.


Sometimes I wish I identified with the body that I walk in, and Light knows I have tried. Through my Spiritual path I have had amazing moments through workshops and ritual where we celebrate the feminine form, celebrate the feminine divine, and aim to connect with that. I so wanted to be able to connect and despite years of trying, I couldn’t.


I have always strived for balance. I understand that for me, my balance is a blend of the masculine and feminine. It’s both and neither at the same time. I’ve learnt to see the switch and change and have steps and processes in place when dysphoria rears its ugly head. I’ve learnt to acknowledge and appreciate the body I am in because why should I bow again to societal pressure on how an afab enby should dress or behave or just be? I have my Circle of friends, my girlfriend, and my faith to thank for that. I am a proud Witch, a proud Druid; and like the nature of the land that I hold dear I have learnt to adapt to what works for me.


I am non-binary, and to “just pick one” does not work for me.


written by Rowan Hunter.

Rowan lives in the Riverina region of NSW with five cats and absolutely has a favourite. They blog at on topics of Paganism, Witchcraft and Druidry when they have something to say.