Searching For That Happy Medium: A Non-binary Perspective
Guest Post by Kameron
I am someone who is inhabiting a world in between genders. There is a growing set of words, a subculture of sorts, and there are political agendas surrounding this experience. And in theory, I am on board with all I’ve seen (and let me clarify that what I’ve seen is almost entirely online at this time, and not reflected in the world I actually live in). But in actuality, not every part of it appeals to me personally. Which is OK – I can still support others while simultaneously getting the word out that not all non-binary people have the same needs, preferences, and agendas.
I have broken things down into three categories: Pronouns, Bathrooms, and Legal Designations / Forms.
Part 1: Why I Prefer Male Pronouns
I prefer to be referred to with male pronouns: He/Him/His. The reason for this is because it is my preference. It really is as simple as that – no explanation needed. It feels the most right (although no pronouns actually feel “right” for me). That’s all it comes down to – a feeling.
Many non-binary people go by They/Them/Their, along with a myriad of more obscure pronouns. Some people have assumed that I go by They/Them/Their, because I identify as non-binary. That is fine. It’s not my preference, but I’m not offended by this assumption, nor do I mind being referred to in this way. I have felt some pressure (from within myself only) to adopt the They/Them/Their/ set in order to align myself more with an idea of a non-binary identity, and to take a stand / stand-out more for what some people truly feel they need (which is to be referred to with gender neutral pronouns – it is definitely a need, as opposed to a “preference,” for many people). But, bottom line, it does not feel right for me. Male pronouns feel (more) right.
(And I imagine if I really break it down, this correlates with how I see my gender – I do not feel as if I am without gender, genderless, agender, or gender neutral. Instead, I feel as if I am an amalgamation of genders, a kaleidoscope. And, so it follows that it feels right that I view my identity’s make-up as pieces from all genders, rather than a rejection of anything that is gendered.)
I have seen many preferred sets of pronouns online (such as Ze/Hir/Hirs, Ey/Em/Eir/Eirs, Xe/Xem/Xyr/Xyrs and also ones based off of nouns). But in actual real life, I have come into contact with only one person, so far, with a preference for a set like this – and I immediately proceeded to mess it up when talking out loud. I have met a couple of people who prefer They/Them/Their, and that feels immediately do-able in real life, because these are words we’re all familiar with pronouncing.
And… that’s kinda the difference – much of the online world is written, it’s visual. And it’s easy to backspace and try again. The real world involves much more talking out loud, at a conversational pace, and I personally am a long way from incorporating these newish words naturally into a conversation. That doesn’t mean I’m not willing to. It doesn’t mean I don’t support it. It means, in practice, I have a lot of work to do. And that work is difficult to do if I do not have people in my life who want to be referred to in this way – it’s hard to practice if I’m not actively practicing, right? And, since I am someone who identifies as non-binary, I might be, in theory, someone on the most sensitive, most open, end of the spectrum, in terms of the general populous. I have a lot of trouble with it, from a practical perspective, at this time.
To summarize: Incorporating these newer pronouns is do-able. I support it. For some people, it is not a preference, but a need, in order to feel comfortable. I personally do not need or prefer to be referred to by gender neutral pronouns. I have a long way to go in terms of actualizing this language. Which, I believe, means the general population has a much longer way to go, unfortunately. It’s hard to make progress if I’m not actively using the words in regular conversation. At this time, I am not actively using the words in regular conversation. This is where I’m at with pronouns.
It’s hard to gauge where the world at large is at, but I imagine progress will be very very slow. I’m just thinking pragmatically here. Ideally, I wish it were easy.
Part 2: Why I Use the Women’s Bathroom
In general, I use the women’s restroom. The reason for this is because it is where I would rather go, despite the fact that I see myself in more masculine terms, overall. No need for a further explanation – no need to try to align different areas of my life into one gendered idea of myself (even if that one gendered idea is “gender neutral,”) if I don’t feel like it.
If there is a single stall / gender neutral one available, I would prefer to use that bathroom. But usually there is not, and it is not something that I am personally concerned about or have anxiety over. I feel comfortable enough in the women’s restroom. I don’t second guess it. I’ve rarely been confronted (I keep my head down, avert my eyes, I don’t linger, etc. I am aware I don’t completely belong, so I wanna be as inconspicuous as possible, and so far, so good.)
However, many non-binary and transitioning people do not feel safe and/or comfortable in either the women’s or the men’s restroom. Indeed, they are often made to feel unsafe and uncomfortable. There has been a push for more gender-neutral bathrooms in public places, over the past few years, particularly at schools and on campuses. Why schools and campuses? I’m not sure exactly, but I can make an educated guess.
People in their teens and early twenties are at these places en masse. People in their teens and early twenties tend to be going through changes – they may be focusing on their identities (including gender identities) more so than the general population, so it makes sense they would want to change the spaces where they spend the most time, in order to feel more safe and comfortable.
I hope this movement spreads beyond schools, to include government buildings, corporate chains, every place, really. I think that it will, or, at least, I think this agenda will gain more traction than the push for gender neutral pronouns, which is, comparatively speaking, somewhat nebulous. Changes in language are more about changing people’s perceptions and notions on a large scale (potentially very difficult). Bathrooms are about physical spaces, with a direct request that involves a straightforward solution.
New buildings can go up with this floor plan in mind, without much more money or labor. Existing buildings can be remodeled and reorganized (something that happens frequently anyway). Often, it’s just a matter of relabeling existing layouts (at no additional cost). For example, if a restaurant has a single stall restroom for men, and a single stall restroom for women, how much work would it take to get that restaurant to just change them both to gender neutral bathrooms? Hopefully within the near future, not much convincing work at all!
Until this is happening anywhere and everywhere (I hope I see the day!!!!), here is an amazing website resource: Refuge Restrooms.
All you have to do is type in your city or location, and it is a database that lists where there are single stall handicap accessible and/or gender neutral-restrooms in that area. The database is only as big as everyone makes it, so if you know of bathrooms in your area, go ahead and type in the locations now! I started adding some for my city; let’s spread the word!
Part 3: Why I Avoid Checking the Box
At the time of this writing, I had just signed an online petition requesting that the executive branch legally recognize genders outside of the male-female binary and provide an option for these genders on all legal documents and records. I got a response from The White House, in my inbox! But, this was three years ago, when we still had an ally as president. Things have been backsliding drastically since then. At the time though, here is what was said:
We know how important this issue is, and we understand the profound impact, both symbolic and otherwise, of having official documents that accurately reflect an individual’s identity. These documents play an essential, functional role, but also demonstrate the measure of dignity and respect afforded to our nation’s citizens. We cannot overstate the care and seriousness that should be brought to bear on the issue.
We recognize the importance of gender identification in particular and the Obama Administration is working to modernize federal policies in this area. For example, in 2010, the U.S. Department of State made it easier for individuals to update the gender marker in their passports. And last year, the Social Security Administration followed suit by simplifying the process for individuals to change the gender marker on their social security cards to reflect their identity accurately.
As you can imagine, there is considerable variance across agencies and levels of government. And so while the Obama Administration wants to make sure that official documents reflect the identities of the Americans who hold them, we believe proposals to change when and how gender is listed on official documents should be considered on a case-by-case basis by the affected federal and state agencies. However, that consideration must be informed by best practices and a commitment to honoring individuality and ensuring fairness.
So, it sounds like a polite, “No.”
Personally, this is the thing I want the most. In my two previous posts, I explained that although I identify strongly with being non-binary, I actually am not strongly bothered by gendered pronouns (I prefer male pronouns) or gendered bathrooms (I use the women’s bathroom). In general, I attempt to mix and match gendered options to optimize my comfort level, and that has usually worked for me. But when it comes to declaring, “I am male,” or “I am female,” I simply cannot do it. Legally, I am female, simply because it is the default in this case. I would not seriously consider legally changing my gender unless I can change it to a gender-neutral option (and if I could, I would do it ASAP. Unfortunately, I do not live in California or Oregon – shout out to these two states for being super progressive on this issue!).
Legal stuff feels like a more black and white, either/or arena than bathrooms, pronouns, and anything else in the real world which is comparatively flexible and fluid. What I mean by this is, for example, I like when people say,”sir,” “man,” and use male pronouns because they’re seeing me, we’re interacting, and that interaction has the potential of being nuanced, fluid, changing. I could walk in the women’s bathroom today, and tomorrow decide to go in the men’s, without too much consequence (hopefully) if I wanted or needed to.
The legality of being one gender or another seems so much more finite, set-in-stone, weighty. And I want another option! As of now, I have legally changed my name to an androgynous name, and that has felt very satisfying. In addition, as of a couple of weeks ago, I decided to put a tiny bright orange sticker over my “F” designation on my driver’s license. I have shown that license to a bunch of cashiers and bar bouncers already, without incident, hesitation, or awkward questioning. I highly recommend doing this if you are not comfortable with your legal designation, and if it feels like a safe enough option for you.
I will continue to evade declaring my gender as often as I can. I will continue to leave it blank on forms whenever possible, and to explain the nuance if the opportunity arises. And as soon as I start hearing about smaller instances where a “non-specific,” “non-binary,” “X,” or whatever the term may be, is a possible option, I will start pursuing it. Even if that means I’m listed as “F,” on some things and “X” or whatever on others. It’s going to start on a small scale (like doctor office forms, maybe things like library card applications, etc.) It’s already started! And just build and build from there. All the way up to driver’s license, passport, and birth certificate.
One day, I hope…
Kameron lives and works in a mid-sized city in the North-eastern USA. He has been married for 4 years, which is just a technicality since it has become legal to do so; the real fact is that he and his spouse have been together for over a decade, and they currently share their home with two cats as well. When not working as an elementary school janitor, he fills his down-time with blogging (janitorqueer.com) and obsessing about beverages, sneakers, and music.”