The gender binary withholds the actuality of nonbinary identities

The nonbinary identity is complex and goes far beyond social misconceptions.

<p>Kate Farr, DN Photo</p><p>Meghan Holt, DN Photo Illustration</p>

Kate Farr, DN Photo

Meghan Holt, DN Photo Illustration

Trinity Rea is a second-year journalism major and writes “Bury the Hatchet” for the Daily News. Their views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper. 

There’s been a crippling weight on my shoulders for as long as I can remember. It wears me down and diminishes me. It conforms and restricts me to be something I’m not. 

When I was younger, I learned to escape this weight by changing different parts of my identity. As a five-year-old, I told my family to call me Tom — and no longer refer to me as Trinity — because I was a “tomboy.”

I curated a collection of boys’ T-shirts, hobbies and mannerisms. 

I dressed up as “Darth Vader,” “Wolverine” and “Bumblebee” for Halloween. I begged my parents to plaster an “Incredible Hulk” decal on my wall while starting karate classes and beginning to fish with my dad and opa.

I hung out with boys in elementary school for as long as possible until I slowly fizzled out of their group during the awkward, but typical, separation of genders in middle school.

From there, I fell back into what was curated for girls my age, reassumed the name Trinity, and became influenced by my peers and family about how to dress. I began to wear the “girly” clothes my family members bought me and stopped playing basketball with boys at recess.  

For a while, I tried to be comfortable within the conformity and bounds of stereotypical femininity, but it never stuck. I again began to feel the weight.

This time, it felt inescapable. 

Lacking a part of the identity that made me whole — the complexities of myself that adhered to the more binary category of masculinity — reduced every part of me to a level of unimportance. 

There was no space for me in the gender binary — in the classification of only two genders. It was something I was unsure how to articulate but felt my whole life. 

Nearly a quarter of my life had passed by the time I gained the confidence to put into words how I’d been feeling. It took until March 2023, at nearly 19 years of age, for me to finally find a term for someone like myself — someone who didn’t fall into a category of either male or female. 

I was afraid of what people would think of me and, honestly, afraid of the fact that recognizing my identity might change me and the fundamentals of my existence up to that point. I knew I was nonbinary, but due to the stigma surrounding it, I didn’t want to accept that.

It’s been a little more than a year since I came out to close friends, but still, this acceptance and further recognition of my identity has not been enough to make me feel whole. I spent my entire life searching for a definition of what I’ve felt, and it hasn’t been enough because of what others think.

I don’t fit within the arbitrary standard people give nonbinary individuals in terms of how to look or act, which causes me to question my feelings and confidence in how I’ve grown accustomed to identifying.

Within this standard, there’s a multitude of expectations regarding appearance and behavior. These expectations are then applied to people like me. But just because my gender identity is nonbinary does not mean I have to cut my hair short or dress exclusively androgynous.

While I know this, people around me have yet to accept that. Every day, at least one person will make an assumption about me either based on my outward presentation or based on preconceived notions of being nonbinary.

My identity acts as a token — something allusive or to be marveled at. I’m a “nonbinary person” to people instead of a “person who identifies as nonbinary.” My gender comes before the fact that I’m a human being.

Trinity_01.jpg
Second-year journalism student Trinity Rea poses for a photo in the Art and Journalism Building. "Acceptance can start with acknowledgment as trans and nonbinary people are not going anywhere. The sooner we accept this fact, the sooner people like me will understand what it means to feel whole," Rea said. Kate Farr, DN

Being consistently seen as this figure of expectation and constant clarification is draining.

According to a survey issued by TransPulse Canada in 2019, 59 percent of nonbinary people are misgendered daily. The same survey found only one in eight people were able to correct others when they were misgendered.

I’m misgendered daily by “friends” and coworkers in passing conversations. Recently, as I’ve stepped into myself more comfortably, I have begun to correct them. However, when I first came out, I didn’t for a long time.

This was out of plain, old fear. While the awareness of nonbinary people is increasing, it has not grown alongside general acceptance and recognition. 

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2022, which aimed to dissect experiences and challenges faced by transgender and nonbinary adults, found that this fear I described is common.

The majority of survey participants noted that whether or not they disclose their identity as a trans or nonbinary individual depends on whether or not they feel safe. The survey also noted a big factor was whether or not the information about one's identity was necessary. 

Sometimes, I let people believe my identity is what they mistake me for. I’m comfortable with who I am, and I’ve learned that fighting to make someone understand is not always worth it.

In some situations, I feel as though my identity must be suppressed because it isn’t “necessary.” I’m almost constantly referred to by traditionally female pronouns based on outside perceptions of my body and the fact I was designated female at birth. I’ve even had people cancel interviews if I place my pronouns in my email signature but agree during a phone call when they hear my voice.

It’s so frustrating having to conform to something I’m not. I’m expected to be a man or a woman, not something that’s completely removed from the binary.

My identity exists outside of the gender binary, an idea most cannot — or have yet to try to —  process.

In and outside of the queer community, the nonbinary identity is consistently attributed to being a “third gender,” a believed notion that completely erases the actuality of one's identity. 

Additionally, most people don’t consider the nonbinary identity to be a trans experience, even though the word transgender refers to someone who does not identify with their assigned gender at birth.

By erasing this part of the nonbinary identity, it again isolates us within a separate, third category.

Diminishing the nonbinary identity, either by a refusal to understand it or by misunderstanding it to be something it is not, erases the experiences of many like myself. Although I am confident in my identity, misplacing the actuality of it leaves me in limbo.

Myself and my identity are purely dependent on what I feel; but how am I supposed to feel confident and whole in that if the rest of the world around me does not see me for who I am?

The short answer is I don’t, and I probably never will, unless we as a society can begin to work toward an overall acceptance for trans individuals. This acceptance has to include nonbinary people and showcase the true reality of that identity not as a third gender, but something outside of the gender binary entirely. 

Acceptance can start with acknowledgment as trans and nonbinary people are not going anywhere. The sooner we accept this fact, the sooner people like me will understand what it means to feel whole. 

Contact Trinity Rea via email at trinity.rea@bsu.edu or on X @thetrinityrea.

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