What it Means to be a Non-binary Woman
I exist in a body that was defined female at birth, this means that I’ve been socialized as a girl and that I’m expected to fulfill this role as effortlessly as possible. Though the modern feminist movement is continuously working to redefine what it means to be a woman by pushing the limitations that they are often boxed into and creating more freedom within the identity, I still can’t bring myself to fully identify as one without feeling a sense of gender dysphoria. For those of you new to the concept, gender dysphoria is the discomfort and distress people feel when there is a disconnection between their assigned sex and their gender identity.
The way we’re normally taught about gender is that there are two of them and that they’re correlated with the sex organs attached to your body. This is often used as justification to make assumptions of what social roles people have to assimilate into and adapt to. We are taught these roles through emotional, mental, and physical manipulation. Anything that deviates from them and threatens their validity by acting in ways that don’t fit into the social gender norms is punished through ridicule, disownment, and the limited access to basic necessities. In order to avoid punishment, which would limit survival, the average human does their best to fit into the social gender norms.
Yet, because gender is merely a social construct that doesn’t encompass the complexities of each individual, there are many people who fall short of meeting this or who completely fall outside the norms they are expected to perform due to their socialization. Gender norms are reinforced through a binary explanation of physical bodies so it inevitably creates a caricatured stereotype of each. It makes the assumption that there are two opposites and that anything that falls outside them, without a clear defined difference, is wrong.
Feminism is the act of pushing the boundaries of these caricatured stereotypes because they limit our access to basic necessities and positive emotional well being. Yet, feminism works within the social construct of the gender binary which doesn’t always give the individual ownership over their personal gender experience. This is where my gender dysphoria stems from.
“I am a fat, hairy, brown human who was socialized as a girl in a world that emphasizes skinny white beauty.”
My physical body doesn’t neatly fall into the western perception of what a woman should be. Our social norms, such as those of gender, stem from a society with rules created by wealthy white men. The rules give validity to that which reinforces these cultural norms. For this reason, someone’s race, sexuality, physical ability, and physical attributes highly influence the perception of their gender.
I am a fat, hairy, brown human who was socialized as a girl in a world that emphasizes skinny white beauty. It is impossible for me to ever assimilate and effectively pass as acceptable within this, I can only ever try to get close to this standard of beauty yet it will always be unreachable. There are many people who experience similar realities, who are taught to buy into the belief that they should perform gender in the way this society tells them to and who experience distress at the inability to meet the unrealistic standards.
This inability is then socially reinforced. For me, growing up, it was through the hyper-awareness of my fatness, my brownness, and my hairiness which were continuously pointed out by other people as negative attributes. Everywhere on TV, ads, and history books, I was seeing that skinny white women were considered the epitome of womanhood. As someone who doesn’t fall within this, I felt a clear disconnection between myself and the girlhood I was socially performing.
My first memory of this disconnection goes back to elementary school. Specifically, to a small yet impactful moment in third grade when my teacher told the girls to line up and the boys to stay seated. In a moment of dissociative panic, I froze before standing up with my female-identified peers. At the time, I didn’t know that the disconnection I was feeling was due to the fact that the ways I deviated from girlhood were constantly being criticized and the way my gender was perceived was always being used to alienate me. I was always being reminded of my failure to effectively assimilate completely into the white, skinny, and complacent girlhood expected of me.
“For me, being non-binary is to reclaim the negative perceptions of how my body and my being deviate from womanhood.”
From an early age, I was being fed the story that I was supposed to encompass a type of girlhood that was never realistic to who I was and then being punished through ridicule when I failed to fit into the standards. This created trauma that influenced the way I perceived myself within the world of the gender binary. For me, being non-binary is to reclaim the negative perceptions of how my body and my being deviate from womanhood. It is to give the trauma space to exist while acknowledging it as a valid experience. Identifying as a woman is to acknowledge the ways in which my socialization as a girl has heavily shaped the way I navigate life. Because I have always been in the middle of this contradiction, I can’t separate one identity from the other.
In a world where our individual experiences as humans were always to be given validity, gender would be used as a tool for each person to understand themselves better instead of something that is automatically imposed on us. This means that gender would become more individualized and complex. It also means that several people identifying as the same gender might not always experience it in the same way, yet all of their experiences would still be valid. In order to move into a culture where this is normalized, it is necessary to dissect why we have gender in the first place.
Within our society, gender acts as a way of navigating social contracts with each other. The legal bind of marriage between a man and a woman is something that has carried the advancement of humanity through economic arrangement and procreation. By creating two genders, each assigned with stereotypical gender roles, you create a norm that continuously replicates the nuclear family. The nuclear family is an important piece of our capitalist society because it recreates division within communities by keeping the adults preoccupied with providing for and taking care of only their offspring instead of collectively providing for community as a whole.
To push the limits on the gender binary is to shake the foundation on which our entire society is built. It is to question where these norms stem from and give ourselves the freedom to choose whether we want to participate in them or not. As culture continues to shift and the ways we are taught to socially engage with each other continue to fail us, it is crucial to pay attention to the narratives that are trying to fill the gaps of what we are missing. This is why it is necessary to uplift non-binary identities and give us the space to unapologetically exist.