C/O Jessica Yang

As understanding of gender increases, nonbinary folks must learn to navigate more than just being misgendered 

By: Roya Motazedian, Contributor 

Although gender-neutral pronouns have been recognized historically, awareness of pronouns and the many different gender identities has only started to grow substantially recently. Authors from centuries ago, including Jane Austen, 18th century author of Pride and Prejudice, were using they/them pronouns in their work. With that said, if the gender-neutral phenomenon is not a recent one, why is it still so hard to exist as a gender-neutral person? I have realized it is because, while the general population is more aware, it is still not completely educated nor has it properly listened to the voices of 2SLGBTQIA+ folks to fully understand their stories. 

I use they/them pronouns and in all honesty, do not expect anyone to remember. If anyone misgenders me, I just brush it off and move on. However, the way I think and feel is not representative of everyone who uses gender-neutral pronouns. Some people prefer to correct the person who has misgendered them. However, I have a feeling that we — those who use gender-neutral pronouns — all share a unifying discomfort when faced with the long, apologetic rambles we are met with when we are misgendered. 

At my friend’s birthday party this past December in which most people were drunk and everyone was trying to catch up with one another, my friends were quick to apologize each time they used the wrong pronouns as they spoke with me. However, their apologies dragged on and I felt increasingly uncomfortable. They were clearly drunk and I blamed the way they apologized on that, but one of my friends actually said something that greatly comforted me. 

“Being drunk is not an excuse for me to forget the pronouns you use,” she said. 

She was right, I knew she was, but making a scene out of the way she had misgendered me was worsening things. To apologize excessively to the misgendered person is to relieve yourself of the guilt you have. What else do we, the misgendered persons, have to say in response to your apology then but, “It’s okay. You’re forgiven.”? 

The reality is these rambling apologies don’t just happen in drunk environments. After being misgendered in my tutorial once, which I can assure you is not a drunken environment, my classmate chased after me once the tutorial ended just to apologize. I was touched, truly, but I was also incredibly uncomfortable. Her apology just wouldn’t stop and to end it, I told her it was fine. I told her it did not matter, even though it did. 

Then, if apologizing is the wrong thing to do, how should one act when they misgender someone? 

Actually, apologizing is most definitely correct. However, it doesn’t have to be so long-winded. If you pick up on it while you are still talking, then an immediate and quick “I’m sorry” is more than enough.

Apologize, correct yourself by repeating the sentence with the correct pronouns and then move on. In this way, you are avoiding making a spectacle of both misgendering someone and the misgendered person. Folks who use gender-neutral pronouns do not wish to draw attention to their gender as it is just a natural part of them. 

Whenever you apologize to the misgendered person, always avoid telling them about how hard you are trying to remember or how difficult their pronouns are to use. This makes us feel as though our gender is a burden and, personally, it has often made me wonder if I even have the right to be nonbinary. If my gender is such a burden to others, is it even worth it? Should I just hide back behind my gender assigned at birth? 

If you realize later that you have misgendered a person, personally, I would say to forget about the apology but remember to use the correct pronouns next time. I have received many long texts, days after I was misgendered, asking for my forgiveness. I feel burdened by this but I know other people would appreciate the apology. It is different for every person and in this case, you should act based on your knowledge of that person. 

If you take the time to talk to your gender-neutral friends, you can find out what their apology preferences are. Of course, the most preferred thing is for misgendering to never occur but it is something that can happen. Nonetheless, I am sure your friends would be happy to share their thoughts with you. It means the world when someone wants to understand you and your story. 

Gender? I hardly know ‘er!

By: Fran O’Donnell, Contributor

A few months ago I came out as nonbinary, changed my name and started using they/them pronouns. Let’s talk about it. This piece is fragmented and confusing and deliberately so, because boy, oh boy, gender is confusing.

I came out as bisexual many, many years ago and I (mostly, kind of) have my sexuality figured out. It never occurred to me to question my gender. I’ve always been most comfortable when I looked gender-nonconforming, but I just didn’t think about it too much. My discomfort with my body was probably just unrelated, right?

I’ve always been most comfortable when I looked gender-nonconforming, but I just didn’t think about it too much. My discomfort with my body was probably just unrelated, right?

It’s completely normal to want to hide your body away under a mountain of oversized sweaters. It’s absolutely normal to feel uncomfortable seeing your body. It’s perfectly normal to feel like the person you see in the mirror isn’t really you. To feel like your body isn’t yours.

Right?

Image description of a meme I used to have saved on my phone that I can’t find anywhere: A brave warrior has just defeated their foe. The warrior is labelled “Me” and their vanquished foe is “Finally figuring out my sexuality.” But then, behind the warrior, there is an ominous, looming figure labelled “My gender identity”.

Coming out as nonbinary, for me, was a bit like wearing really tight, uncomfortable clothes. You don’t really notice how uncomfortable you were until you take them off. Like “wow, I can breathe again! I didn’t realize I’d stopped breathing”. And once you’ve taken them off, you realize that these clothes haven’t fit you for a long time or maybe they never fit you at all.

Coming out as nonbinary, for me, was a bit like wearing really tight, uncomfortable clothes. You don’t really notice how uncomfortable you were until you take them off. Like “wow, I can breathe again! I didn’t realize I’d stopped breathing”.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s talk a bit about what nonbinary means. A binary is made up of two parts. In this case, male and female. We live in a very binary society, with everything divided up into two. You’re a man or you’re a woman.

If you’ve ever worked in retail, you’ll know that you have to address everyone as ma’am, miss or sir, depending on your judgment of how they look. But what happens when someone doesn’t quite fit into one of these categories?

Nonbinary is an umbrella term that covers a variety of identities and experiences. Some folks switch between masculine and feminine depending on the day, some are both and others prefer to be funky little cryptids that mere mortals cannot identify.

Gender is an intensely personal experience and it varies from person to person. We’re all having gender trouble. For me, I’m most at home outside of the gender binary and I don’t want to be perceived as male or female. So I’m not binary.

When I first came out as nonbinary, I wanted to dress as androgynously as possible. I wanted everyone that saw me to immediately know that I was nonbinary. I had a vague vision of “nonbinary” in my head and I wanted to match it. Should I cut my hair? Should I throw out all the skirts I love so much?

I didn’t do that. First, I really like skirts. They’re so comfortable and they make me feel like a forest fairy. Second, this was just another box that I was needlessly forcing myself into. Kind of the opposite of what I wanted, you know? There’s no one “right” way to be nonbinary. Gender is a spectrum, not a paint-by-numbers.

Why am I writing this now? Because I wish I'd read something like this when I was younger. Seeing myself represented and being understood is the most important thing in the world to me. So if like me, you’re questioning your gender, I just want to let you know that it’s okay. Not only is it okay, it’s rad as heck and I’m super happy for you! 

Seeing myself represented and being understood is the most important thing in the world to me. So if like me, you’re questioning your gender, I just want to let you know that it’s okay.

As Abigail Thorn said, “I look inside myself and ask: “Do I feel like a man, or a woman?” And the answer is . . . I feel happy.”

Here are just a few of the resources that helped me out, and I hope they’ll help you out too:

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