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non-binary

Being Non-Binary in a Binary World

One of the most challenging things about being non-binary is when I’m reminded that I live in a society that was not created for people like me.

Photo by Roger Griggs

Non-Binary Travel
There are everyday occurrences where there isn’t a gender neutral option. I cringe every time I hear someone call me “ma’am.” (Growing up on Star Trek, I’ve always preferred “sir.”) When I check into a hotel, the front desk clerk only has Mr. or Ms. to choose from in deciding how to address me. (If you don’t know me well, you don’t know that I have a doctorate degree.)

And let me tell you how much fun it is dealing with the TSA. I almost always set off the spinny-go-round scanner, usually on places where there’s no metal on my clothes. When I tell the female-identified TSA agent that I’m not a woman or a man, the supervisor has to get involved before I’m patted down and sent on my way.

Recently, one TSA supervisor asked which gender I was presenting as, and I honestly answered, “Neither.” (She was nice and politely asked me some questions as I put my sneakers back on about how to address someone who is non-binary. She said she’d never met a non-binary person before.) At another airport, a supervisor tried to tell me that I had to pick a gender, man or woman, for the purposes of the pat down, and I refused. At that same airport, the supervisor asked who I wanted to pat me down, and I said I wanted a non-binary person, or a gay person. They had neither, so I said, “Whomever is most comfortable doing it.”

Yes, I could avoid issues with the TSA by letting them think I’m female, but they need to remember that not everyone fits into their binary system. And I can handle the interaction, even though it’s stressful and exhausting.

I call this my ” gay mafia” picture.
Photo by Roger Griggs

Shopping for a Suit
I shrunk out of my suit years ago, but since I rarely have to wear it, I haven’t replaced it yet. Lately, I’ve wanted to replace it with a gray three-piece men’s suit – with real pockets in the pants and blazer. It’s hard to find a women’s suit that fits me with my muscular shoulders, long torso, and abnormally short limbs. (When I get petite length pants, I still need to get them shortened about 2 inches, when I’m wearing heels – and I’m 5’4”.) And besides that, I’m tired of blazers and pants that don’t have any functional pockets.

A major department store was having a sale, and their website showed that they had what I wanted. The clerk didn’t bat an eye that I wanted a men’s suit, but he apologetically said that he didn’t have anything that would fit me. He slipped a size 36S blazer on me, and he was right – the shoulders were too big. (With men’s suits, you fit the shoulders and tailor everything else.) They didn’t even have dress shirts I could wear. I have a 14-inch neck, but only need a 30-inch sleeve. The shortest length they carried was 32.

The clerk suggested I visit the boys’ department. He said I would probably wear a size 18 or 20, and he warned me that my shirt color options would be limited to blue, black, and white, and if I wanted a suit with a vest, I’d probably have to wait until Easter. The shirts and blazers in the boys’ department mostly fit, but they still didn’t feel right.

Thankfully, I have a friend who gets all his suits and dress shirts custom made by a tailor in Vegas. He said he’d give me their name. I hope he wasn’t lying when he said they weren’t that much more expensive than buying off the rack.

Mulling Over my Gender Identity

It’s been about three months since I came out about questioning my gender. For now, I’m most comfortable identifying as non-gendered. I don’t feel like I fit with the concept of being a woman or a man. This is quite freeing, and a source of insecurity. It’s also exhausting.

Self Portrait at Dawn by Jörg Reuter from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I’ve been paying more attention to my physical body – how I wish it looked, and how these thoughts fit into my gender identity. For the most part, I’m not a fan of my feminine curves. I’d rather see myself with muscle definition – especially vertical lines on my abs and striations on my shoulders – but still maintain a thigh gap. I’ve never been a fan of my own boobs. They serve no purpose and I wish they would shrink. I’d rather have muscular pecs than tits.

I wish I could pass as male or female and/or be so androgynous that strangers aren’t sure how to interact with me because of my unknown gender. It would give me a “blank slate” to play with. As it is, my dress varies widely day-to-day. In one week I wore a feminine top with a bound chest, a shirt and tie, and a dress and heels. I was also giddy when my new Starfleet uniform arrived – the red mini dress from the Star Trek: Into Darkness.

Despite my desire to have an androgynous shape, I think my hips will disclose my biological sex. Even before puberty, my hip bones stuck out, and now, I have curves that I fear can’t be slimmed through diet and exercise. And while I know I have a “good butt,” I prefer to keep it smaller, firmer, and lifted. Being curvaceous does nothing for me.

Note: these are my thoughts about myself. I feel no animosity towards the female shape on other people and U.S. standards for beauty.

Image from Last Year’s Junkyard Photoshoot by Devon Christopher Adams (Used with Permission)

It became obvious that I want to be more androgynous when I was invited to the annual Junkyard Photoshoot. I went last year and had a blast. And I enjoy being a model – getting to show different emotions and aspects of my personality. When I model, I always want to feel my inner strength.

But this year, I declined the invitation. This is an open photoshoot where models and photographers get to show up, have fun reign of the junkyard to do almost anything we want. Most of the models are women, and many of them use the setting to pose in lingerie or less – very over-the-top sexy. (And a lot of female models do this type of modeling. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just not for me.) I’d rather be in jeans and a tank top, feeling more like Wolverine than a centerfold.

I decided not to go for two reasons:

  1. I didn’t feel comfortable in my skin. Questioning my gender and other events exacerbated my depression, so I didn’t feel strong and confident. It wasn’t a good space to be in for going into an artistic setting where there would be lots of people I’d never met before.
  2. I was afraid of feeling rejected by photographers who wouldn’t want to work with me. (I know, they can go fornicate with themselves, but easier said than done when I’m feeling vulnerable.)

I’m still mulling over lots of different thoughts about gender identity and how I interact with a mostly two-gendered society. The more I learn about myself, the more I realize that many social norms don’t apply to me.

Binding with KT Tape – My Experience

If pushed to label my gender, I’d say I’m non-gendered. While I am biologically female, I don’t think the American constructs of man or woman fit for me. I have no plans to surgically alter my appearance, but I do like to be androgynous. Periodically, I wear a chest binder to have a flatter torso. It does the job, and it’s pretty comfortable considering it’s compressing my chest, but it doesn’t work with every type of shirt – the shoulder straps are too wide to wear with a tank top and tops that have necklines that are too wide or too low. Plus, it’s an extra layer of fabric, which I suspect will get hot in the summer.

One strip of KT Tape cut in half

I learned that some people use KT Tape as an alternative to wearing a binder. As a runner, I’ve used this super-stretchy adhesive fabric tape on my shins and feet while training for races. Wearing KT is better than using an ace bandage or other tape to bind, but it’s not ideal. KT is aware that some people use their product to bind and they provide guidance to minimize issues like skin irritation. I decided to give it a try for a day.

Taping myself was easy. I did right after my shower when there were no dirt or oil on my skin. Given the small area that needed taping, I took a single KT strip of Pro-Synthetic tape and cut it in half. I taped myself while laying down because that’s when I’m flattest. I started the strip just inside my nipple, attached with no stretch, then stretched it across my chest, and lay the other end against my skin with no stretch in the tape. I repeated the process on the other side, but I didn’t completely un-stretch the tape before attaching the end on my side. I could feel that pinching and pulling a bit throughout the day.

Overall, it was quite comfortable. I wouldn’t go running in this setup, but I felt confident to walk my dog and go to the office without worrying that anyone would notice. When I took the tape off, there was a bit of irritation where the ends of the tape were, but not bad – and I have super sensitive skin! I would definitely do this again if I wanted to bind while wearing a non-binder friendly outfit. KT recommends using their Original-Cotton tape to reduce the risk of skin irritation. I’d probably buy a roll in their nude tone rather than my usual black.

I don’t plan to bind myself with KT on a regular basis, but I’m glad to know it works. I could see myself going to a beach and opting to wear KT tape instead of a top. Yes, I could wear classic pasties, but given their typical shapes and colors, those are made to be stared at; and sometimes, I really don’t want to deal with being objectified. I just want to be comfortable.

Am I Non-Binary?

Earlier this year, a court in Oregon let a person legally change their gender to “non-binary.” It’s fantastic that the law acknowledges that there’s more to gender than merely male or female.

europa rainbow by  ** RCB ** from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

europa rainbow by ** RCB ** from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

As I thought about this ruling, I began to reflect on my upbringing. When I was growing up, children were classified as a “boy” or a “girl” based on their genitalia. By the time I was in preschool, I understood that boys and girls were told to use different bathrooms, play with different toys, and wear different clothes. As I got older, I learned that some people are homosexual and bisexual. I also learned that some people are transgender, meaning that they were born in the wrong body, and probably wanted a sex change; and some people are intersex, meaning they have both male and female genitalia. In all these situations, gender was represented as a binary characteristic.

I wondered, if I grew up in a culture that acknowledged gender as a spectrum, would I self-identify as non-binary. I’ve never fit in with the “girly girls” in school, and I didn’t want to be like them. In fact, I got in trouble when I was nine because I refused to talk to most of the girls in my class because I thought they were annoying. I find it delightfully ironic that I was a gymnast – a sport that is so inherently feminine and has drastic differences in men’s and women’s events. It’s also fierce as hell which is why I love it so much. I asked my teammates, who I spent years with, seeing each other at our best and our worst during our tween and teen years, to describe me. Some of their descriptors were “strong,” “powerful,” “determined,” “focused,” and “true to yourself.” I definitely wasn’t one of the balletic athletes in the gym.

Learning about this ruling made me the question my gender identity. I have no issues with being biologically female except that I think tits are overrated, and I would have an ablation in a heartbeat if it came with a guarantee. I have no desire to have a penis. If pushed to declare which pronouns I want, I can see myself choosing he/her – don’t ask me why, and, to be honest, I really don’t care what pronouns you use for me as long as you use them respectfully. As a model, I prefer poses and looks that are somewhat androgynous and portray me as strong – or at least possessing an inner strength.

I shared some of my thoughts about questioning my gender with my friends, and it was comforting to hear that I’m not the only one who doesn’t fit in a stereotypical box. Some are agender. Some have biologically male parts, no desire to change that, but feel they are more feminine in terms of their personality. The best response I got was from a friend who says she doesn’t identify as a “lady” or a “man,” but rather an engineer, an inventor, a housewife, an athlete, a seamstress, and a parent. I think she’s right in that what we do is more important than which bathroom we use or which gender box we check.

If you’re questioning your gender identity and/or gender expression, you’re not alone. We may not talk about it much, but a lot of us don’t feel like we fit into the male/female binary. You don’t have to decide on a label for yourself today and if you select a designation for yourself, you’re not stuck with it for forever. For me, for now, I’m content to classify myself as gender non-conforming and continue to be open to further self-exploration and experiences.