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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.

Traveling Reveals What’s Important

So great to see Tyler and Katie in Portland

So great to see Tyler and Katie in Portland

I spent the last 2 weeks on the road with The Undeniable Tour. I flew to San Diego and drove to Seattle, doing a speaking engagements and mostly staying in hostels along the way. I lived out of a small suitcase in the backpack, and I could have brought less if I didn’t have to dress like a professional or be prepared for such a wide variety of weather.

Hanging out with Clinton in Hollywood

Hanging out with Clinton in Hollywood

When I step back and reflect on my adventurers from a personal perspective, I see that traveling with such few possessions and traveling by myself reveals some of my core values. I hand selected my speaking engagements, lodging, who I interacted with, and how I spent my free time. It’s been a long time since the last time my days felt like they were my own and not dictated by deadlines and to-do lists. I often drove without music or the news playing in the car so I had lots of time to be alone with my thoughts.

Even though I am a gregarious performer, I’m a very simple person when it comes to my tastes and what’s important to me. I like super soft fabrics, memory foam mattresses, hot coffee, and excessively hot showers. I like to be near the ocean even though I hate getting sand in my shoes. When I had down time during the tour, I often went for a walk, read my book, or slept. I wish my city was more walkable.

Reunited with Sarah in Seattle

Reunited with Sarah in Seattle

I enjoyed chatting with my fellow travelers in the hostels, but I wouldn’t say that I socialized with them. I was in each city for only a couple of days at most so I was picky about who I spent quality time with. I’m really glad that this trip allowed me to see so many of my friends, some of who I hadn’t seen in close to a decade. There have been several times I’ve contemplated putting a map of the U.S. on my wall and marking where all of my friends live with push pins to help me remember who to look up when I’m on the road.

Living out of the suitcase reminded me how little I need to be happy and comfortable. It made me want to continue my diligence in regards to living a minimalist lifestyle. Since returning to Phoenix, I’ve added a few things to my donate-to-charity pile.

This trip definitely showed me that it’s important to periodically take a break from my everyday routine and surroundings to reflect on who I am, where I’m going, and what’s important to me. As much as I enjoyed sharing information and ideas with my audiences about how lawyers and law students can use social media and the blogging in their professional careers, the weakest gained from this trip for me personally was it gave me some time and space to think about my priorities.