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flying while non-binary

Everyday Non-binary Challenges

Earlier this week, I was featured in an article where agender and non-binary people (not male or female) debunked myths about our identities. I got to share some the everyday challenges I face as a non-binary person in a binary-centric society. I want to use this week’s post to expand on some of these experiences.

TSA

Almost every time I go to the airport, I set off the body scanner and need to be pat down, even if I’m am in cotton from head to toe. The TSA’s policy is to have an officer of the same gender pat down the passenger. Usually after I step through the scanner, the female-looking officer reaches for me and I say, “I’m not a woman.” Then the male-looking officer reaches of me and I say, “I’m not a man.”

That’s usually when they look at each other with puzzled faces, telepathically trying to decide what to do next. Sometimes they call a supervisor. Sometimes they ask, “Who would you like to pat you down?” One TSA officer said, “You have to pick one,” and I retorted, “No, I don’t.”

For most flights, I wear my binder to get through security and then head to the gender-neutral bathroom to take it off before my flight. It’s not the most comfortable thing to wear for hours on a plane, and I tend to start overheating when I wear it for more than four hours.

Speaking of airports, why do we have to specify male or female when we buy a plane ticket? I called my airline and asked what a customer should do if they have a non-binary driver’s license. The representative said the TSA checks if your name and birthdate match your ticket. They don’t check your gender. I’m tempted to mark “male” the next time I buy a ticket and see what happens. I only know of one situation where a male was named “Ruth” and it’s a dragon, so it will probably be easy enough to tell TSA I picked the wrong gender if they notice the disparity between my ticket and my driver’s license.

“Ma’am”

I was raised with Star Trek, so I’ve always preferred “sir” over “ma’am.” In the last two years, I’ve become more aware that there is not a gender-neutral option for these terms. (I’ve given some thought to what that term should be but that’s a topic for a different post.)

I tend to get the most annoyed when I’m on the phone with customer service. They’re trying to be respectful by calling me “ma’am,” and it makes my skin crawl every time I hear it. My desire to get my needs me and finish the call as fast as possible is usually stronger than my desire to tell the representative that I’m non-binary. It’s not as if the company would know my gender the next time I call anyway, so I don’t bother correcting them. I just cringe and finish the call as quickly as I can.

In group settings, I’ve tried to train myself not to react when I hear someone say, “ma’am,” much like how someone who’s legally changed their name learns to tune out and not respond when someone uses their dead name. My perspective is, if they’re using “ma’am” they can’t mean me. Doing this has nearly had adverse consequences once, involving light rail security. (But that’s a different story.)

No Option for “Mx.”

The gender-neutral alternative to Mr. or Miss/Ms./Mrs. is Mx. (pronounced like “mix”). It’s in my email signature so people know what to use, but I’ve never seen “Mx.” on a form. I suspect a lot of people don’t know about it.

For the State Bar, I tried to change my first name in their listing from “Ruth” to “Mx. Ruth,” so when someone looked me up, it would say “Mx. Ruth Carter.” I got a call within minutes of making that change on my State Bar profile from a representative who understood what I was trying to do, but who said I couldn’t change my name on their website like that.

I get the same frustration when I have to fill out a form that asks for gender and they only have “male” and “female” options. I’d love to see “non-binary” as an option, but I’m satisfied with a option for “other.”  

I face challenges with being non-binary every day. Some are more draining than others. If I’m having a particularly rough day, I find this video validating: h

Frequently, I send it to people who don’t “get it” when someone says they’re non-binary. I appreciate that they say it’s ok to be confused.

If you have any questions about my experiences as a non-binary person, I’m happy to answer them, as long as you ask respectfully.