Nonbinary Visibility

by Heather McNamara

Heather McNamaraHappy Transgender Day of Visibility! 2018 marks the 9th year of the holiday, first celebrated in 2009 following its creation by activist Rachel Crandall who had noticed that the only day on the calendar for transgender people before then was Transgender Day of Remembrance – an important but macabre occasion during which we honor trans lives lost to transphobic violence. It’s important to honor the progress we’ve made and highlight the struggles we still face while we’re alive and visibility is a good way to do that! Many trans people live “stealth” – quietly allowing people to assume that we’re cisgender and sliding under the radar. TDOV is a good time to challenge ourselves to come out, be a beacon to those still in the closet, and let cis people know that we are living among them.

For stealth binary trans people, visibility is a pretty simple (if risky) thing. A woman who looks womanly and lives life as a woman can say “I’m transgender!” and people will know she was assigned male at birth and vice versa. Easy. For nonbinary people, on the other hand, things get a bit complicated. While binary people generally (not always please don’t kill me) present fully as their genders and often succumb to social pressure to make their genders as unambiguous as possible, nonbinary people don’t always have an easy way to put our genders on display. To start with, we run the gamut of chosen treatments from none at all (like myself) to full HRT, surgeries, name changes, and everything else on the trans menu. Assigned male at birth nonbinary people can take a shortcut with a skirt or a purse full of Maybelline but people will try to put them into easily understood binary identities like drag queen or trans woman anyway. Assigned female at birth nonbinary people may feel required to cut our hair short, squish our boobs flat, and give up dresses and makeup for life but plenty of us don’t. Fuck rules, right? I did once see a very creative tattoo that simply read “THEY” in large letters across the person’s forearm. But that kind of thing is not for everyone.

To a nonbinary person, stealth living may be something they do for the same reasons a binary trans person does. It could be a choice they made for safety or the ability to use public facilities without incident. But often, it’s an involuntary consequence of cisnormative assumptions. In my case, for example, it doesn’t seem to matter what I wear, how short my hair is, or how many years I’ve gone without shaving my legs and wearing makeup. People see a double D chest and as far as they’re concerned, I’m a woman. I usually don’t mind it and honestly it makes me less worried about visiting my kids’ schools and meeting their teachers, but it’s not easy for me to be an out and proud possibility model for little agender folks who want to see their own in the world.

The best place to find nonbinary people right now is online. Oh well. It’s just the way it is until more people start recognizing the yellow and purple and black flag. Maybe we should put “nonbinary” in parentheses on it (kidding) (don’t kill me). But good news, there’s a hashtag #ThisIsWhatNonbinaryLooksLike and we pull it out of the attic and dust it off every March 31st so we can join the party. So go click on it, “like” everyone’s pictures, and tell me what else you would do for nonbinary visibility. 

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender sociology, public health, psychiatry, history of medicine, cognitive science, the social processes of science, transgender feminism, and human rights, taking an analytic approach that intersects these many perspectives and is guided by the lived experiences of transgender people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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2 Responses to Nonbinary Visibility

  1. Allison says:

    When I hear conversations about “non-binary,” I never know whether to count myself in or not.

    On the one hand, I don’t have any sense of gender, and don’t identify as any gender. Inside, I’m just me, gender is simply one of those social constructs I have to deal with when I deal with other people. It’s sort of like grammatical gender in languages like Russian or German.

    On the other hand, I live as a woman, or as close as I can comfortably go. I use feminine pronouns and the ladies’ room. Partly, it’s that I’m old and tired from struggling all my life and sticking to one of the accepted genders just seems easier. And partly it’s that my experiences of masculinity have been pretty traumatic.

    As for “visibility,” I’m not sure what sort of visibility stuff I should be doing for TDOV. I mean, I’m out among pretty much everyone who knows me, and I suspect that I don’t “pass” very well, so I’m kind of visible even to casual strangers. As for my non-gendered-ness, I have no clue as to how to make that visible.

  2. Redd says:

    I have the issue of being young, born female, and identifying as nonbinary. I wear boys’ clothing and my hair is cut short, but the problem is that people think I’m just a tomboy. If they /do/ see me as male, they refer to me as “he/him”. While it’s better than she/her, I honestly wish that people would use they/them. I want to reject my female past, and the only way to do that is by acting as a boy. However, I’ve always enjoyed wearing dresses and feminine things without them being restricted to girls (whether cis or trans).
    Many of my peers know that I go by Redd, but most still use she/her pronouns. The people that know that I’m nonbinary would react badly if I wore female clothes. They would say things like, “Wait, I thought you were nonbinary?” and “So are you a girl now?”

    I know that I should just wear whatever I want, and that nonbinary doesn’t have to mean “vaguely masculine”, but wearing masculine clothes is better than being misgendered as a girl all the time.

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