Does Being Trans/Non-Binary Reinforce the Gender Binary?

Note: Some people classify agender as being under the trans umbrella. Personally, I treat the two as separate in this article.

Spoiler alert: I don’t have a definitive answer for you. Sorry, I’m disappointed too.

This is a difficult question which is actually impeding my self-acceptance. I know, without a doubt, deep inside, that I am agender. But that doesn’t stop the self-questioning: isn’t gender just a social construct? Just because I don’t fit into the stereotype of gender, does that really mean I have none?

My internal answer is always: yes.

The problem was proposed to me by a friend, someone who I thought would be very accepting but was in fact quite skeptical, in a way I can identify with, because it was intellectual.

She said, as I mentioned, that just because I didn’t fit the stereotype of what a “woman” is thought to be by society at large, didn’t mean that I wasn’t a woman. Because, after all, what does it mean to be a woman? When you actually demand an answer, you have to respond with “because you feel like one.” Which, as we all know, greatly upsets those who scream “science!” and “biology!” all over the damn internet. Also, to do otherwise, you would get into the dangerous territory of dictating a trait of some sort that every woman shares.

My friend, though, would think that what it meant was that I had a vagina. This isn’t exactly on the same level as uneducated, bigoted people who demand that everyone has a gender identity and it corresponds with their sex. Rather, it meant, to her, that gender is an illusion. It doesn’t exist. There is no inner essence of what it is to be a woman. Her proof was, “I don’t know what it feels like to be a woman. I don’t have any inner feeling. I’m just a person.” This, honestly, makes me think that she must be agender as well, but I haven’t yet brought that up.

The issue is, people do feel their gender. Many, many cisgender women could say how they feel that the things they do, whatever they may be, make them feel connected to their gender. Even more markedly are transgender folks, whose gender is made all the more obvious to them because of the way they are wrongly perceived by society and feel such wrongness at being labeled as the incorrect pronouns.

Concerning my own gender identity, it becomes very confused as well. You’d think that, because I have no gender, I would not experience gender dysphoria. But this is not so. For whatever reason, perhaps a social distaste for being read as a gender before being read as a person, I quite dislike my breasts. It’s a feeling I can only describe as dysphoria. It’s almost an out-of-body experience, feeling like they aren’t attached to me, or shouldn’t be. It’s especially rough because I don’t want them gone, either. Having them makes me feel too feminine, but to not have them would make me feel too masculine. That’s a shitty purgatory. Furthermore, when people address me as ma’am, or my family says “daughter, sister,” etc., it chafes against me. Every time they make assumptions about me, or pressure me, on the basis of assuming my gender, it causes little quakes inside me. Which, as my friend pointed out, would anger plenty of women as well. Still, it’s a different sort of feeling, in my opinion, specifically because it’s also a reaction to such an innocuous thing as a pronoun.

To continue, I can only imagine that it must be this way for trans folks as well, but probably to an even larger extent–having a female body in American society means that I can at least dress androgynously without fearing too much social retribution. But for someone to dress and transition and openly be the “opposite” gender that they were assigned…the social and bodily dysphoria must be intense.

And so, for these reasons, I just can’t say that I must be a gender non-conforming woman. The word just does not fit me, as “man” wouldn’t either. I feel solidly in the middle, I want to be perceived as I am as well–solidly in the middle. Neither.

And this is real, as the intense feeling of gender is for trans folks. It just is. You can propose all sorts of logical reasons why it shouldn’t be so. “Why, if trans people just realized that they could keep their genitals but be as feminine and masculine as they want, we would just enlarge what it means to be a man or woman. And we could break the binary!” But this totally ignores the real experience of dysphoria.

Not to mention it totally erases people’s inner sense of self. It would be nice to just proclaim, “gender doesn’t exist, just do whatever the hell you want!” but this erases people’s true lived experience. Men identify as men, and women identify as women. They don’t identify as being genderless, they have this inner sense of self that really feels like man or woman. And I do really feel that I have neither. We can scream “biology” all we want, but these are true lived experiences. And I think, in this society that hails science as supreme, we have a way of erasing personal experience that can be quantified or logically willed away. We’re not talking about what we biologically are, which has no bearing on who we are as people. We’re talking about our personalities and identities, which, if it is at all scientific, would be psychological and sociological.

Finally, I just want to mention: Jesus Christ, do you know how hard it is to be trans or non-binary? This shit is enough to get you killed. Even if we don’t mention that extreme extent, daily living is a trying experience, because it feels like so many people, the majority of people, are against you. Friends keep trying to say things like, “No, we’ve progressed a lot as a society, people are more accepting now.”

I told my boyfriend that I doubted I could ever be out at work. He said that I could put “no comment” in the gender section of a job application, and I was like, “Yeah, if I want them to chuck it in the trash.” His response, “No, they can’t do that legally!” And I’m like, “Hell, it ain’t legal to pay women less than men, but they sure as fuck do.”

I think that people are just starting to maybe see being trans as a thing. Even if they aren’t accepting it, at the very least, they’ve heard of it. Fucking basically nobody knows about agender people. Gender fluid people, too. Not trying to make this into a contest of “who has it worse,” because we both got it pretty bad. I’m just saying that when coming out to your family, it might be nice that they even have an idea of what you’re saying. My family wouldn’t have ever heard of agender. But, for both trans and agender folks…a lot of times, either way, they don’t believe it. Or worse.

So why would I identify this way for shits and giggles? People don’t comprehend how ridiculous it is to be labeled a “special snowflake” who just “wants to be special.” Like, there are a lot of easier ways to be special? Like, I don’t know, getting really good at baking cakes or something? These are identities that are at best unknown to society and at worst, loathed. I personally suffer from internal hatred because I’ve absorbed so much of this rhetoric. I’m having a hard time even believing I even exist, let alone accepting it. Seriously, why would I do this just for attention? Most of the attention we get is shitty attention.

Am I being too negative about the state of LGBT+ affairs? I’ve only realized that I’m LGBT in the last, like, three weeks. And what I’ve seen on the internet isn’t very pretty. But the friends I’ve told seem okay with it–most of them, though two don’t understand and therefore are antagonistic. All I have of my family’s reactions are projections, which may not be accurate. I don’t know, just from what I’ve seen around the interwebs, doesn’t seem like a very great atmosphere right not for either trans or agender folks. But, time will tell.


One thought on “Does Being Trans/Non-Binary Reinforce the Gender Binary?”

  1. I think that there’s a lot more acceptance for the LGB part of the acronym simply because, as you pointed out, people know what it is to be lesbian/gay/bisexual. Trans and nonbinary gender identities will, I hope, become more normalized as they grow more and more visible. But for the moment, you’re absolutely right. It’s very very hard to be trans/nonbinary. Still, it’s worth it to feel validated by the friends who do truly accept you––I hope you find that. Stay your awesome agender self 🙂


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