Help me understand being non binary

Questions and discussions about gender, gender roles and identity.
Tameletjie
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Help me understand being non binary

Unread post by Tameletjie »

I suspect this is very much a "gender 101" basic question so if the answer is just a link to a Gender For Beginners article I do understand! :)

If I stumble into being offensive or use the wrong terms, please understand that I'm new at this and open to learning what I'm misunderstanding. Also apologies for how long this is and that I don't even really know what questions to ask.

I'm AFAB adult and have always known I'm not a woman ... but only recently figured out that the term "non binary" might fit me.

Up to now I've been comfortable being private about this, and comfortable with ambiguity. But suddenly friends and family are discussing these topics at the dinner table and it seems dishonest to participate in such a conversation without revealing that I'm speaking from a place of personal experience and not Internet memes or theory.

I'm neurodivergent, autistic, which seems to be relevant.

I understand the difference between biological sex and gender identity. And I understand the difference between gender identity and gender presentation.

But it confuses me that people use the words "male" and "female" for both sex and gender identity. There seems to be an overlap?

For example, I've heard people say they feel male or female, as well as that they feel like a man, or like a woman?

I also find the terms "masculine" and "feminine" slippery, imprecise, and confusing as qualities that are supposed to be masculine or feminine don't really fit my experience of how people are.

I am not a woman, but I have a female body. I don't have body disphoria. I don't mind if people use female pronouns for me, but female pronous don't quite fit. I definitely don't feel like male pronouns fit either!

When people refer to me as a woman, I just know they are wrong. Have always felt this way. I don't like it.

People frequently think I'm male, which used to bother me, but doesn't anymore. They're wrong and I feel cringey for their sake when they realise their mistake.

I've heard people say that they are agender, which might fit me? But I'm not sure.

I don't feel comfortable with people who are strongly cis gendered and present very traditionally according to their gender role.

Especially not very "normal" (excuse the term!) masculine men. But very straight (is that any better than normal?) feminine women also make me feel on edge. Maybe because it feels like both of those kinds of push me into assuming a gender identity in relation to/ opposed to them and that feels wrong?

I get on best with people who just relate to me as a person and don't seem to notice my sex or gender.

I am married to a AMAB man. And I'm sexually attracted to people, not a particular gender.

I like looking androgynous, and I'm attracted to people who cross over or combine masculine and feminine qualities.

I'm confused because in some ways it seems like agender might fit me, but on the other hand, gender is very important to me. I absolutely notice people's gender, I don't feel safe with most men, for example.

Ugh! It's frustrating to me that I feel like I have to adopt a label so people can understand me, but the labels that seem to fit are quite vague like "gender queer" or "non binary".

Any advice on reading material or interesting people to read about would be appreciated. Or just advice in general, actually.
Heather
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Re: Help me understand being non binary

Unread post by Heather »

Hey there, and no need for apologies! It's all good. That also goes for learning from wherever we start. No one is going to get their back up here about earnest mistakes any of us make.

You know, I read this from you...
But it confuses me that people use the words "male" and "female" for both sex and gender identity. There seems to be an overlap?

For example, I've heard people say they feel male or female, as well as that they feel like a man, or like a woman?

I also find the terms "masculine" and "feminine" slippery, imprecise, and confusing as qualities that are supposed to be masculine or feminine don't really fit my experience of how people are.
...and I was like, "Yep. Big time. And yep, what the heck is with that. And yes, I don't even know what those terms mean from an intersectional, wholly historic and international vantage point."

So, I feel you. That might be because I'm myself a nonbinary agender person, but I also think it's because I've worked in this arena and all the developing and changing theory of it over decades, so in some ways, I know too much for any of this to be anything but super complex, and nowhere near simple. Like, ever. For anyone.

You don't have to have a "label" or specific language for your gender identity. It is NOT required, and I'd posit that anyone who suggests it is is probably doing so consciously or unconsciously for a very cis-normative/heteronormative place. We can ask people who want to understand our gender identities and feelings to have a whole conversation with us, not ask us to try and wrap it up with a couple words. Someone I know (who is trans) instead of asking how you identify your gender with a word, will, with the understanding it's about to take some time, instead ask, "What's your gender story?" I really like and appreciate that.

Those "labels" are only supposed to be shorthand, anyway, for when we want and need a quick way to just express the broadest stroke of our gender identity, much in the way that someone asks where a person is on a political spectrum, you know? But we also get to say something like, "You know, I don't have simple words yet/now/period that feel like they work to express my gender situation, I'm still figuring it out right now," or even, "You know, this whole gender thing just doesn't seem to work for me, period. I'm just me."

Sometimes, to be able to give ourselves the space TO figure this out, we might even have to ask people to let us have that space. If we feel like we have to come up with an answer to something for others we just really don't know for ourselves yet, it can make it a lot harder to feel free to just kind of float as long as we need to to figure our own stuff out.

Do you want some book suggestions on gender theory as a whole, or nonbinary identities in particular? If so, have you read anything so far?
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
Tameletjie
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Re: Help me understand being non binary

Unread post by Tameletjie »

Thanks that's very helpful. And sensible. The "label vs story" idea is actually also very applicable to questions about my autism. It's another example of being a certain way that can't be explained quickly and efficiently, although people seem to expect it.

I would appreciate book recommendations, I have not read any books on this topic.

I have a follow up question, slightly different topic but overlapping with the sex/gender question.

I have realised that I need to be careful when reading opinions about gender identity on the Internet because some of it is concern trolling by people who are hiding their true motivations.

For example, concerns about trans women being in female safe spaces for nefarious reasons that when you actually look into it, isn't something that really happens.

So the following might be another example of this kind of thing.

But this is something that has happened on an online forum I am part of so not just theoretical.

When a person (usually a cis gendered lesbian) tells about being pressured into sex by male-bodied people, and the lesbian is accused of transphobia because "it's not the genitals that make a person a woman, and as a lesbian, you're attracted to women so!"

It's not true for me, but I know for a fact that some, (many?) people are attracted to specific genitals, and not so much the gender identity of a person.

It does not seem right to me that this should be called a prejudice, as it's not something a person can control or has a choice about?

I am confused about this as it does seem to be a real issue (unlike the trans women lurking in women's bathrooms thing) but I suspect it's also being weaponised by TERFS to harm trans women.
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Re: Help me understand being non binary

Unread post by Mo »

It's true that there is a lot of transphobic stuff online that's "dressed up" as a concern for cis people's comfort or wellbeing, and if you aren't familiar with it, it can be hard to spot. The idea that trans women will harm cis women in women-only spaces is definitely one of them; trans women are interested in being in women's spaces because, as women, those are the spaces that they belong in.

When it comes to this idea of genital preference, I think it's really hard to make any kind of blanket statement about it; the way people express their sexual preferences can make a pretty big difference. And I hear this sort of hypothetical question a lot more than I have ever seen it play out in real life (exactly one time), so it does feel to me like a bit more of a thought experiment than a common occurrence. And to be honest, I've never seen someone connect a cis lesbian being unwilling to date trans women with them not wanting to sleep with men; those are two pretty distinct issues and if someone's trying to draw a direct parallel because some trans women have penises, that feels like a pretty unkind and disingenuous line of reasoning.

Now, if a trans woman is pressuring someone for sex, and they don't want it, of course that's bad, as it would be for someone of any gender, trans or not. But asking a lesbian "can you explain why you like women but aren't interested in trans women at all" isn't a pressuring or harmful question to ask.

What I find to be a sticking point about the "genital preference" sort of argument is that very few people know what someone else's genitals are like before feeling a sense of attraction to them. When you think about any people you may have dated or been attracted in your life, did you have direct knowledge of their genitals before you felt that attraction, either because you saw them or they described them to you? I certainly didn't have that knowledge, for most people I've been attracted to. I'm not saying that someone can't feel attraction to another person and then have that attraction fizzle out if they discover their genitals aren't what they expected, but I am a little skeptical of a "genital-first" attraction model as something that's super common. Again, I'm not saying it can't happen, and of course people can have whatever preferences they want, but that idea of genital preference does seem to be weaponized against trans women pretty often.
Tameletjie
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Re: Help me understand being non binary

Unread post by Tameletjie »

Thanks. That makes a lot of sense. I need to think carefully about the idea of genital preference. It's not something I experience myself so I have no idea how it is for others.

I was wondering about this particular issue because a person was banned from a forum I'm on for sharing a story of something that happened to them while dating. They are quite a blunt and forthright person and used some language that other users found transphobic.

The thing that upset me is that this person is a trans man. It seemed to me like they were being punished for sounding similar to a TERF but coming from a very different place.

As a result of my confusion about this event, I did a lot of Googling and found all kinds of articles on this topic, but I don't really trust that I can tell which stories are real and honest, and which are manipulative and stealthily gender essentialist.

In any case I think I have strayed from my original question topic now and this isn't really something anyone can answer. I just needed a safe space to share my confusion and doubt.
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Re: Help me understand being non binary

Unread post by Sunshine »

Hello Temeletjie, is it ok if I chime in here?

I've been thinking a lot about gender issues lately and I find your thoughts very interesting.

Like Mo, I've never been quite able to follow the "I'm just not attracted to people with certain genitals!" argument because I don't understand how you would know what's in someone's pants before you feel attracted to them (I don't mean you personally here of course, you've already stated clearly that you don't have a genital preference, I'm just using this term in a general way.) I completely get that some people only want to have sex with a person with one specific anatomy and I think that absolutely needs to be respected. Also that this isn't usually a choice or a prefence but part of someone's sexual orientation. But I don't understand how that could determine initial attraction, unless people are meeting completely naked which isn't usually the case.

Whenever I hear a "trans person tried to pressure me into sex" story, I wonder why the trans part needs to be so stressed. A person pressuring another person into anything, especially intimacy, is wrong, period. Same goes for stories about alleged predatory behavior. Again, it's the behavior that's primarily a problem, not the gender of the perpetrators.

So while there's probably no 100% accurate way to tell what stories are real and honest and what's put out there with the intention to manipulate, I think it can be helpful to look at what the focus of a narrative is: an inherently neutral factor like gender (or race or sexuality or whatever) or a behavior, and how those things are mentioned in context with each other, then whether that context makes sense or not.
Tameletjie
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Re: Help me understand being non binary

Unread post by Tameletjie »

Whenever I hear a "trans person tried to pressure me into sex" story, I wonder why the trans part needs to be so stressed.

That is an excellent point.
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