[Author's Note: I promised a post challenging cisnormativity in the past. Sorry for the long delay, but here it is!]
As I kid, my parents never kept me from doing or wearing “boy” stuff, if that was what I wanted. I grew up progressively more and more masculine. Most of my friends grew up masculine too, but without the same parental influence of open-mindedness.
The gender binary is the classification of sex and gender into two neat little boxes. It’s a social boundary, preventing the masculine and feminine from overlapping and keeping gender roles defined. And, like communism, it works great on paper.
It’s a very Western way of thinking. Through much of human history, the concept wasn’t even considered. Non-binary genders, gender identities that are not strictly masculine or feminine, date back to Mesopotamia and Egypt, infamously described as “Third gender”. Native Americans recognized it as two-spirit, and in India it’s called hijra.
Many historical examples of non-binary genders sound, in description, closer to intersex. To be intersex is to be born with genitals that are not strictly a penis or a vagina and uterus. There are many possible ways this can occur besides what is observable at birth, including infertility.
Modern non-binary genders are a similar story, however tend to be more about personal identity than divinity. There are lots of identity labels that people use. Agender, bigender, gender-fluid, and genderqueer are common. I’ve also seen demigirl/boy, genderpunk, and genderquoi (quoi means “what” in French). Many people consider non-binary genders to be under the trans umbrella. Some non-binary people, such as myself, choose not to use the trans label.
Some identities, such as genderquoi, are pretty self-explanatory. Others, like demigirl/boy, raise questions. Almost all non-binary people will hear the same comment regarding their gender in their lives:
“That’s not real.”
When people start challenging a long-used system, however arbitrary that system may be, it makes people angry. This has always been true. Granted, so have non-binary genders, but that hasn’t stopped anyone from disrespecting, ignoring, and erasing them in the name of, you guessed it, the gender binary.
And because the gender binary manifests itself in more ways than just identity, everyone can experience ridicule for even going against “traditional” gender roles. Children are especially open to this. Not necessarily from other children, but from their parents, other parents, and complete strangers. Parents who won’t let their children play with certain toys, participate in certain activities, because god forbid they grow up to be anything other than cisgender, heterosexual adults. Strangers and other parents who think that their opinion is so very important and should be considered because how dare these people let their son play with baby dolls, don’t you know your daughter won’t be right when she grows up if you let her think of anything but her appearance?
Most young people now don’t always take such commentary seriously, or outright ignore what people think gender roles should be. But even in LGBT+ communities, the idea of the gender binary is so ingrained that people don’t take non-binary genders seriously.
This has encouraged a lot of people, non-binary and otherwise, to talk to people about non-binary genders, and to teach them to question the binary wherever they see it. Gender, like everything else, is a spectrum. And sometimes people just need a push to think critically about and explore gender and their own identity. Some people who know they do not identify with their gender assigned to them at birth think that their only options are “boy” and “girl”, even if neither of them fit, and that they have to pick one. This line of thinking can be unhealthy and damaging. It’s important that people know and understand that there are more than just two genders, and more than just two sexes even, for this reason.