Non-binary is not a third gender
In this week’s installment of the series on gender and sexuality, I introduce you to a Loras College student who identifies as non-binary. Since the student is only out to a select few friends and family members, they will be identified as Julien Smith (a pseudonym) in the story. For consistency, Smith will be referred to as she in the story.
When I was first offered the opportunity to interview a non-binary student for my series, I must confess that I wasn’t interested. The problem was, I didn’t think enough about the hyphenated word, non-binary. This is probably because I didn’t understand what the word meant. But, I needed an interview for the fourth installment, so I asked to meet Julien Smith to talk about her journey. We were barely over a minute into the interview when I realized my incompetence on the topic.
“One of the things that really interested me was binders … some of my friends use packers,” Smith said. Whoa. What? “I’m about to learn some sh*t,” I thought to myself.
When it comes to labeling an individual’s personal identity, that can be tricky. “Binary” generally means either this or that – one or the other. In gender, that binary would be either man or woman.
In an article in “Teen Vogue,” Aida Manduley, MSW, a non-binary sex educator and therapist, defines a non-binary person as “someone who does not identify as a man or a woman, or solely as one of those two genders.” Manduley says non-binary is often used as “an umbrella term for other identities that fall outside the man/woman dichotomy and may be more specific. Manduley goes on to say that no matter how “this person identifies their gender, it does not neatly follow the binary of man and woman.”
Julien Smith says that, while she is not a big fan of assigning labels, it does help when it comes to trying to communicate what she feels. One of the things that having the label does, Smith says, is make her feel that she is not broken.
“There are plenty of people like myself who prefer to just say non-binary because we don’t have a specific idea of our specific identities because there are a whole bunch of identities underneath non-binary,” Smith said. “I don’t know – I vibe with the word so I just go with it.”
When Smith was first questioning her identity, she was in middle school and came across the word transgender. She said she asked her dad about it and got the worst definition anyone could possibly give.
“I essentially got, ‘they’re people who chop their genitals off’ … so I was transphobic for about a week in middle school,” Smith said with a laugh. “[Eventually,] I got an explanation from someone who was experiencing trans feelings.”
Like her dad trying to define the word trans to her, Smith says that non-binary identification is very confusing for most people. Since our society thrives a great deal on stereotypes, people want to put others into a neat little box. Smith said that non-binary people simply don’t fit into that box.
“Since it’s not one thing, it’s not a third gender, and people get really confused,” Smith said. “How you identify, how you feel, is not really a choice but how you act on it is.”
Smith says that friends come to her with questions about how they should identify themselves. Smith said it’s not up to her to assign a label to them, if they’re straight or if they’re cisgender.
“You need to choose if you want to take on the label,” Smith said. “You can’t label someone else – they have to label themselves.”
Smith said, when it comes to pronouns, it’s not that important to her, adding that she is open to any or all pronouns.
“I like to joke that the only way to misgender me is to use neo-pronouns,” Smith said. Neo-pronouns, Smith explained, is a new category of pronouns for people who aren’t comfortable with he, she, and they.
One term used in the non-binary community is, “enby,” the shortened name for non-binary. This is not to be confused with “nb,” which is used for “non-black.”
Smith said that the LGBTQ+ space on campus is good. She added, Loras is working on being more LGBTQ+ friendly but there is definitely room for growth.
“The campus is weird because outwardly we’re pretty good at inclusivity and tolerance,” Smith said. “Then you get parts of the administration and the donors and they can be really iffy … and then there are the anti-LGBT portions of campus, so you don’t always know what response you’re going to get.”
Oh, back to where I started. Packers are used to represent male anatomy on someone who doesn’t have that.
“Binders are essentially this tight upper garment that … squishes your boobs so they look smaller … makes you look like you don’t have them, hopefully,” Smith said.
I learned a lot from gathering this story. I hope you learned a lot from reading it.