Non-Binary Stars: How We Shine
Updated: Aug 16, 2018
I've tried to write this post so it's easy to read, no matter who you are. --Star
Are you aware that your physical body isn't necessarily a good way of telling what your gender actually is? After all, since you can be labeled "girl" at birth, but later realize that you're actually a boy, gender clearly needn't have anything to do with the body you walk around in.
Non-binary is different to an either/or way of seeing gender. In case you've never heard the word "binary," a binary is an either/or. Just like hot/cold or North/South or big/small or right/wrong. Actually, you can be warm instead of hot/cold, and you can be medium instead of big/small. In fact, it's the same with most binaries—including the girl/boy and man/woman binaries. For example, I'm non-binary, in terms of my gender, because I've never felt like a woman or a girl ... or a man or a boy. I've always felt that I was a smattering of each, along with something different from either*, and until I heard about non-binary and gender non-conforming identities, I thought I was just plain odd. But then my partner came out a transgender man and I learned a lot from him about gender. He knew he was a boy when he was three years old, but when, as a kid, he told others he was a boy, he was told he was wrong. But he knew. He really, deeply knew.
In fact, he never stopped knowing that he was a boy. He never had any doubts. That's not to say that it's wrong to have doubts or is in some way unnatural. (Also, your gender doesn't have to be solid—gender can be fluid too!) Everybody experiences their gender differently. Gender can be very, very complex. But in my partner's case, even though everyone in his life told him that no, he wasn't a boy, he knew he was.
He didn't need to be told that gender has nothing to do with the body.
Gender is something different to our physical bodies, and that's because, as humans, we created it ourselves. (And by the way, if anyone says, "You're a either a girl or boy because you have certain body parts and that's all there is to it, then a) They're talking about biological sex, not gender, and b) Lots of people are born intersex in terms of their biological sex, so that rips that argument up, and c) your biological sex can change, if you'd like it to.) In fact, gender is a "construct"—a fancy way of saying that we built it with our thoughts and feelings. A baby doesn't know their gender before they learn to speak. We have to help them discover what their gender actually is. Perhaps this is similar to butterflies who don't know they're butterflies! If you ask a butterfly if they're a butterfly—assuming they're a talking butterfly—they'll likely answer, "I didn't know I was! What is butter? And what's a fly? And what's it got to do with me?" If you tell that same butterfly that they're female, that butterfly won't know what on earth you mean. And neither does a child, when we first tell them the same. They have to learn gender, because gender isn't natural. (Have you ever seen a tiger in a wildlife program wearing a dress and knitting? Of course not! Animals have biological sex—a body with certain hormones, shapes, and organs—but they don't have gender. To read more about the difference between biological sex and gender, check out this article by Avory Faucette on Quora.)
My name is Star for a very special reason. Stars aren't male or female. Stars are just stars. People used to believe that the moon was female and the sun was male. But what about the stars? The stars are non-binary. And if you don't believe me, go ask a star if it's female or male. Even if that star is a talking star, I bet they won't know what you're asking. Still, the star will shine beautifully, just by being. That star will blast out light that has nothing to do with gender.
Perhaps one of the most amazing things about being non-binary is that it feels different for different people, just like being a girl or boy feels different for different folks too. If you yourself aren't non-binary, but you want to support non-binary people—which I very much hope you do—to honor people's chosen pronouns (like he or she or they or ze, or a host of other pronouns that people use). Many non-binary people, including myself, have the pronouns they/them/their. And this is a good pronoun to use if you aren't sure of someone else's gender identity. If you honor people's pronouns, they're more likely to feel appreciated, safe, cared for, and seen. Being safe and seen is very important because society tends to make us invisible, by branding almost everything to do with gender either "female" or "male." People also sometimes shame non-binary and transgender people by laughing at folks who don't seem to "fit" into the girl/boy or man/woman binary. It's important to not do this, especially since it tends to make transgender and non-binary people—and others who feel different—feel left out, attacked, and misunderstood.
Whoever you are and whatever you're feeling about your gender identity, I am ready to see you and accept you, just as you are. You can tell me who you are and I will believe you. You're not invisible to me. I am ready to see you without any binaries. You are not a joke. I will take you seriously. You're a star filled with light and everything you shine on, you illuminate. If people tell you otherwise, they don't understand the beauty of stars, and this will make their lives far poorer. But that doesn't mean it's okay for those people to be mean to you. If you can, little by little, find a world that will bask in your light—whether it's in books, on the internet, on social media, on television, or elsewhere, try to find a community that will love you and will not turn away.
If you want to come out, but have no idea how to do so, be gentle with yourself—and remember, you can get help from these resources, whenever you need to:
Hello Cruel World by Kate Bornstein (especially good if you're a teenager who is feeling very upset and confused about your identity)
Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl by Sarah Savage and Fox Fisher
Sending lots of love.
*Not every non-binary person will describe themselves this way. We all experience our identities differently. Isn't that beautiful? I think it is.