Living Agender, When the World Doesn’t Want You
I accepted myself as nonbinary basically the same day I came out as nonbinary. I was joining an online Discord, very nervously as usual, and the group required that you post an introduction sharing certain things about yourself. Before I joined this group, the only genders I’d ever known were male and female, and the only pronouns I’d ever come across for people were “she” and “he.” The list of possible roles in this chat room though included a “nonbinary” option for gender, and “they/them” for pronouns. Seeing that those were options I could choose was what finally made it click for me.
Before all of that, going into public restrooms and being addressed in gendered ways always made me uncomfortable, but I was always able to play it off. Restrooms had other people, and I’m social anxious and awkward as it is, so that makes sense. Being addressed in a gendered manner usually meant being called terms that, for where I grew up, would be considered a bit rude to do to people. Because calling someone “sir” or “ma’am” where I grew up in Colorado when addressing someone that wasn’t much higher up than you in work environments, was more like back talking. After moving to Atlanta, it was the opposite. So, you know, I had to get used to that, and the discomfort would go away, or so I thought.
To no one’s surprise, it didn’t. But, having rationalized it as much as I could, I had just learned to live with the almost constant discomfort of what I now know to be social dysphoria. So, on that day in September 2016, just over two years ago to the date of me writing this, it seemed like the world finally clicked into place in my brain. I spent a few months only really being out to anyone else in that chat room and a few other smaller ones specifically for nonbinary peoples and such, before finally gaining the courage to come out to my best friend and my partner. And that’s where my more serene world started cracking at the edges.
Neither of them were disrespectful about it, my partner even agreed to misgender and deadname me in person so I could stay in the closet and not get the treatment that the more out and open trans people in my school got, which was really nice of them. My best friend, on the other hand, was a bit less accepting. To this day, two years after coming out and having finally mostly transitioned to my new name and a more affirming clothing style, he still doesn’t seem to fully get it. And that’s when it finally hit me, that most cisgender people probably won’t understand.
Online interactions, though, were amazing, in comparison. Most people were super respectful of light pronoun correction, and the people who knew me with my old name and gender were mostly able to transition over with me with little to no difficulties. That same chat room that got me to finally accept myself to myself? I’m now one of the head admins, next in line to be server owner when the current one steps down, and almost half of the staff are trans in some way or another.
Having said all of that, though, it says something that I’m able to accept myself, even recently finally accepting that I’m agender on top of being nonbinary. I’m even able to be out and proud of it online, but I only feel comfortable being out to three or four people offline. I’m not out to my parents or family at all, though I suspect my closest sibling knows because of my current fashion choices, considering half my wardrobe is nonbinary-flag-colored. I’m not out to anyone at school, I’m not even out to any of my three dorm mates, because it could very easily turn sour.
In my two years of immersing myself into the asexual and trans communities, for all of my other nonbinary peoples, there seems to be one truly unifying thread of reality. The intense difficulty of coming out, staying out, and being able to be who you are inside.
When one of the most common slogans on items for nonbinary people is “You are Valid,” or something along those lines, it just feels like most people think we are not, in fact, valid. Obviously it feels great to get validation for something about yourself, whether it be your talents or skills or gender, but having a validating phrase be one of the main things to put on pins makes it all to real that we aren’t seen as valid by the majority of society, or at least it doesn’t feel like we are. When my partner buys me a nonbinary-flag-colored squishy with the words “you are valid” it is the highlight of my month, which says something about the situation we have to put up with.
Very few nonbinary people I know and almost none of the agender people I talk to regularly are “out of the closet” to people they talk to in person and didn’t meet online. The number one stated reason is rejection. Not being accepted as “a real thing” by a portion of people, being called attention seekers, and constantly being confused for a binary trans person by those who are more accepting but not really up to par. There isn’t even legal acceptance in most places. I can’t get the proper gender marker on any of my documents because I’m a citizen of the wrong state, and many others are in my position.
And for agender people, and lots of nonbinary people in general, it’s often sparked by the fact that so much in life is gendered in one way or another. I’ve seen and talked to quite a few people going through this, and they’ll usually mention how they just feel it would be easier to be binary, and that they don’t want to be nonbinary because the world is so heavily binarized. Obviously not all nonbinary people feel this way. In fact, I don’t feel this way, and for the past two years I’ve questioned my gender a grand total of once or twice a year, because being nonbinary just feels right in the inner most parts of myself.
I mentioned it before, but I’m not out at home or school. Sure, I changed my preferred name in the system, but because changing my legal name would get back to my mom I’ve refrained from doing as such because I don’t feel like she would accept me as I am. And even if she did accept me, she would have ridiculous ideas about what I am or what I’m doing. I don’t even mention my sex because then even well-meaning people would start to get ideas about what I look like, or what I do with my life, or crazy things like that because they have these stereotypes of nonbinary people in their heads. I wanted to come out to my dormmates when I moved in, but when in the first week they started making attack helicopter jokes and stuff like that, I no longer felt like I was able to be myself around them.
People like to say that there aren’t gendered stereotypes for agender and nonbinary people, but that’s just not the case. There’s this idea that nonbinary people are all assigned female at birth, wear chest binders, have undercuts and wacky hair colors, and wear punk clothing. So, now, not only do people I interact with expect me to behave and socialize like my assigned gender, but when I tell them I’m nonbinary they might expect me to act a certain “nonbinary” way, instead. Some people even try and say that the names we pick are “too feminine” or “too masculine,” gatekeeping our identities from us.
Not every nonbinary person feels physical dysphoria, we don’t all wear chest binders — we don’t even all have chests to bind. Some of use want surgery, some don’t, but some people believe nonbinary means to be one way or the other. Not every agender person uses the same pronouns, we don’t have to and so we don’t. Some people are fine with using “they/them” alongside their preferred pronoun, some aren’t. Just because I use or don’t use certain pronouns does not automatically give someone a clear indication of my gender right off the bat, despite what some may think.
Fact of the matter is, by being ourselves we tend to break all the “rules” about gender there are. Even some groups of otherwise nice trans people think we are “not real” or “attention seekers.” We break gender boundaries so hard that some of the other people breaking gender boundaries think we’re going too far, though luckily they seem to be in the extreme minority. We are ripe targets for slander, hatred, violence, disdain, you name something negative and nonbinary people are likely to have gotten it or even are still getting it. And yet, we’re also somehow invisible: no acceptance, no recognition, called fake at every turn — people forget we exist at the same time they are kicking us down.
I feel the effects of these things even if they don’t happen to me, just like what happens in any community. I choose not to expose myself to the possibility of these things happening because I know I couldn’t handle it where I’m at right now. I’m not able to be out to my family yet, I rely on them for finances and being disabled in the streets is not something I’d survive. But, hearing about the worst of it while experiencing the more moderate versions of it at the same time takes its own toll on you. Living life when your very existence breaks most people’s ideas of gender is hard, even when you are in a space that is more accepting or you are more able to pick and choose who you’re out to.
Gender is hard. Sometimes it’s not the personal acceptance of it, sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s not the social acceptance of it, sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s questioning your gender every two days, and sometimes it is questioning it two times a year, or even every two years. But, regardless, binary trans people will tell you that gender is hard. Nonbinary people, both those who are trans and those who aren’t, will tell you gender is hard. Agender people, whether trans or not, whether they also identify as nonbinary or not, will agree with you that gender is hard.
Gender hasn’t been hard for me in the ways it often is for many agender and nonbinary people. I’ve rarely questioned my gender, I’ve rarely been directly told I’m making things up or other worse stuff I’ve heard others say happened to them. While my home and social life aspects could use some work, they aren’t unsalvageable like those of a few others I’ve talked to. But, even still, if you asked me if gender is hard, I’d affirm as fast as my brain could process the question. Cisgender people don’t get how hard it can be and it’s not a fault of their own either. They just don’t have to deal with all of the internal and external difficulties as those who break the binary do. What they can do, though, is be respectful. Because even if gender isn’t something to ponder and question and agonize over for days or weeks or months or even years for them, it is for us.
Not every agender person is the same, of course. But the day my partner asked if I wanted to go by my deadname still or if I’d decided on a new name, was the day in my life I felt the best about myself. People say not to make your life your gender, which I agree with. My life isn’t my gender. But my gender, and acceptance of it, is what makes my life one that I’m happy to be living.