According to current mainstream thought, some male or female individuals are uniquely “non-binary,” instead of being male or female. What does that mean? Supposedly, these are people who feel they are neither male nor female or both male and female. I have already noted in a prior essay that “Gender Identity” is defined as one’s sense of one’s “gender,” but “gender” remains undefined in this context. Given this circular definition, one cannot clarify what it means to be non-binary by simply stating that a non-binary person has a “non-binary Gender Identity.” We must consider what it might mean for a male or female to be neither male nor female or both male and female without the crutch of a “Gender Identity.”
Very few people, if any, follow all stereotypes and other societal expectations associated with their sex. That is, very few males are wholly “masculine,” and very few females are wholly “feminine,” as those terms may be defined at a given time in a given society. Rather, most people are uncomfortable with at least a few, if not many, “masculine” or “feminine” ideals.
We muddle through the expectations we don’t care for or, if possible and depending on a host of factors, we buck whichever expectations we most dislike, that have the least negative consequences from a social standpoint. For example, if a man is an attorney and works in the Courts, even if he hates wearing ties, he will likely wear them to avoid the wrath of a Judge. However, when he goes to a Broadway play, he may not bother to wear a tie because he won’t suffer any negative consequences and will be more comfortable. Similarly, a female attorney who doesn’t like wearing dresses may easily avoid wearing them to Court these days because she can just wear nice trousers. However, that same woman may feel pressured to wear a dress to her best friend’s wedding (especially if she is in the wedding party).
Not only are many people uncomfortable with some of the societal expectations for their sex, but many people are drawn to at least a few, if not more than a few, of the societal expectations for the opposite sex. For example, when I was a young teen, I liked jean jackets and work boots even when only guys wore them. Some boys or men really like nail polish or eye liner, and/or want to have long hair and wear braids. Today, those things are less the province of females only, but some years back, they were considered pretty feminine. Males who liked those things were what might have been called “gender-bending.”
So, most people don’t like every societal expectations for their sex, and many people like at least a few things that are associated with the opposite sex. Granted, some people are much more uncomfortable than others with societal expectations for their sex, and the degree of discomfort with any given societal expectation for one’s sex varies from person to person (and from time to time).
That being the case, what differentiates a non-binary person from the majority of people who are just adverse to gender stereotypes? Are non-binary people more bothered by societal expectations and/or more anxious to adopt some expressions common to the opposite sex than almost everyone else? If so, where do we draw the line between someone who is simply adverse to gender norms and someone who is clinically uncomfortable with societal expectations for their sex (but not entirely drawn to the expectations for the opposite sex, because then they would be labeled “transgender”)? How can we define non-binary people other than by self-ID?
I would posit that there is no line, and no way of discerning the difference between someone adverse to gender norms and a so-called non-binary person, other than this. The non-binary person considers themself unique and wants a label for their unique status. They want to be treated as special, and called out by the rest of us as different. That’s it. I cannot see any other difference between the non-binary person and the person adverse to gender norms.
If the idea of being non-binary means you don’t feel comfortable being referred to as male or female, the lack of comfort with one’s biology is not a basis for a new category of people. We all have to become comfortable in the skin we’re in. If being referred to as “he” or “she” makes someone feel uncomfortable, then “they” had better consider what it is about being biologically male or female that bothers them so much.
I once saw a movie, the name of which I cannot recall. In the movie, there was a young teenage female who was non-binary. What did this mean? This meant that “they” didn’t have to wear a dress to the upcoming wedding, despite the expectation that females would wear dresses to the wedding. Instead, “they” could wear a sparkly suit. Further, “they” were referred to with “they” pronouns and called a “nibling” instead of a niece (or nephew). Those were the big differences for this non-binary person. It seemed clear in the movie that it would not have been acceptable for a female wedding-goer to simply say something like “hey, I don’t really love dresses. I hope you understand that I want to celebrate your special day and will wear something very nice, but it will be a really cool suit instead of a dress. Thanks for understanding.” Nope, that would not have gone over, but, by saying she was “non-binary,” suddenly this girl could wear a cool suit without question. I have two thoughts on this. First, why does this non-binary person get out of wearing a dress while another person, who doesn’t use this label, but also really doesn’t like wearing dresses, still has to wear one? Second, is it so horribly emotionally scarring to have to dress in something a little uncomfortable at least for someone’s special event? Is this really a human rights violation?
I am all for lightening up on dress codes of any kind. I am very happy not to dress up and so glad I rarely have to do it. I would be fine if everyone could just agree that, other than for practical reasons, everyone can wear whatever they want all the time—as long as it’s clean and doesn’t interfere with whatever the person is doing.
[Side note: In some fields, a uniform is actually useful for the job. Doctors would want to wear scrubs to avoid blood stains on clothing, we want their scrubs to be simple and not get in the way of the physical part of the job, and we want them to be recognizable from a distance (in addition to a badge, which may require being close up to see). Police officers have several reasons to wear a uniform. However, there is no reason to vary the uniforms for males and females performing the same function - aside from some minor adjustments for the physical body (women’s police uniforms or scrubs might be more forgiving in the chest area, and the crotch area of the pants for male and female doctors/police officers, firefighters, etc. could vary to account for different body parts). When a uniform is not useful for the job, why have arbitrary requirements? For example, why should a male lawyer have to wear a tie to Court? And, if a tie were so important, why would it only matter for males? As long as you go to Court with clean clothing on that is not too distracting, why should there have to be a tie? Why not wear clean jeans? Sure, you might want the Judge to wear a robe in the Courtroom to remind everyone of the important role they are playing. But the lawyers have to introduce themselves and it will be obvious from the context of the discussions who the lawyers are. What then is the point of wearing suits and ties - and, again, if there were a use to those things, perhaps to signify the importance and solemn nature of the job, why differentiate between males and females for this requirement? Thankfully, the days of forcing female lawyers to wear dresses and skirts ended before I began to practice. This would have been a real burden to me.]
Back to the point. Either occasionally wearing something we don’t love wearing - assuming it’s not unsafe (6 inch heels) or extremely uncomfortable (a bathing suit outside in winter) - just for a special occasion - isn’t so terribly bad—or, if it is, why force anyone to do it? Why only protect people willing to separate themselves from the rest of the world with a special, self-declared non-binary label?
Perhaps the whole point is that a non-binary label signifies that a person is more emotionally fragile than anyone else, so that they, and they alone, must be allowed to buck any stereotypes for their biological sex, while the rest of us tough individuals do not need and should not get this special privilege. Is non-binary a synonym for extremely emotionally and/or mentally fragile, at least when it comes to gender stereotypes? If so, shouldn’t we as a society try and help non-binary people become less fragile instead of tip-toeing around them and eliminating all things that bother them? What is now called “snow-plow parenting” is the notion of parents eliminating all obstacles in front of their children so they experience no discomfort or problems. This is not a good way to raise resilient adults. Are we now becoming a snow-plow society, where we eliminate all obstacles in front of people who are extremely sensitive about their gender non-conformity? Are we doing these people any favors?
Further, by removing all of these gender non-conforming people from the male and female categories, aren’t we reinforcing narrow gender stereotypes? Aren’t we saying that a man who doesn’t “feel so masculine” or a woman who doesn’t “feel so feminine” isn’t really a man or a woman, respectively? And what does that even mean? To the extent that we are defining men and women by gender stereotypes, having a group who are exempt from those stereotypes because they don’t or won’t conform means we have a higher expectation for every other man or woman to conform. This makes it unnecessarily difficult for anyone with an ounce of gender non-conformity to move through the world, bucking stereotypes, without wearing a special non-binary label. Why can’t someone refuse to conform to gender stereotypes without having to opt out with a non-binary label that renounces their biological truth? This idea pressures everyone who doesn’t take on the non-binary label to conform to narrow stereotypes for their sex.
In other words, by claiming that gender non-conforming women and men are not women and men at all (they are instead non-binary), we are led to believe that the definition of men and women is narrowly defined by strict stereotypes.
Further still, the ability to “opt out” of womanhood or manhood enforces the notion of being “born in the wrong body,” or, at least the idea of an inevitable truth that some people are not what their biology dictates—as opposed to just realizing that biology doesn’t dictate how one can express oneself. Thus, we end up with not only non-binary kids, but “trans kids,” who, simply because they suspect they will align better with the opposite sex, must be given special treatment, including being referred to as the opposite sex and receiving body modifications to appear as the opposite sex. [Some include non-binary under the “trans” umbrella. For the purpose of clarity in this essay, I will refer to “trans” and “non-binary” as two separate things.] This notion that some kids are really the opposite of their biological sex or something other than their biological sex because of an undefined and undefinable feeling leads to body hatred, wholly unnecessary medicalization, and the illusion that one must pretend to be something else in order to be onesself. When a kid becomes dissociated from their biological reality, whether they believe they are non-binary or transgender, this causes all sorts of internal mental and emotional conflicts.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, not only does the notion of an “opt out” lead so-called trans kids to a medical pathway, but some non-binary individuals also seek and and receive medical interventions to make their bodies more gender neutral. For example, many non-binary teenage girls today desire mastectomies—and these have actually been performed by medical professionals. Some non-binary individuals seek and receive what has been called “genital nullification” (I’ve also seen it called “gender nullification”) surgery. This creates a smooth area in the genital region, akin to a Barbie or Ken doll. Still other non-binary people take “micro-doses” of opposite-sex hormones to feminize their male bodies or masculinize their female bodies enough to render them unrecognizable as men or women. Most commonly, some non-binary pre-teens and young teens are given puberty blockers to avoid the appearance of masculine or feminine characteristics. Perhaps some individuals declare a non-binary status because they fear growing up to be a man or a woman, and are attempting to remain childlike.
Whatever the reasons for removing breasts, smoothing over genitals, and neutralizing masculine and feminine bodies, is this the best solution to a person’s fragile emotional state? What if they later come to regret these decisions? There is no medical basis for these treatments, but there is an adverse impact on health.
After much thought, I believe the non-binary label signifies that someone is adverse to gender stereotypes (like most people), but doesn’t have the wherewithal to express their non-conforming traits in the face of societal constraints without a protective label. This is someone who wants to be unique and challenge gender stereotypes, but only with permission. This is often someone who lacks the maturity to confront their adulthood. In short, a non-binary person is an extremely sensitive individual with a desire to live in the protective bubble of a label that signals their unique status and their ability to live outside of gender norms without judgment.
While I love the idea that anyone can be somewhat feminine, somewhat masculine, and a little neutral, and can change their level of femininity and/or masculinity over time, creating a label for the special people who are allowed to do those things, rather than loosening the constraints of gender norms for everyone, tightens those constraints for the majority of people. Further, giving special treatment to those with a non-binary label insulates them from society in unhealthy ways, encouraging fragility, and discouraging resiliency. The non-binary label also contributes to the notion that biological reality needs to be tweaked with wholly unnecessary, risky medical interventions.
Instead of having a non-binary label, society should just expand its notions of what all males and females can do. We need to continue the trend from the 70s (e.g. “Free to Be You and Me”) toward opening up the world for all people to cross over gender lines, and blur those lines into obscurity. (Think Billy Porter—a man who isn’t afraid to express his femininity, but also isn’t denying his biological reality.) This doesn’t mean a female can’t choose to be ultra-feminine or a male can’t choose to be ultra-masculine. It doesn’t stand in the way of anyone who likes traditional gender roles. It just means nobody has to feel like a freak of nature for being a feminine male, a masculine female, a mixture of masculine and feminine, or not so much of either. Let’s eliminate the non-binary label along with gender stereotypes.
What I just cannot understand is who is pushing these stereotypes? I'm 56 years old and never felt overly bound to societal stereotypes, nor did I think that society pushed them. So where did all of this come from?
Did they need to create an 'oppression' to have something to rebel against?
A message From Prisha!