This Is What It Means To Be Nonbinary

by Amber Leventry
Originally Published: 
Amber Leventry/Credit Unknown

“Hi. My name is Amber. I use they/them pronouns.”

This is how I introduce myself to people I am meeting for the first time or to crowds of people I am about to speak to during one of my teaching seminars on LGBTQ issues.

Related: Why Gender Neutral Clothing Can Be Problematic

I am nonbinary. I do not identify as male or female, but as a perfect mix of both. Out of respect for myself, I tell people the pronouns I want them to use when talking to and about me. This is also a way to respect the person I am talking to because I am providing an inclusive and safe space for them to comfortably tell me how they would like to be referred to. In other words, I am a human with feelings, who, while wanting respect, wants to protect and respect the feelings of other humans I interact with.

Let me tell you what it means to me to be nonbinary.

First of all, if you are still with me, being nonbinary means daily interactions with people living in one of the three following camps:

The accepting, open-minded, and LGBTQ diverse camp: “Cool! Nice to meet you. I use she/her pronouns.”

The open-minded but uneducated on LGBTQ topics, wants to be accepting but doesn’t really understand camp: “Um. I don’t really know what nonbinary means. I might mess this up, but can you explain this to me?”

The bigoted, closed-minded, self-righteous, and motivated to live in privileged comfort rather than see the world from a wider perspective camp. The camp that can’t see that other people’s thoughts, beliefs, and identities should be respected even when disagreement or misunderstanding happens. AKA the Louis C.K. camp of douchery.

“They’re like royalty!” C.K. said in a recent stand up bit while referring to transgender and nonbinary people. “They tell you what to call them. ‘You should address me as they/them, because I identify as gender neutral…’ Oh, okay. You should address me as ‘there’ because I identify as a location. And the location is your mother’s cunt.”

Let me promise you, being nonbinary is NOTHING like royalty; it’s more like being kicked over and over again while listening to people like Louis C.K. telling me I am garbage, laughable, and a burden to their capacity to be kind.

Being nonbinary, for me, also means trying to get the people in the second camp—I hope this is where the majority of you are—to better understand me and transgender and nonbinary folks and terminology so you can be allies. And, as allies, part of your job will be to educate others so that you can bump up to the top cabin of acceptance and inclusivity. It’s pretty great here, you’re gonna want to bring jammies and stay a while.

I was assigned female at birth based on my sexual anatomy. However, I have always had a sense that I am also male. Over the course of my life and by finally finding the language to describe the differences I feel to people who identify within the binary of being male or female, I have accepted that I am a mix of both. I am neither male nor female; I am both male and female. I know this in the same way YOU know you are male, female, nonbinary, or another gender. Our gender identity is something that is just there. We can choose to ignore it, but we can’t choose to make it be what it is not.

Because I am not solely male or female, the gendered language used to describe these two genders does not feel good on me. I hate being referred to as lady, ma’am, sir, or buddy. Female pronouns sting more than male because those are the ones I hear the most and because they indicate that people identify me based on the female features (hips, boobs, curves) I hate. Again, I don’t speak for all nonbinary or transgender people, but I have tremendous body dysphoria. I do not feel comfortable in my body. I plan to make surgical changes at some point, but being nonbinary also means hating parts of my body, which leads to anxiety, depression, and dark thoughts.

To accommodate my authentic self, I express my gender through masculine and androgynous clothing and hair styles. I have also asked family, friends, and strangers to use they/them pronouns when referring to me. Two things regarding this:

One: I understand your knee-jerk reaction to tell me that those are plural pronouns, and you just can’t wrap your head around using a plural word to describe a singular person. Well, let me reassure you that the word “they” has also been used as a singular pronoun for centuries. You have likely used it in the singular form too. And know that when you do it again, you will be correct. explains it well: “Etymologists estimate that as far back as the 1300s, they has been used as a gender neutral pronoun, a word that was substituted in place of either he (a masculine singular pronoun) or she (a feminine singular pronoun). When we don’t know the gender of the person we’re talking about, they really comes in handy. It’s also a good way for people who don’t identify with the binary genders of female and male to describe themselves because they and them are not gendered.”

Two: If I and other nonbinary people are asking you to use these pronouns when referring to us, the appropriate thing is to do it. I use your correct pronouns; you should use mine. It’s okay to not feel comfortable, to make mistakes, and to Google stuff so you can better understand what nonbinary people think and feel. Let me assure you though, when we are properly gendered and respected, we feel good and comfortable around you. When we are made fun of, misgendered, and constantly asked to do the emotional and intellectual work of educating you so that you feel comfortable, we feel like shit.

When you choose your own comfort and what you think is right because you refuse to see me as a human asking for respect, you get to bunk with the assholes in Camp Douchery. I understand there is a learning curve, but at some point you just need to get your shit together and do the work.

Being nonbinary is something I am proud of. It’s lonely and frustrating when people can’t see who I am beyond the binary of male and female. I am constantly asked to explain myself and then absorb other people’s discomfort. Yet, I do it because it’s who I am.

If I am to live my best life, it starts like this: “Hi. My name is Amber. I use they/them pronouns.”

Creator of the meme used in this article is unknown. Scary Mommy will credit the original source when known.

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