In the second episode of Nonbinary Code, we break down the modern day western interpretation of gender, the trans experience, and how enbies fit into it. For more information on intersex, please check out https://www.intersexequality.com/intersex/
The theme song for nonbinary code was created by Simber. Check them out at http://www.soundcloud.com/simbermusic
open the readmore below to read along with a transcript of this episode.
Hello, and welcome to nonbinary code. My name is chax richter, and I am nonbinary.
There is a lot to unpack with a statement like that; “I am nonbinary.” For a lot of people, a sentence like that comes with more questions than answers. Some of those questions are very broad, like “what does nonbinary mean” or “how do you know?” to an enby, these questions can be frustrating to answer or even address, because a lot goes into them, and it is very difficult to put into words the feelings that they are trying to convey. In this episode, I am going to try my best to answer those big questions.
You know how people sometimes say that you need to understand the rules in order to get away with breaking them? Gender is much the same in that to understand nonbinary gender, you have to understand binary gender and biological sex. So I’m going to start off here by giving a crash course in the modern interpretation of gender and biological sex.
Firstly, it is widely accepted these days that the parts of your body don’t necessarily define a person’s gender. This is where the difference between biological sex and self-identified gender becomes important. The way that I like to look at it is that someone’s sex is the shape of their body, while their gender is the shape of their soul. Biological sex is the pieces present on someone’s body at birth, combined with the changes they go through at puberty. The main characteristics that define somebody’s biological sex is the shape of their genitalia, the type of reproductive organs they have, the concentration of the hormones estrogen and testosterone in their bodies, the presence or absence of mammary glands, and the type of chromosomes in their DNA. biological gender is usually sorted into two main categories- male and female. Because of this division of two, biological gender is considered a binary system. Approximately 99% of the population is considered to be either biologically male or female. The remaining one percent does not perfectly match the description of either biological sex, and is classified as intersex. This can be the result of irregular genitalia, chromosomes, hormone profile, or a combination of those things. I won’t be going very in-depth into intersexuality in today’s episode, but I will leave a few relevant links in the description, and maybe it will be a topic of discussion in a future episode.
Gender, on the other hand, is not dictated by biological markers. Instead, a person’s gender is decided by a person’s self-perception, life experiences, and interactions with society and the world around them. Gender is an innate form of self-knowledge. Just like you might just know that you like or dislike things, you just know what gender you are. Gender, just like Sex, is divided into two categories throughout western society; man or woman. In some cultures, there are additional recognised genders, but that is another topic for another day. Generally, the gender “man” is paired up with the male sex and “woman” is paired with female; which is to say that most males identify as men and most females identify as women.
Of course, just as with sex, there are those who cannot be accurately described as either a man or a woman. People who are uncomfortable with being labeled as either gender. Maybe they don’t feel like the expectations that come with binary genders are reasonable for their lifestyle, maybe they don’t feel gender is a thing that they need to use to describe themselves. It can be difficult to describe exactly why a person may not understand themselves as a man or a woman, but once that realization has been made, it is impossible to ignore. There are many words for this different gender experience in varying cultures, but the most common one in the western world is nonbinary.
Remember How I said earlier that people who are male are usually men and people who are female are usually women? The same is not necessarily true for intersex people usually being nonbinary, or vice versa. It is common for intersex people to identify completely as a binary gender, and likewise, the majority of nonbinary people are biologically male or female. In the same vein, there are some biological females who are men and some biological males who are women. These people, whose biological sex does not match their gender, are referred to as transgender. People who identify as a binary gender that does not match their biological sex are called binary trans people, but more commonly just trans men or trans women, and people who identify as a nonbinary gender are called nonbinary trans people, but more commonly nonbinary people, or “enbies.”
So, then, how do people know which gender they are? It’s difficult to describe. Just as you might have a difficult time describing color to someone born blind, I have a hard time putting into words the feeling of discovering your gender. I want to make it clear that I don’t think being transgender is in any way a disease, but in this case, I think it will be a helpful allegory. When a doctor is diagnosing an illness, they will often start with the symptoms. Lots of people sneeze, Lots of people have a low appetite, and lots of people are a little on the warm side. But put it all together, and it starts to look like you may have a cold. Discovering your gender feels a bit like that. In my case, lots of people don’t like being told to act ladylike, lots of people grow up wanting to play with different toys than their friends, and lots of people prefer fashion that doesn’t strictly adhere to the current trends for one gender. But when you put all of that together, a possible reason begins to emerge. At that point, it’s a simple matter of self-reflection. If you ask yourself, “what if I was a different gender?” and you feel relieved, intrigued, or excited, you might be trans! On the other hand, if you feel confused, afraid, or unsure, you might need to turn your attention elsewhere. In the end, your gender isn’t a choice to be made, it’s a discovery of yourself.
The fact that a person’s biological sex and gender don’t line up in the expected way does not make their gender any less correct for them, but because so many people don’t understand the difference between sex and gender, it can be upsetting for some trans people to be referred to as their biological sex. A trans man might be just as uncomfortable being called “female” as he would being called a woman. A nonbinary person might be just as uncomfortable being called a male as they would being called a boy. This has led to some more helpful gender vocabulary; the terms afab and amab.
These terms are actually acronyms for the phrases “Assigned Female At Birth” and “Assigned Male At Birth.” A lot of trans people, binary and nonbinary alike, prefer these terms over simply “female” or “male” because it indicated that those terms no longer have much bearing on their current lifestyle. Just as our length and weight change from birth to adulthood, so can the way people perceive our gender. Just because someone was assigned female at birth doesn’t mean that person will live their life as a woman. Describing a person’s biological sex as something from their past helps them move on from what might be a painful part of their life and experience.
And the way we talk about someone’s biological gender is only one aspect of the trans experience that can be uncomfortable for trans people, binary and nonbinary alike. Many trans people experience something called dysphoria, which is the uncomfortable awareness that one’s gender does not align well with their sex. There are many types of dysphoria which affect people in different ways, but the two most common, and most serious, are physical dysphoria and social dysphoria.
Physical dysphoria is discomfort over the way a person’s body looks. Because gender and sex are so closely correlated by most people, certain physical traits are associated with certain genders. The result of this is that a trans person may look at themselves and see an inaccurate image of their gender; a boy with large breasts, a woman with a beard, a nonbinary person with a penis, something associated with the height of masculinity. Imagine living in somebody else’s body, only fitting into someone else’s clothing, hearing someone else’s voice when you speak, seeing someone else smiling back at you from pictures you took with your friends and family. This is what physical dysphoria is like.
There are certain treatments for Physical dysphoria, of course. Ways of making someone’s body better match their gender. The most widely known are gender reassignment surgery- used to change the shape of someone’s chest and genitalia- and hormone therapy, usually referred to being on testosterone or “T”, or being on estrogen or “E.” these are very common, very permanent, and very expensive medical undertakings that many people save up for years to have done. Some less expensive, less commonly known, but similarly permanent treatments used to combat dysphoria include laser hair removal and voice coaching. These are less common in large part because someone’s unwanted hair can be removed more easily and cheaply at home if they are willing to keep on top of it, and voice isn’t usually as big of a cause of physical dysphoria as appearance is. However, for people with more severe dysphoria, they can be really helpful.
Of course, not every trans person has the money for big stuff like surgeries and hormones. For these people, there are still options, inexpensive and impermanent ways of looking more the way they want to. Chest binders can temporarily flatten someone’s breasts, and bra inserts can temporarily enhance them. Shapewear can downplay a bulge at the crotch, a sock or rubber phallus secured inside the underwear can create one. Makeup can change the way light plays off the face, even the clothes someone wears can help people get closer to the appearance they feel more closely matches their gender.
The other kind of Dysphoria I want to discuss today is Social dysphoria. In this case, a person’s dysphoria is rooted not in their own body, but in the way they are treated by others. Being referred to incorrectly as “sir” or “ma’am,” invited to gender-centric locales or events for the incorrect gender, or in any way being treated as a gender someone does not identify with can trigger social dysphoria. Unfortunately, because it is difficult to control the behavior of other, there are very few good ways to avoid social dysphoria.
Many trans people, binary or nonbinary, experience dysphoria, but no two people will experience it in the same way. Some people experience physical dysphoria all over, others only in certain parts of their body. Some people experience social dysphoria only when they are spoken to as the wrong gender, others only when they are treated as the wrong gender, others in both situations. Some people feel dysphoria every day, some people only some days. For some people, the dysphoria may be worse on one day than another. Some people might never feel noticeable dysphoria, but that does not make them any less trans. Just like any other aspect of life, everyone’s experience with dysphoria is unique, as annoying as it may be.
Overall, sex and biological gender can be tricky things- tricky to understand, tricky to live with, tricky even to identify sometimes. But one thing is for sure- a person’s gender does not define them. Neither does the sex they were assigned at birth. Anyone can choose to do whatever they want with their lives. That decision is completely independent of the shape of their body and the shape of their soul. That means that no matter what gender someone introduces themself as, no matter whether it matches the way they look or not, we should treat everyone with respect. A trans person will not be any less trans because you think that isn’t real. A nonbinary person won’t be any more nonbinary because you tell them to”make a choice.” That person has already put more thought into their gender than you ever will, and what they find is not your place to try and change. Let me leave you with a thought that pops into my mind from time to time-
Some people claim that to be transgender is impossible because God does not make mistakes. But who said it was a mistake? Being transgender is a part of who I am- if God made me, then he decided to make me transgender. It is part of who I am. It is a part of my journey. Sometimes other people’s lives don’t make sense to us, and mine may not make sense to you. But just because it is difficult to understand does not mean that it is bad. Just a little different.
That about does it for this episode of nonbinary code. If you have any questions, you can email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please feel free to follow us on twitter @NBCodePodcast, on facebook as Nonbinary Code, and on Tumblr, nonbinarycodepodcast.tumblr.com. If you’d like to support the podcast, feel free to donate to us on Patreon, which you can access under the support tab on our website. If you would like to read along with an audio transcript of this episode, those will also be available on our website.
Nonbinary Code is written, produced, performed, and edited by Chax Richter. The music was created by Simber, whose information can be found in this episodes description. This episode is sponsored by Charlee J, an enby – owned clothing company whose information can be found on the partners page of NonbinaryCodePodcast.com. Also on our website is a frequently asked questions section, our story, and all episodes of the podcast along with written transcripts. Be sure to check in the last Tuesday of every month to catch new episodes.