In episode 3, We will discuss some common misconceptions about enbies, and the what the truth is. Apologies if I sound exhausted, this was recorded at 4 in the morning. Open the read more for the sources I used in this episode, as well as a transcription of the audio.
Hello, and welcome to Nonbinary Code. My name is Chax Richter and I am nonbinary.
Frequently, when I discuss my gender with people who are unfamiliar with it, the other person will ask a question that begins with “but I thought” and ends with a stereotype or misconception about nonbinary people that is usually untrue and often hurtful. I can say with absolute certainty that I am not the only enby who has experienced this, and I certainly will not be the last. I cannot singlehandedly stop people from believing these misconceptions, but I can spread the truth that hides behind those rumors. In this episode of Nonbinary Code, we will discuss some common misconceptions about enbies and enbyhood and how to refute them. I will do my best to give you a complete and accurate explanation for each subject, but all my sources will be listed in this episode ’s description for credibility and so you can do your own research.
Probably one of the biggest misconceptions about nonbinary genders is that they are something “new” that has sprung up due to the prevalence of queer communities online. This could not be further from the truth! While it’s definitely true that there is no historical context for enbyhood in western Europe, other parts of the world have cultural genders other than man and woman dating back as far as their history will take them! Probably the most relevant example to an American audience would be the native American concept of “two-spirit.” You see, before the united states was colonized there were hundreds of tribal nations scattered across the continent, each with their own cultures and outlook on gender. In many of them, there was room for a third, and sometimes even fourth or fifth gender. A few good examples the Nádleehí from the Navajo tribe, Niizh Manidoowag from the Ojibwa, and Winkté from the Lakota tribe. I am almost positive I mispronounced most of that, by the way, my apologies. As native Americans were subjugated by European colonists and began to lose some of their tribal heritage, thanks to the colonists’ attitude that all natives are virtually the same, the native American community decided to adopt one term for people identifying as neither men nor women, and the term two-spirit was chosen.
Of course, native Americans were not the only civilizations to accept enbyhood. There were and are instances of nonbinary genders all throughout South America, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Australia, New Zealand, And Pacific Island Nations. I would love to explain more about historical nonbinary genders, but Instead, I’m going to give the subject its own episode in the near future.
Another frustrating misconception that many nonbinary people struggle with is that the singular “they” is grammatically incorrect and “they” can only ever refer to two or more people at once. We touched on this briefly in the pilot episode, But it’s a common enough misconception that it deserves a bit closer of a look. Firstly, not only do both Webster’s and Oxford’s dictionaries accept the singular “they” as grammatically correct, but it was declared the word of the year in 2016 by the American Dialect Society, a group of over 200 linguists that help to determine style guides and grammatical rules for formal writing in order to reflect the changing of language over time. “They” began the transition from strictly plural to plural and singular during the 1300s, roughly the same time the once-strictly-plural “you” began to be used in the singular, eventually replacing the now-unused singular pronoun “thou.” If we accept that “you” can apply to just one person, then it would make sense that “they” should as well. Additionally, there are many examples of the singular they in literature- If it was good enough for Jane Austen, Emily Dickenson, and even Shakespeare, who shaped the English language more than any other individual, then it should be good enough for just about anybody.
Many people, when learning about enbies for the first time, tend to interpret it as “halfway between man and woman.” While this is not always inaccurate, it is far from the experience of every nonbinary person. The fatal flaw here is that people are seeing gender as a sliding bar with man at one end and woman at the other. While this is better than having two checkboxes for gender, it still isn’t quite as big as the actual breadth or gender out there. A really good way to think about it is as a spectrum, picture the RGB color picker tool on some websites with the whole rainbow blended together and you can pick any of them you’d like. In this example, let’s say blue is a “man” color and red is “woman” color. Yes, purple would be nonbinary, but there are still yellow, orange, green, pink, black and white, and those are all genders of their own! Some oranges will be closer to red, some closer to yellow, sometimes so much black is mixed with the pink that it almost looks purple, there are so many different color options out there, and just as many gender experiences. Thinking of gender like this makes it much easier to understand where enbies are coming from.
In a similar vein, a lot of people expect nonbinary people to look a certain way; to somehow wear clothing and have a hairstyle and body type that doesn’t look explicitly masculine or feminine, or somehow evenly blends masculine and feminine elements. I am here to tell you that the way you look does not define your gender, nor does your gender define what you should look like. An enby can wear basketball shorts, an enby can wear a sparkly skirt, an enby can wear tailored khaki slacks. Personally, I’m a fan of parachute pants and cargo shorts. The same goes for hairstyles, and makeup, and the decision to shave or not, and anything else. You wouldn’t say that a woman wearing jeans from the men’s department was less of a woman, or that a man wearing a shirt with a floral pattern was less of a man, so why should either of those things make an enby less of an enby? I’ll give you a hint: it doesn’t.
One misconception that I think the families of enbies are particularly guilty of is the flawed belief that being nonbinary is a “phase” that someone will eventually grow out of. While there aren’t any concrete numbers to confirm or deny this misconception, It has been my experience that enbyhood is something people grow into- not out of. When I was younger, the nonbinary label was something appealing, but still foreign, a cause for optimistic uncertainty. I feel that as I got older I became more comfortable with the label, and strongly believe I will continue to grow more comfortable with my gender and who I am as an enby. This has been the case for many of the enbies I have discussed enbyhood with. While it is true that some people may come out as nonbinary and later find that it doesn’t really describe them as well as they originally thought, this is generally the exception, not the rule. And even if the enby in your life does eventually realize they are something other than an enby, it does not make it alright to write the whole thing off as a “phase” and unimportant. Self-exploration is essential to our personal growth, and sometimes we have to find the wrong thing before we can find the right thing. Some people think they are lesbians for years before realizing they are straight, trans men. Some people think they are bisexual before realizing they are gay and only feigning an attraction to the opposite sex for social acceptance. Some people think they are nonbinary for a while as stepping stones to a deeper understanding of who they truly are, and that should be celebrated, not shamed.
If you have only ever come out to someone as nonbinary, there may come a time when that person decides to ask about your romantic preferences, gender-wise. The idea is that the lack of a binary gender can make labeling a person’s sexuality tricky. And that certainly is sometimes the case! But as with any other aspect of enbyhood, one size does not fit all. I think this misconception stems from another misconception- that enbies reject the concept of gender as a whole. More on that subject later, but for now let’s just focus on the way that our gender can color our sexuality.
Firstly, many enbies, myself included, see their sexuality as completely separate from their gender. I am pansexual, I identified that way before I came out to myself as nonbinary, and I would continue to identify that way if I woke up tomorrow morning and realized that I was a full-fledged binary man. I have several nonbinary friends who are also lesbians- and don’t feel at all like those labels conflict each other. There are also nonbinary people who consider themselves straight, or gay and only attracted to men.
The issue is that gender and sexuality, while related, are not always correlated. Just like not all men have the same sexual orientation, nor do all women, not all nonbinary people follow the same patterns of attraction. It can be easy to believe that if someone is nonbinary, they probably also experience attraction in a way that also defies the binary concept of gender. And in many cases, this is true! But just because someone’s gender falls outside of the binary does not mean that other aspects of their identity does too!
While we’re on the topic, there are certain unsavory corners of the internet where you can hear enbies being accused of not understanding or even completely rejecting the concept of gender as a whole. And I do want to make it clear- gender, as most people understand it today, is a human invention intended to make people easier to categorize. Humans like to be able to categorize things. But the fact that gender is an invention does not make it less real! Smartphones and umbrellas and airplanes and bricks are all human inventions too, but they are undeniably real. Language is an invention, as are clothes, but they are integral to our survival and interaction with each other. Most enbies realize this and are more or less on board with the concept of gender. The confusion comes from the issue we take with the concept of binary gender, the concept that we must accept one of two choices. Enbies speaking out against this binary can sometimes be mistaken as speaking out against the concept of gender as a whole.
As always, I can’t speak for all enbies, and I’m sure there are those out there who do think gender as a concept is inherently flawed, but I like to believe that most of us understand gender to be an important tool for expressing oneself and their identity easily. Gender is a shorthand, a lens through which we see ourselves and through which we allow others to look at us. Getting rid of gender as a whole would do real harm to a lot of people, emotionally and mentally.
That’s where we are going to end things today. I hope I’ve cleared up some misconceptions or helped you figure out how to correct the people in your lives who believe these things. No matter what they are, Misconceptions and stereotypes can be harmful, even if they are not meant to be. We can never fully rid ourselves of these misconceptions, but by arming ourselves with the knowledge we can fight back against the falsehoods and make those stereotypes less common. I’d love to know that some of these misconceptions won’t be an issue for young enbies thirty years from now. Maybe that makes me a dreamer. But I think I would rather be a dreamer than simply accept the world I live in as is. Nonbinary code is simply an extension of that dream. By listening, you are adding to that dream. My name is Chax Richter, and I’d like to thank you for allowing me to help you unravel the nonbinary code.
This has been an extensive episode, and it’s tough to cover everything! If you think I’ve missed anything or still have 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, you can 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.