Mind the Gap: Off the binary at Tufts

Do you ever see someone looking at you and worry if you’re being thought of as a girl or a boy? I do every day. Being gendered is, to cis people, so normal that it is invisible. Most people assume others are male or female without a second thought. When you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth (meaning you are cisgender), there is often comfort in knowing that you will be seen as what you are: a man or a woman. Being transgender calls into question that comfort.

The idea of ‘passing,’ being seen as a cis man or woman, permeates Westernized trans culture. Many trans people are drawn to being accepted and understood by the cis public, which pressures us to conform in many ways to gender stereotypes, binary mannerisms and appearances to be validated. But what happens when you don’t fit this binary?

I am non-binary. This term, as well as genderqueer, serves as a blanket term for people who don’t discretely identify as men or women. There are other terms people identify with under these umbrellas, and being non-binary means different things to different people (just as being a man or woman means different things to individuals). To me, it’s an evolving perception of myself as transcending categorization by a Western social construct. It’s also a daily discomfort with being assumed to be a man or a woman. I use they/them pronouns in the hopes that I will be more often seen as non-binary, although many other non-binary people use she or he pronouns and are just as valid in doing so. If you are new to these concepts, I understand how they could be confusing, and I urge you to do some research and read personal stories of non-binary people.

Being non-binary at Tufts is much easier than it would be in many places. Being in a big city, I can seek out a community, and within Tufts’ liberal bubble, I am also much safer than I would be elsewhere. However, Tufts still has a long way to go with respecting non-binary people. There are very few bathrooms on campus that aren’t designated for men or women. Many student groups or teachers ask people which pronouns they use as an ice-breaker but struggle in following through with this ideal of inclusivity. I had one teacher hand out an information sheet asking for pronouns one day, only to misgender me at the end of class anyway. I have many teachers that gender students casually during class, and I constantly fear being misgendered to a whole lecture room full of people.

There is so much to address in this topic that can’t be covered in 500 words. Even writing now, I feel the pressure to cover as much as possible for people who wouldn’t seek out this information otherwise. My biggest piece of advice for cis people is to form the practice of not gendering strangers. Refer to someone by name or with they pronouns if you don’t know what they use, describe people with physical attributes and not broad general categories (men and women and non-binary people can look so many ways) and try to think of people as more than just a gender.