Visibility is something the trans community has been tirelessly striving for. Gradually more and more people are becoming aware of what it means to be transgender and the everyday struggles that trans people face. However, we typically only see a certain narrative appear in mainstream media that focuses on trans people who, from an early age, strongly identified with a gender different to what they were assigned at birth and typically fit into the binary model of gender.

We are starting to see more people explore their identity further and come out as non-binary but even within the trans community there is a lot of prejudice and misunderstanding around what it means to identify as non-binary. I decided to draw a series of portraits of non-binary individuals and ask them about their experience navigating the world from a non-binary perspective.

 

Monroe is currently studying neuroscience and is active within the LGBTQ+ and Jewish communities at his college campus. Pursuing a career in public health, Monroe is an advocate for mental health after dealing with mental health conditions such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. He is also passionate about musicals and animals.

How would you define your gender?
I used the term transmasculine as an umbrella term, but when I am asked to further explain my gender, I say transmasculine agender.

When did you discover your gender identity?
I began to realize I was not cisgender at the end of my second semester of college, when I was introduced to terms such as non-binary. I explored my gender pretty thoroughly- at first I thought that since I had lived “as a girl” for 19 years, I must have a partial connection to the female gender, so I thought I was a demigirl. I realised though that the only reason I accepted being labelled as a girl was because it is all I ever though I could be. I knew of the term transgender, but I did not know of the non-binary aspect of the transgender umbrella. By that summer I said I was agender, and over time I just began to say transmasculine. My pronouns change a lot from she/hr, to no pronouns, to they/them, they/he and now solely he/him.

Have you found it difficult to express your gender without judgement?

Yes I have! I always try to present so masculine, since I know if I wear any of my old “feminine” clothes, I will be misgendered and I cannot deal with that. Despite being called a male and man (I like other masculine terms) feeling strange and foreign to me, it does not evoke a sense of dysphoria, that being called feminine terms would. Also, being Jewish, if I am ever to go to a temple that is separated by gender, I would have to put of the Kippah and present “as a male” completely.

Were your friends and family supportive?

My brother was the most supportive- he understood me right away and was the best at adjusting to my new name and pronouns. He is awesome. For some other close family members, it has been hard. I was at the verge of being kicked out at one point due to my need to start hormones (Things have luckily changed in that aspect and I am on hormones).

Even with friends, for many of them, I think me using he/him pronouns, being on T and presenting as male is one of the things that makes it hard for them to be supportive of me being non-binary, although back when I did go by they/them pronouns and had a varied gender expression I had many friends who were supportive and always used the correct pronouns.

What has been the biggest challenge for you?

My biggest challenge has to have been keeping my gender from my extended family. I was forced to accept being misgendered and called by my birthname there since a closer family member was too ashamed to have the extended family know about me. And the threats I would get for even suggesting I would switch my gender and pronouns just on social media were horrible. The threats were meant to trigger intrusive thoughts that I am prone to due to OCD. If I happened to dress feminine to my extended family they would keep saying what a beautiful girl I was and I would no react well at all. The inability to tell them who I was really was led to some of the my worst experiences of dysphoria. Even now, though they know I am trans (I was outed) I never hinted that I was non-binary to them, except my grandfather who is open to many ideas (he turned out to be one unexpected ally!)

What words of advice would you have for people coming to terms with their identity?

Take your time. I know it may be heard, since many people want to rush to find the “perfect label” but sometimes you just gradually come to a conclusion about your gender. And if you do need a label, as I always have, maybe stick to an umbrella term (i.e trans, non-binary, transmasculine, transfeminine, genderqueer, etc) if you are unsure of specifics.

Jess is currently studying studio art with an emphasis in drawing, painting and printmaking. They also have an interest in writing and playing the violin.

 How would you define your gender?

I’d call myself FTM Transmasculine and Genderqueer because I identify as a man for the most part but tend to have days where I’m extremely uncomfortable and don’t want to bind my breasts, but where I’m not necessarily wearing womens clothing nor changing behavior patterns (this is because of my lack of chest surgery at this point). I also do wear feminine clothing at times, but on rare occasions where I present as a woman almost entirely perhaps save for sporting a three week beard.

When did you discover your gender identity?

I discover new things about my gender all the time. It’s been an evolution since early childhood where I was raised in my brothers handmedowns. I discovered transgender men when I was in late high school and realized straight away that I fit into that category, though didn’t start a physical transition until I was 19.

Have you found it difficult to express your gender without judgement?

I find it rather easy to express my gender without judgement because I simply don’t care what others think. It’s been a long road, but I’ve come to a place where I’m fine with myself, some of the lack of inhibitions comes from engaging in performance for a time. I also try to wear outfits that are not offensive and which are flattering at the very least, even when crossdressing.

Were your friends and family supportive?

My friends and family have been supportive for the most part. I don’t have an outward rebellion, though there was resistance from my parents at first. I think they still call me she, but I try to not care about a word which shouldn’t effect me negatively. I don’t think being called a she should be an insult even if the context is that of disrespecting gender identity, which I have a thick skin for. It comes down to ignorance and willfullness in the end. Perhaps I’ve simply made peace with it. My friends don’t make much of a comment about my gender transition, I think it’s something that made sense for me. Masculinity feels much more natural than trying to force a gender stereotype which doesn’t compliment my body nor who I wish to present to the world.

What has been the biggest challenge for you?

The biggest challenge I’ve faced is internal. I haven’t faced much obvious outward discrimination  (I’ve had some negative interactions with security guards that I could equate with gender discrimination), though I’ve also self protected and isolated to some extent. I have struggled with mental illness but deal with it through my art, writing, music and expressing the manner in which I see fit.

What words of advice would you have for people coming to terms with their identity?

The advice I have for people coming to terms with their identity is don’t be afraid to be who you are at any age, and don’t let others determine where you go with your gender. Meaning, don’t let others’ opinions on gender only existing in the binary influence how you feel about you. I’ve experienced spaces where people only knew me when I presented as a woman, and I’ve been in spaces where people only knew me as a man. The difference is in some ways startling, but being in the space of education is a wonderful opportunity to spread positive vibes and informing about transgender politics and pronouns. I’ve learned the hard way that some people are just not receptive or think they understand gender and have the right to project their own insecurities onto you. Don’t listen to these people, they don’t know you enough and don’t have the right to tell you how you feel. Being diplomatic and taking the high road is the best choice in circumstances surrounding these topics.

Jack is very passionate about social justice and hopes to one day work with homeless LGBTQIA+ people. They enjoy writing, reading and going to the movies and currently work as a customer service agent for a moving company.

How would you define your gender?

In the simplest terms, I define myself as a nonbinary transgender person and the pronouns I use are they/them/theirs. My gender is neither male nor female, it is not in the middle or a combination of the two, but off the binary altogether. Because I am not the gender I was designated at birth and my dysphoria was severe enough that it was necessary for me to take physical and social steps to transition – such as legally changing my name, starting hormone replacement therapy, and having top surgery – I also identify with the word trans. There are many more specific labels under the nonbinary umbrella but I have yet to find one that truly resonates with me other than just the term nonbinary itself, but it works well for me.

If I were to try and define my gender in a more detailed way, I’d probably use words like strange, weird, or alien to describe it, which are all positive and euphoric feelings for me.

When did you discover your gender identity?

In hindsight there were little red flags punctuated throughout the course of my childhood that indicated I was experiencing gender dysphoria – puberty unleashed a particularly toxic case of loathing regarding the shape my body was beginning to take with its awful epicenter focused largely on my budding chest. An overwhelming sense of dread was birthed the moment I began to menstruate which was coupled with an intense, impossible to ignore feeling of utter wrongness, but at no point did I ever wish I was a boy. I’m the middle child of three with an older sister and a younger brother and growing up literally sandwiched between the binary, I never felt like I was more like one than the other; in fact, even as a child I was indifferent to what society classified as “girl things” and “boy things”. I played with dolls, I cut my hair short, I listened to Britney Spears and dressed like a tomboy.

Because the only point of reference I had when it came to transgender people were of the binary sort, it didn’t occur to me until I was well out of high school that I might not be cisgender. It wasn’t until the word ‘nonbinary’ entered my vocabulary in the first place that any of my past experiences and my constant awareness of how unaligned I was with my body (which I brushed off as simply low self esteem) made any sense to me. I was twenty-one when I began to seriously question my gender identity, and I came out the following year.

Have you found it difficult being able to express your gender without judgment?

Navigating the world as a nonbinary person in a very binary world is difficult no matter how accepting or supportive your personal circle may be; it is impossible for us to divide ourselves from society and therefore we cannot fully escape the negative impacts others have on us, either directly or indirectly. I have faced discrimination in many places, largely on social media as that is where I am most vocal about my experiences and can reach out to a wider audience. I’ve received judgement from more people than I care to count trying to discredit me, my journey, and my expression in any way they can. Some of these exchanges have even resulted in threats of violence. But I will say that the amount of positivity and support I have received from complete strangers worldwide has far outshined any negativity I’ve experienced and gives me the courage to continue to be visible.

Were your friends and family supportive?

I am extremely fortunate that both my close circle of friends and my immediate family have all been incredibly supportive of me. They might not have all fully understood at first but they did not allow that to get in the way of them doing what was right and ensuring that they were there for me no matter what. Their love and support has meant the world to me and I would not be as far as I am in my journey without them. It absolutely breaks my heart that this is not the norm for most people in my position.

What has been the biggest challenge for you?

By far the biggest challenge I have had to face during my exploration of the frontier that is human gender is the seemingly endless barrage of ignorance and bigotry from transphobic people. Because being nonbinary and/or transgender is something new to them, because they don’t understand it, instead of reaching out with compassion to further their understanding, they lash out in anger and mock us. It is so disheartening to see so many people who actively hate me and people like me for simply existing. We do not fit into their boxes and it angers them for reasons I cannot comprehend. There are days when I am exhausted from having to prove that my existence as a nonbinary person is real, valid, and important, but it is a fight I will never back down from.

What words of advice would you have for people coming to terms with their identity?

Do not give up. These were words I needed to hear early on in my journey and it’s what I tell everyone in my community. Never give up on what makes you happy, what makes you proud, and what makes you you. Living life as your authentic self is always a worthwhile pursuit. No one can promise that it will not be hard, that there won’t be sacrifices you have to make, but the happiness you can uncover and embrace throughout the process will be worth every battle you have to fight, I promise. Keep your head up and push on, my friends. You are never alone.

Cayden currently works two jobs, at a GameStop Distribution Center and at Movie Tavern. When not working Cayden spends their free time roller skating, going to the cinema and learning how to play various instruments.

How would you define your gender?
I am Non-Binary Transmasculine

When did you discover your gender identity?
I discovered the labels non-binary and transmasculine about 4 years ago and as soon as I learned what they were I knew this was me.

Have you found it difficult being able to express your gender without judgement?

In the way that I dress, not really. I dress very masculine and most of the time people cannot read me as either female or male. I find that very interesting.

Were your friends and family supportive?

I first came out only to best friends and immediate family. My best friends were great and accepted me from the start. My family are supportive of my identity/transition but still do not fully understand.

What has been the biggest challenge to you?

My biggest challenge since coming out has been with people not using they/them pronouns. Although I am okay with he/him, I still get she/her pronouns. I try to correct them but most of the time I just let it go.

What words of advice would you have for people coming to terms with their identity?

Take your time. You don’t have to be certain and you’re allowed to change your mind. Don’t forget that self-love is necessary and powerful.

Spencer works as an EMT and is a vet tech, with a BS in chemistry and a minor in French. They love rock climbing, sky diving, hiking, swimming and hanging out with friends. They also love animals and have two cats and two red tailed sharks.

How would you define your gender?

My favourite way to describe my gender is FTX. I feel like it speaks to my personal story with medical and social transition as a non-binary individual

When did you discover your gender identity?

I took me a long time to discover and feel comfortable within my gender identity. I didn’t feel as if the pronouns she/her honoured me but I didn’t feel he/him did either. In the end I found a non-binary tumblr page and realised that people existed within or even outside the binary. It took a lot of soul searching and asking myself some hard questions but I figured out that I could dress the way I dress and transition the way I wish to transition and still be non-binary and valid in that identity.

Have you found it difficult being able to express your gender without judgement?

I find it incredibly difficult to be seen and affirmed as a non-binary individual. Unfortunately, we live in a society that assumes gender. I don’t get the privilege to walk outside and people use the correct pronouns (they/them) without having to out myself. Also, society has this very narrow view of what a non-binary person should be. Most would assume that all non binary people are fluid with their expression which isn’t the case. When I hear this narrative I often feel left out of the community seeing how I present more masculine and mu expression is very fixed. Its difficult to exist when people put such strict expectation of you.

Were your friends and family supportive?

My friends were very supportive. Most didn’t quite understand what it meant to be non-binary but I am incredibly blessed to have them be open minded and having a willingness to learn about it. My family have been trying their hardest to catch up to speed. My twin brother and older brother have accepted me as their sibling and are working with parents to see the validity in non-binary individuals. I do not have much contact with my mom anymore but I am confident with time we will be close as we were before. My father is more accepting with my mom and tries hard to call me by my pronouns.

What has been the biggest challenge for you?

The biggest challenge for me has been realising that I don’t have to fit these strict lines that society has placed on me. Coming to terms with my gender has been one of the most difficult but also liberating exploration ive ever done.

What words of advice would you have for people coming to terms with their identity?

Don’t be afraid to explore. Life is about trying to create the best versions of yourself. Don’t be afraid to try and fail. Don’t be afraid to start over. And most important, don’t be afraid to be different.

 

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