Coming to Terms With Being Non-Binary Has Been Scary—and Freeing

A femme person with a septum piercing stares into the sky

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Trigger warning: suicide and gender dysphoria.

Most of us have grown up with a strict gender binary: Girls wear lipstick and are polite, and boys like cars and should never cry. Between issues like women not asking for what they need in the workplace or setting boundaries, or men struggling with close friendships and seeing intimacy as a sign of weakness, you can see where these binaries have gotten us into trouble.

Discovering Life Beyond the Binary

I’m discovering for myself that there’s life outside the binary. 

Learning about my gender identity didn’t hit me like a ton of bricks. Rather, it’s been a slow unfolding that I’m still exploring. I’ve realized that I am non-binary. Maybe a non-binary woman, maybe just a non-binary person. I haven’t quite figured that out yet, and I guess it can be fluid. 

In case you’re wondering, here’s a definition of a non-binary person according to the National Center for Transgender Equality: “Some societies–like ours–tend to recognize just two genders, male and female. The idea that there are only two genders is sometimes called a ‘gender binary’ because binary means ‘having two parts’ (male and female). Therefore, ‘nonbinary’ is one term people use to describe genders that don’t fall into one of these two categories, male or female.”

As I’m writing this, I’m still processing my identity. I’m not an expert on gender, but I can share my experience, which is what I’ve always done as a vulnerable writer. It became apparent to me over the last year that although I’m super femme (I love a good pink outfit and lots of glitter), I am not 100 percent a woman. It’s about as easy to explain as your own understanding of a higher power or the meaning of life; gender is unique to every non-binary person. My experience is that I feel more like just a person than a lady.

Acknowledging Fear

Realizing I’m an enby (non-binary) has been scary and freeing. Let’s talk first about fear. Then, we’ll talk about freedom. Coming to terms with my gender identity is scary because I haven’t told all of my family yet (surprise, if you’re reading this). My dad has repeatedly said he doesn’t understand the experience of a non-binary person and some of my other family members have explicitly said it’s a joke or invalid if someone identifies as an enby. I fear telling them and having them laugh in my face or make fun of me. 

I’m fearful because society doesn’t fully understand the gender spectrum and that not everyone necessarily falls neatly into “man” or “woman.” Many people think that genderqueer or genderfluid folks—and even trans people—are creating a fuss to get attention, which makes no sense. I don’t think they realize you don’t have to understand the non-binary experience to respect it. 

It feels validating to have my experience unfold and to say 'I see you' to myself.

Unfolding a part of myself that I didn’t expect is the last aspect of fear. I’ve cried a lot over it, not knowing what it means to be non-binary. It will be a journey of uncovering, and that scares me. It reminded me of when I came out as bisexual in college. It was terrifying for years as I stumbled through the dark, but I saw the light once I came out of the closet. 

Finding Freedom

Stepping into the light or acknowledging who I am is also freeing. It’s freeing because I am who I am, and discovering another layer of myself feels more like coming home than anything else. It feels validating to have my experience unfold and to say “I see you” to myself.

It was a little different than coming out as queer because I knew I was bisexual from childhood. But the non-binary identity is something I didn’t even know was possible until recent years. It’s been about a year since naming my experience. For many years I was a strong ally to non-binary people. I would get viscerally offended when people talked about non-binary folks as if they were liars or weirdos. I would stand up for them and try to educate people. As it turns out, I wasn’t just a radical ally—I experienced not fitting neatly into the gender binary myself. As a result, I feel even more part of my LGBTQIA+ community than I ever have. I use they/them pronouns at queer events, which feels good. I will use she/they pronouns because I haven’t gotten used to using they pronouns exclusively. 

The last thing I’ll say about freedom in discovering my identity is that most of my friends and the people in my life have taken to it really well. They’ve been kind and supportive, asking me my pronouns and how they can best encourage me in this journey. Nothing is really changing. I still dress super femme and don’t plan on transitioning to male or changing my femininity. It’s more about how I feel inside. I don’t feel I have to justify or explain my existence, but I wanted to share a peek into it in case anybody feels the same or knows someone who does. 

Supporting Your Loved Ones

The best way to support a non-binary person is to consistently use the correct pronouns, the ones the individual has expressed wanting you to use. You can ask questions about their experience in a curious, open-minded way. Also, you can advocate for them regarding policies or how others talk about them.

Regarding youth, the alternative to acceptance and love is stark. The Trevor Project surveyed 35,000 queer youth and ​​discovered that 54 percent of trans and non-binary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year. Another study from the same organization found that 35 percent of trans and nonbinary students in college seriously considered suicide this last year.

We really can’t afford to reject trans and non-binary folks—acceptance is necessary for our survival. If you’re experiencing gender dysphoria or questioning if you fit neatly in the gender binary, you can contact me or anyone else you know who is non-binary and/or trans. You’re not alone.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Understanding nonbinary people: how to be respectful and supportive. National Center for Transgender Equality.

  2. The Trevor Project Releases New State-Level Data on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, Victimization, & Access to Support. The Trevor Project. Accessed: January 19, 2023. Date Published: December 15, 2022.

  3. Suicide Risk and Access to Care Among LGBTQ College Students. The Trevor Project. Accessed: January 19, 2023. Date Published: December 15, 2022.

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