California recently passed a law to legally recognize a third gender option for residents who do not identify as male or female. Called the “Gender Recognition Act,” the law established a nonbinary designation as an “umbrella term for people with gender identities that fall somewhere outside of the traditional conceptions of strictly either female or male.”
The law went on to explain that “people with nonbinary gender identities may or may not identify as transgender, may or may not have been born with intersex traits, may or may not use gender-neutral pronouns, and may or may not use more specific terms to describe their genders, such as agender, genderqueer, genderfluid, Two Spirit, bigender, pangender, gender nonconforming, or gender variant.”
Since gender identity is an internal perception, it’s not necessarily visible to others. We asked five nonbinary people about their favourite part of their gender identity. Here’s what they said. Their answers have been condensed and edited.
Naseem Jamnia (they/them)
I’m so glad to no longer experience gender dysphoria every moment of my life. Finding the term nonbinary and learning about different nonbinary identities literally saved me. That was the first step. The second was letting go of being a “woman”—because I present as a woman, still, and for a while, it was important for me to acknowledge that. But I less and less identified as a woman as time went on, and eventually realized that the nonbinary gender that I most identified with was agender. Accepting that helped me accept that I’m trans and to take that label for myself, and since doing that, I feel the most free. I no longer feel like I owe it to society to perform womanhood even nominally.
I would love it if cis people offered their pronouns when they meet someone. Take the onus off of us. It doesn’t have to be awkward! “Hi, I’m Sally, she/her. It’s so nice to meet you!” If the other person wants to offer, it gives them space to, and if they don’t, they don’t. But it makes things so much less awkward.
Kat R. Vann (they/them)
I am still working through the pieces of who I am, to work through the guilt and fear others have put upon me. It is not easy, but it is worth it in my opinion. My fear of myself is slowly transforming into a curiosity and wonder at discovering a me I could have never imagined. The me I have always been. A me made of love.
I was put here to love and be loved profusely. Sometimes I have forgotten this, as we all do, and my forgetting has made me hurt myself and others. I strive everyday to remember what I am made of: love.
It is alright to feel disheartened, sad, angry, frustrated, alone, but that is not all of reality. Keep imagining. The world we have now was once just an idea. Five years ago I would have never imagined I would go to a movie theater and a staff member would compliment my nails and then ask my pronouns, but it happened just the other day! Dream!
I stay positive by not always staying positive. I try to be holistic with myself and listen to my needs first. Slowing down when I can and being in touch with myself has made all the difference. Because under all that trauma and pain I found an endless well of love. Love for myself and others. Other people just tried to convince me being soft and loving was weak. Therapy, writing, walks, my pets, my supportive mother and friends all help with this process.
Katie Barnes (they/them)
Being nonbinary comes with its fair share of challenges, but once I had the language to articulate how I felt about my identity and my body, I knew I wanted to be open about it. Being in a position of privilege, I felt that it made sense for me to be publicly out, and the most rewarding part of that has been getting the opportunity to connect with queer youth who see someone like them just being in the world.
My community is everything. When I first entered the professional world, I went almost two months without hearing my correct pronouns used. I was doing a panel and my mentor referred to me properly and I was overcome with emotion. That experience showed me that I needed a group of affirming folks around me so that I could be seen for who I am, but also handle being misgendered and mispronounced. As much as I wish it did not happen, as a nonbinary person, it happens every day, everywhere I go. My community of people builds the resilience I need to keep on keepin’ on. It’s important to find where that resilience comes from for you.
Dill Werner (they/them)
My identity is catching up to the mentality I’ve always had, that the world is not divided into male and female binary genders. I’m finally allowing myself to stand tall and say, “Yes, I may wear retro dresses and combat boots, but I’m masculine inside.”
I’m much happier now. I spent too long making everyone else happy by portraying myself as someone I wasn’t. Coming out as nonbinary wasn’t easy. Many of my long-time binary lesbian and gay friends didn’t believe it was real. Their disbelief gave me the courage to speak up for myself. I’d been pretending before. This was the real me.
It’s the small moments that give me happiness. When my spouse corrects someone on my pronouns. When someone addresses me as Ser in an email. When another writer thanks me for my work promoting gender neutral and nonbinary language. They all add up. I know I’m making a difference even if I’m merely chipping away at a mountain. That mountain will get smaller as more and more nonbinary people join in.
Park Fae (they/them and sometimes he/him)
Without a doubt, the most rewarding aspect of discovering and embracing my identity was realizing that I didn’t need to conform to anyone else’s notion of what gender is. I feel that gender, much like sexuality or even religion and spirituality, is a deeply personal and unique experience. In my mind, there are as many genders as there are people because we are all raised in and experience our gender differently.
The older I got, the more I realized that living according to someone else’s idea of what my gender should be like made me very unhappy in an indescribable way that happens when no one tells you it’s even possible to be upset over such a thing. I think on some level I’ve always understood myself to either be genderless or, if forced to align with any one particular gender, a very feminine (by choice, not by happenstance of genetic or the pressures of socializing) man. Relearning how to navigate our culture of gender without imposing those outside expectations on myself has been incredibly liberating and affirming.
Not everyone has the privilege or desire to be out, but I think everyone has the right to honor themselves, even if it’s only within the sanctity of their own mind through inner reflection. If or when you do get the opportunity to live more openly, it will make the transition somewhat smoother if you already know who you are and what you want. However, this is a lot easier said than done!
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.