Closet: Perspective of a Nonbinary Youth
Guest post by E. Laffely
So. For those of you who are cisgender straight people, I’m going to explain what the closet is like (the one that people use to describe not being open about being LGBT+).
We all know the saying, “think outside the box”. However, not everyone wants us—much less accepts us—when we try to LIVE outside the box.
Imagine a closet—or a box if you need to. But the closet has branded all over it, SOCIAL NORM. Get where I’m going here when I say not everyone wants us to live outside the box?
We all long to be accepted into the world we are born into, and LGBT+ people ALWAYS face this problem where we can’t fit into the social norm but we can’t change who we are and we can’t change other people to force them into changing their view of the social norm so we are ALWAYS accepted.
This is why we put ourselves into the closet.
The closet is the box boxing us into the social norm. But here’s something that makes it more complicated. The closet has locks on the doors. These locks are the people you are unsure as to how they will react to being outside the closet. Who knows—they may not talk to you, they may lecture you about how it’s “wrong”, they may even kick you out. They keep you “locked” inside the closet.
You have access to the locks, and the keys, but the keys are hot and hurt to handle so you avoid them. The keys are what you say and how you say it to open the locks so they unlock cleanly and get you another step towards coming out of the closet. Unfortunately, for way too many people, the locks are stubborn and get even harder to unlock after you try to do everything to unlock it. (I’m saying that if you say what you need to in the wrong way, things can go backwards.)
The longer you stay in the closet, the deeper the closet gets, therefore, the more steps you must take to get out of it. Some people hardly stay in the closet at all—the ones who grow up in an open community their entire lives. Others of us are in the closet for years…and the weight that this carries can be so heavy it can pull any of us down.
Long story short, the keys are hard to handle and the locks are always a gamble. The door can be unlocked and open, but even if it is, it can be hard to step out.
Now it should be pretty damn easy to understand why it can be so hard to come out of the closet. (If you don’t, my god you need to open up your mind.)
This summer I realized that I only have one white straight cis friend. And he is possibly one of the best friends I have ever had. I also realized that very much like one of my friends, I’m not any of those, either. I’m not white. I’m straight as a circle. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not cis, either.
Cis—a shortened version of cisgender—is a term for a person whose gender identity and their gender expression matches their assigned sex at birth.
At birth, you are assigned a sex. It is always the first thing people ask about with a newborn. It pisses me off that there are even congrats cards that say, “IT’S A BOY!” or “IT’S A GIRL!” Why the hell does it matter? “IS IT A BOY OR A GIRL THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!” It’s not important at all. People expect you to act as your assigned sex so they treat you like so. Then there are those few times when this doesn’t happen and whoever that child is gets so, SO much more freedom than the rest of us. Girls are “sugar and spice and everything nice” and boys are “spins and snails and puppy dog tails”. HA! BS.
I am non-binary. Yes, trans people are binary (unless they say otherwise) because being of binary gender means to be one or the other, while non-binary means to be either, both, neither, or whatever other terminology you chose to use. Hence, why these people tend to like the pronoun “they” since it’s like a 0.5 in a world with 1’s and 0’s. For the sake of this argument, let’s say that being cis is to be the “one” and to be trans is to be the “other” while people like me are “either, neither, or both”.
When it comes to trans people, I think it can certainly be difficult for them to switch genders and be true to the one that they feel they are—especially without feeling restricted to do certain things according to society. But here’s the thing. These people will ALWAYS be given their gender of choice. But my community will not.
In terms of terminology for myself, I like to consider myself to be androgynous. Androgynous is a term used to describe a person that expresses their gender as BOTH male and female. For those of us who are non-binary, it can be hard to choose which gender when we aren’t given a third option. Generally, I flip a coin in my head and chose which gender I say I am, rather than chose female every time. For us, it can feel unnatural and uncomfortable to choose one over the other and sometimes we go back (if we can) and change it multiple times. I remember one school year that I filled out a field trip form, and it asked for my gender. I got pissed off and didn’t do anything with it. The final form ended up saying F/M, thanks to my mom. That I was fine with. Satisfied, even.
As for bathrooms, this is the main reason I avoid them.
It’s not because they’re gross (though it is a factor), it that if I chose to use the women’s bathroom, I risk weird looks of people thinking I’m a boy and not belonging there. Not-so-fun fun fact. I walked out of a women’s bathroom one day and some old woman said (behind my back so I didn’t hear her) “Oh, look! It’s a little boy!” I wasn’t sure what to do then. There have been more than one time when I’m waiting in the bathroom for my sister and another woman has come in, walked out, checked the sign, and walked back in because I look like a dude. On the flip side, I don’t know which days I truly look like a dude and which days I don’t so I never use the men’s bathrooms. If you told me to, I’d shrug, “Okay” and do it. Yes, I still use public bathrooms but I do everything I can to avoid them, and when I use a public bathroom with multiple stalls (most of the time) I try to be way faster than usual (which is only by about 10 seconds) and get out to decrease the number of people who see me walk in/walk out. Sometimes when there is only one person in the bathroom I wait a couple seconds in the stall in hope that they’ll leave before me so I can avoid human interaction. O.O
The point I’m trying to make right now is that I feel like people pity trans people, or feel like they’re so cool to be their “true selves” and when you find out that a celebrity is trans you’re like, “Wow that’s awesome” and don’t even see us. MY community. So, us non-binary people are over here like, “What the hell, dude?”.
How many times do you hear about the trans community in comparison to hearing about the non-binary community? A lot less, I suspect.
A popular thing to do on social media (I found, at least) is that it’s cool to post that you support the trans community. Alright, cool, whatever. But what about us? I feel like we are extremely under-represented. Similarly, I feel like bisexual, pansexual, and asexual people are also under-represented. Think about it for a minute.
I don’t know why this is. This is one of the situations where I can’t think of a single reason it might be, either. I’m annoyed right now because I can’t think of anything.
Let’s go back to the beginning again.
Before preschool, was I truly feminine? I dressed up in princess costumes and had a countless number of dolls and everything was pink. Sure, that’s feminine. But, I played knights and loved hot wheels cars and enjoyed play mobiles. That’s not generally considered to be feminine.
I was truly feminine from the time from preschool through third grade. I met other girls who were your generic girl and I wanted to fit in with them so I changed myself. I thought everything had to pink cute and all about women. (I even convinced myself that all my favorite characters and people all had to be female). In third grade, I realized that was not true because I met a handful of other girls who were “tomboys” and it lit up my world. I realized that I could, in fact, be a “tomboy”. Like my old self. So, I started to change again and from then on, I got more and more androgynous. (I wouldn’t call myself a tomboy because it implies that I am comfortable with my assigned gender.)
This is why between third grade and fifth I was always asking people if they thought I was more of a boy or a girl. I wanted to know how other people perceived me.
I got completely contrasting results. For example, on the same night, within the same minute, in the same sitting, one person told me I was a girly-girl, another said I was in between, and the other said I was a total boy. Weird, right? I know other tomboy girls who would be offended by this, but this kind of situation made me happy. It meant that I was becoming more like who I felt like I was every day. Similarly, I enjoy to this day the videos that are like, “Only girls understand this” or vice versa or “The difference between boys and girls” simply because they are overexaggerated and I don’t empathize with anything they’re talking about (I normally find myself ridiculously confused by the end of the video) and to me this is satisfying.
In all honestly, I don’t particularly enjoy the idea of being feminine. I also don’t particularly like the idea of being masculine. I see perks in both but prefer neither over the other, so I chose a few depending on my mood.
I use words like “feminine” and “masculine” to get you to see that I realize that there is a difference between men and women, and mainly what I’m using by this is stereotypes. I use stereotypes because I’ve never truly understood why certain traits are used to categorize men and women because it goes against everything I just said. So, if I can’t normally tell the difference between these male and female traits, who am I to say I’m more male or female?
Before, I went around telling people I’m gender fluid, which is not the right term simply because there are not days when I feel like a boy or I feel like a girl and if flips randomly. How I feel is consistent and it is consistent with feeling both “masculine” and “feminine” at the same time.
Honestly, I like the idea of being comfortable with one gender, but then I wouldn’t be doing this and I think this is important for my community. It’s not that we don’t want to be one gender, per say, we just can’t SEE ourselves being that one gender.
If you don’t believe me, maybe I can convince you that this is who I am. I like to write a lot (hell, I even wrote about this!) and the protagonist of a series I’m currently working on is androgynous. Why do you think that is? I didn’t do it for fun—if that were the case, she’d be a supporting character. She’s the protagonist because if someone were to read her story, they’d see if from the perspective of someone who is non-binary like me and most people are not non-binary. Besides, there are already loads of books on trans people. Aside from that, imagine a picture of me. What am I wearing? Probably my usual wear, jeans, random T-shirt, sweatshirt. Androgynous. Disregarding all the awesome perks, why do I keep my hair short? That with the combination of my clothes, I can be as androgynous as I chose. I wear suits because they look good on me and I can wear pants. I don’t wear dresses because they only USED to look good on me, and I can’t wear pants. I use defining female features when I draw myself because if that’s not who I am, why would I? Why do you think I don’t do sports? Well, obviously because I hate sports. But I don’t hate all sports. I like solo sports, but there are some team sports I would do—IF THEY DIDN’T MAKE PEOPLE SEPARATE THEMSELVES BY GENDER. I would have to join a GIRLS track team or a GIRLS soccer team. One problem with this is that the last time I checked, I’m better than most girls at sports I can do, but worse than most boys. And I would have to change clothes in the same room as them.
(Fun fact about the way my brain works. When I write about myself in the 3rd person, I use they/their/theirs pronouns, but when I think about myself in the 3rd person, I use she/her/hers pronouns, but when I draw myself, I use he/him/his pronouns. It probably sounds weird, but to me this sounds totally regular. O.O)
If you ask a half of my previous classmates, they’d say that when they first saw me they thought I was a dude. I did that on purpose. When I know I’m going to meet a new group of people, I put on my most androgynous clothes just to see if they think I’m a boy or a girl. For me, this is fun. If they can’t figure it out, I stick to saying, “It doesn’t matter.” If I were to be a different gender, would you treat me any differently than you do now? If you’re a true friend of mine, the answer should have been an automatic “NO, why would I?”.
When people ask me about my gender, saying “It doesn’t matter” is a shortened version of, “As long as you accept me, it doesn’t matter to me which gender you think I am or what you call me because either way it won’t affect anything”.
The first time I ever had the opportunity to use a gender-neutral bathroom (which was actually labeled as UNISEX) was at the Denver Aquarium this summer (2017). I remember getting up to use the bathroom at the end of a meal. But, even though I was happy to use that bathroom I was embarrassed because I was afraid of what people would think of me. The main reason (maybe the only reason) I felt this way is because earlier in the day my sister thought it was a room you went in to have sex and totally overreacted. *facepalm* My brother and I had to explain to her what unisex meant and I felt so TERRIBLE about this I repeatedly banged my head on the wall and the only reason I stopped is because he said, “[Insert my first name here], it’s not worth it. Please stop.” But he said it in a way that sounded so, so sad that it was even more crushing than the entire scene.
The thing that pisses me off the most about this is that I feel like I have to write this.
In this day and age, why should I feel that way? I should be able to just be all casual like, “Yo, I’m actually androgynous, not cis” but no. As much as I would like it to be, that’s not the way this world’s gears turn.
What I get sensitive about in terms of what people call me gets a bit complicated, I admit. I like the sound of being the “king” of something. I like the sound of being the ruler of the world. I like the sound of being a “lord” (hence, Lord Corporation Industries, which is my fictional company that I run) but NOT a “lady” (a lady, way back when, was a woman who depended completely on a man and it’s given it a bad rep for me so I hate it when someone calls me a lady). I like being called, “Sir” because it implies that I’m a knight. I HATE it when someone refers to me and my sister as “the girls”. I HATE IT. If I hate it so much, why didn’t you just tell us, I hear you asking. How could I? How could I explain this? Can tell how hard it is for me to do this? How could it be any easier in front of your face, even if it’s just asking one simple question. Asking you to not use “the girls” is a simple question, a simple answer, but most definitely not a simple explanation. I like “the kids” because I call myself a kid all the time. But, I never would describe myself as a girl.
Somewhat contrarily, when there are people who don’t know me, I can live with being referred to as “girl” or “boy”. Funny story, the cello I sat next to this year at Honors called me nothing but “boy” the entire time we interacted with each other. I never said anything. The year before, the cello I sat next to used male pronouns for me, and when my music teacher had a discussion with him about me, he was surprised that my music teacher called me “she”. They had this discussion about a month after Honors was over for the year. I remember a school friend asking me if I would ever tell him that I’m a girl. I always said no. What was the point? (I think this kid, who is now a great friend of mine, still uses male pronouns for me.)
One of my most favorite hobbies is obviously writing and if I ever become a famous writer, I’m going to hide my true gender and see how much chaos this will cause (I love social experiments).
I’ve already said I don’t care what pronouns people use for me but I HATE it when someone else calls attention to it. I hate it as much as one of my trans friends hates it when they are mis-gendered. There are many times when people say, “he” and someone else will put emphasis on “she” and I will probably yell at you for it. It happens more often than you think.
Most people hate their body for one reason or another. A lot of those people hate their body because it’s overweight, or their thighs touch, or they have too much acne. I hate my body. I’m skinny, but my butt is a female butt and sticks out. My organs between my legs don’t stick out, but they bleed every month and it reminds me that I’m more of a girl than I think I am. My chest is flat, but not flat enough. I cut myself because of this. I want a flatter chest but I don’t want it to have hair. I don’t want to leak blood from my crotch every month (I don’t care what I have to do to get rid of it—I could not care less—I don’t want kids and this is the thing that I have the most serious gender dysphoria about) but I don’t want to be extra sensitive in that area and risk the pain of being kicked.
We will not conform to the social norm. We will live outside the box.
This is me cracking the locks and opening the doors to my closet. If you don’t accept me, that’s your choice. And if that’s your choice, get out of my life. I’m dead serious about this. If you don’t accept me and my community, why would I want you to come and live in it? (If you’re in the closet right now and don’t want to lose someone because they don’t accept you, they must mean a LOT to you and I’m sorry.)
Acknowledge my community. Notice us. See us.
Now it’s time to burn down the closet.
E. Laffely is just some kid who loves to draw, write, some other more obscure stuff, and think too much about lots of things. They like to think of themself as an LGBTIQ+ advocate and supporter but really doesn’t do anything to prove that they’re either.