The Feminine Non-Binary
I was assigned female at birth. This means a doctor saw my little body and proclaimed “It’s a GIRL!” My mom (half-awake) exclaimed: “Dorothy!” (because she wanted my name to reflect her favorite old aunt) The story goes that the doctor laughed and asked if we were going to move to Kansas, and my dad said that we weren’t, but were going to buy a dog (presumably to be called Toto). We didn’t move to Kansas (stayed in SoCal my whole life), I never had a dog (have a stuffed bear named Toto, though), and that’s not all they got wrong.
Throughout my young life, I was raised aggressively female. Though my mom sported a Tomboy Hairstyle and Levi’s most of my life, she stuffed me into pink dresses with lace and put ribbons in my hair. She tried so desperately to force me into the femininity that she felt to have failed at in herself. However, her dreams were not my reality. My favorite outfit was the first one that I had picked out for myself: a pair of black bike shorts, a red t-shirt, a black vest (hey, it was the 80's!) and a black bowler hat. I felt so like myself for the first time. In high school, I wore button down shirts with a tie and flare leg jeans (in 1998, turns out I should have kept them). My mom praised me when I wore a skirt or did makeup (despite almost never having done so herself) well into my 30’s. She did so far after I first heard the term “gender fluid” and even after I came out as non-binary.
I was about 35 when I decided to discard my birth name of “Dorothy”, though I still allow certain people to use it. I don’t hate it, but it isn’t me. In my early 20’s, my closest friends called me “D” (Dracula reference, anyone?) and my has dad called me DeeDee from as early as I can remember until our last conversation together (not dead, just estranged). I had identified as “gender fluid” for years before I decided to adopt my name, Dee. I learned the term “non-binary” only a few years ago, and it fit me best. I use they/them pronouns, but I am what I call “female adjacent”, so I also respond to female pronouns interchangeably. Being female adjacent means that though I do not identify as female, I have at times been identified as such, and that has made a world of difference.
In my mind, I have no real gender, or dip into any number of gender identities as I feel compelled to. I use female pronouns because being raised feminine is an entire, unique, horrible experience. I will not degrade the gender-based trauma I received by dismissing my relation to it. Even with my identity being divergent, I was raised and socialized female. This means a few things: being told I can’t do things because I’m “a girl”, being sexualized from a very early age, being taught to hate my body, being trained to accept abuse in many forms, being forced to conform to body standards that are STILL highly prized, and more. These lessons are integral to who I am and why I am a feminist, so I cannot depart from them entirely, no matter my identity.
There is no claim here that transgender women have it any easier AT ALL in having been AMAB (or possibly intersex). I know a transgender child which I am close with, and she gets both the frightening life lessons of AFAB women and transgender women’s horror. I, however, do not identify as transgender. As such, I cannot speak on the experiences of that experience. However, I do know being born different. I do know being forced to conform to another’s view of your body. I do know hatred when you don’t. I associate my identity closely with the experiences of being socialized feminine, as I still am in many ways. My body betrays my birth, not my identity, and I do not believe that non-binary individuals owe ANYONE androgyny. In my heart, my identity is constantly developing. How shall I dress so the world can understand what I am in awe of myself? I say: fuck it. They will see what they want to see. What they want to see is a female, because that makes me easier to deal with.
Someone recently asked me: “How would you like to be seen?” And my honest answer at that moment was “Godzilla.” I want to strike fear into my abusers. I want to make those who may sexualize me vomit. I want to do all the things “girls can’t do.” This is not because I am non-binary. I do not have aggression because of who I am; I am angry because of who the world tried to tell me to be as feminine. For me, my “she” stands in solidarity. It represents the poison still in the world, being fed to my daughter, my niece, myself. Transgender women, cisgender women, transgender men, non-binary AMAB and AFAB — ALL of us are victim to the violence perpetrated upon “she.” In runic, D is Dagaz, for “day” or “awakening.” It symbolizes paradoxical truths and incommunicable experiences, it is the liminal space where change is possible. I am that.