Being a non-binary person assigned female at birth, and a gynophile (experiencing attraction towards women) – I know, it’s a mouthful – makes you a very unpopular fish in the dating pond. But, speaking from personal experience, it’s not something that you should get you down. But before I tell you my story, let me explain my identity to you first, so as to make life easier (or maybe more complicated? We’ll see).
I define ‘non-binary’ as someone who doesn’t care about gender, which is typically seen as something that makes everyone’s life hell! You ask how, and I will answer that as well. We find ourselves in an extremely binary society – made of only man or boy, and woman or girl. Now, for trans people too, many also subscribe to gender norms that have been made for the binary – yes, transgender identities are often built on cisgender identities (note: ‘cisgender’ or ‘cis’ for short means you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth).
All of us (well, almost all) know how the binary works. You are assigned a gender based on the genitalia you were born with and then you are stuck doing the performance that it asks of you. If you are a man or a boy, you are the breadwinner, and an unemotional robot who has to take care of a family ‘financially’, among other things. And if you are a woman or a girl, you are the one who does the household chores, is treated as a baby making machine (baby-boy making machine, more often than not), and the overly emotional one who cries. Basic, stereotypical stuff.
Now comes a non-binary or genderqueer person who doesn’t care what these stereotypical gender roles are, and just wants to live their life to the fullest. No one likes to be told “You are a girl, you can’t go out at night”, or “You are a boy, you can’t cry”. How is it that my gender (which, thanks to society, I didn’t even get to choose) puts so many restrictions on me?
Half the time, whether in real life or in virtual spaces, people are confused when they look at me. One night, while travelling home, I met this little boy in the train. Kids (like some adults) do not have a social filter, so he asked his father quite loudly if I was a boy or a girl. With embarrassment, the father looked at me to check if I had overheard the conversation, and looking their way. For an hour, both father and son were unable to decide on an answer. But then I spoke, and the mystery was gone for the father, but not the kid.
Nothing gives me more pleasure than that obvious uncertainty that people have with regard to my gender identity, and how to address me. Because I do not look ‘feminine’, I am “bhaiya” or “sir” to 90% of the people who see me. A number of taxi and auto drivers have asked me what my gender identity is. I usually reply with a “How does it matter to you?”, which totally catches the other person off guard. But this pushed them to think about their understanding of gender and the prejudices. And I get to secretly break gender stereotypes and smash the patriarchy! YAY!
I think the most basic thing that someone can do when meeting anyone, not just non-binary people, would be to ask their pronouns (it won’t kill you). In my line of work, I ask my clients their pronouns and most of the time they have no idea what I am talking about. If we were to making this a habit, rather than guessing people’s gender, it would definitely help create a safe space for people who are not within the binary. I understand that not everyone is aware of non-binary identities (like genderfluid, pangender, agender, or transfeminine to name a few) but there’s always time to learn and be more inclusive to people who are different.
Even when people online don’t ‘get’ it, it has been great fun because lots of people on Tinder swipe right on my profile just to know what my gender identity is all about. I feel like I am giving gender studies classes!
Thankfully, that’s not the only outcome. I came to know some amazing non-binary people after coming out. There are so few of us right now that it can be extremely isolating. But there are a few safe spaces online where people can sign up and talk to others who identify as non-binary.
Coming out, again, in itself, has been quite an event as I didn’t previously know any other non-binary people or people who used a word like “gynophile” to identify themselves. But with the support of my friends and partner, it was an extremely liberating experience.
I’ve met some lovely people on Tinder who understood my identity, and made me feel accepted, especially in this extremely binary world. Of course, it doesn’t stop there! When you mix your gender with you sexuality – now that’s a whole different ball game altogether. As a person with a ‘non-normative’ identity, it becomes extremely difficult to navigate your love-life within a heteronormative script. Before, when I used to identity as a Sapphic woman, life was much simpler. Now that I identify as a non-binary gynophile, half the time introducing myself to another person leads to this are: “So you are a lesbian, basically. Why didn’t you say so?” I didn’t because I am not. And now try explaining your identity to people on Tinder.
Eventually, I met my partner, who identifies as a cis-woman. That was a turning point for me because we didn’t know what kind of couple we were. Technically it’s two AFABs dating which leads people to think that we were a lesbian couple and that caused a lot of dissonance for me. But, after having a long discussion with my partner, I realised that that label wasn’t ours; we know that we are what is often called a ‘mixed’ couple. Labels can be extremely confusing and at the same time liberating. And realising that I was not cisgender also helped me to actually understand the fluidity of it all. I didn’t care much about the label, I was with someone I love and that was it. It takes an immense burden off your shoulders when you are just happy with who you are. And I hope everyone reaches that level of comfort, because the labels don’t define you, you define yourself.