Over the course of several months, I never stopped asking myself, am I nonbinary? I wondered if I’d ever find a solid answer. Here’s the journey to my self-discovery, summarized with key points (or jokes, have fun distinguishing) at the end of each section to perhaps help other AFAB (assigned female at birth) nonbinary people understand themselves too.
How gender became unclear – could I be I nonbinary?
I’m a lesbian, and it took a long time to get here. From misinterpreting a lack of sexual attraction to boys as placement on the ace spectrum, to conflating attraction to women and two instances of compulsive heterosexuality to a three-year streak of using the bisexual label, learning to love “lesbian” felt like my final victory. After all, spending eighteen years oblivious and several more years navigating sexuality labels, embracing “lesbian” finally clicked into place. At last, I knew who I was. Discovering that “lesbian” wasn’t my final victory was the most exhausting part of the gender journey. I thought I already did all this hard identity work.
Gender seeped into consciousness at the start of quarantine (April for me) in a curious flurry of accidental euphoria. I bought a set of 5-pound dumbbells and began regularly working out, I stopped shaving my legs out of laziness and lack of contact with the world, and when the heat hit, I broke into a stash of sleeveless shirts that my brother outgrew, salvaged from the Goodwill pile years ago. And then I fell in love with my body for the first time.
I kept making guesses at what else could make me feel this newfound sense of love. Boxer brief underwear? I ordered some, and I was right. Sports-bra swim top paired with swim trunks? I bought that, and I was right. Cutting off my long locks? I chopped that, and I was right. I chased this gender euphoria for months and talked myself down from any larger implications. I just felt good about my body.
You might be nonbinary if…
- You avoid exploring gender because you’re afraid you’ll like it.
- You adopt more of an androgynous style/appearance and really love the way you look and feel.
How does my body fit into “nonbinary”?
A nonbinary body is the body of any nonbinary person; there’s no box to check here. A nonbinary body might be curvy, might be muscular, might have a full bust, might have a square jaw. The attributions are extremely varied, just as they are for men and women. And that is exactly where my confusion originated. All genders have varied body types. So why did loving my masculine features trigger such deep questions about my gender?
My body never really fit in once puberty hit. My (female) friends sprouted boobs, got their periods, started growing into curvy bodies. My body remained shapeless, flat-chested, and period-free. But I had lots of body hair.
My body changed so differently than my friends’ did, and it was embarrassing. By the sixth grade, all of the girls sported bras that they’d show off to each other in the gym locker room; whereas I’d been so completely flat-chested that I hadn’t even thought about needing a bra at all until I was the only girl in class who changed into her gym clothes completely topless. I had so much leg hair with no intention of dealing with it that I refused to wear shorts to school—even in gym class—too embarrassed to expose the leg hair, too annoyed to shave it. And with no periods all through middle school, I’d felt so disconnected from womanhood that I genuinely felt like I was going through a boy’s puberty for that unforgivable 3-year stretch of hell.
In high school, I got my period, filled an A-cup sized bra, and succumbed to shaving my legs. Yet, the flat chest and hairy body routinely displaced my connection to womanhood, especially when classmates made any comments on the matter. I had to tell myself that my body’s “masculinity” was still beautiful, and that didn’t make me any less of a woman. I spent my whole life convincing myself of that. I’m still a girl. While the affirmation comforted me during an outcasted adolescence, it backfired into my adulthood when I started questioning whether or not I really was a woman.
You might be nonbinary if…
- You have a body. (Yes, no other box to check here.)
Nonbinary gender dysphoria
By now, I’ve long since understood that no two experiences are identical, but that didn’t stop me from comparing my feelings about gender to trans and nonbinary people around me and using that to gauge whether or not I was cis. This wasn’t always a good way to go and could even (unintentionally) invalidate my own identity at times, but it was necessary work.
Most people associate trans/nonbinary AFAB people with chest dysphoria. (People assigned female at birth with discomfort about their breasts.) So, this is where I started assessing whether I was “really” nonbinary.
The only problem was, I never thought about my chest. I’ve opted out of wearing bras for almost the entirety of 2020. Before that, I’ve worn nothing but sports bras with little to no padding for several years. I couldn’t tell you the last time I wore a real bra with a real size measurement that wasn’t just marked as XS.
In my teen years, I’d been taught to hate my boobs. They didn’t fit in. And I really did hate that. But I spent four years at university, became a lesbian, got into a relationship, and stopped caring about it altogether. Because of that, I had a hard time relating to the nonbinary people around me. Most of those I talked to did have chest dysphoria; I had chest indifference. Maybe I’m just a woman.
Eventually, over the course of months, I hit four key moments that helped me understand how I felt about my own chest. First, a friend shared a story about a nonbinary Russian blogger whose body type mimicked mine. They explained their relationship with their chest as less strained than other trans AFAB people, saying they would probably enjoy their body without breasts, but having top surgery wasn’t something they needed to have. I realized my experience ran parallel to this.
Second, this realization summoned a dark memory that I swear I would never share to the public and forbade my friends from re-telling. (But here we are anyway.) As a fan of The Fosters, I recalled one of the lesbian moms, Stef, was found to have pre-cancerous cells in her breast tissue, and that removing her breasts as a preventative procedure would remove the risk of breast cancer. And I remember thinking, Wow, that’s convenient. Obviously a horrible thought to have. (And probably not a cis thought to have.)
Third, a trans man I’m friends with told me that he had a weird delay in chest dysphoria due to small size. If he wore a large shirt, he didn’t have to think about it. (And now that he’s got designer nips, he sent me an old binder to try out.)
Lastly, and most obviously, I tried binding three years ago. I watched YouTube videos on how to bind my chest, ordered binding tape samples, and tried it out. The tape didn’t work so great, so the other samples spent three years in my sock drawer, but in retrospect I feel like the strength of binding curiosity should’ve been a clue back then. My mind framed this curiosity as just that: curiosity. But binding is just not something cis people are that curious about. And even through months of questioning my gender—obviously knowing I tried binding before—I still felt like my experienced chest dysphoria wasn’t enough to make me nonbinary.
So, let’s get something straight: dysphoria is just discomfort. And—like most things—exists on a scale. There’s no threshold of discomfort to reach in order to be trans or nonbinary.
You might be nonbinary if…
- You feel indifferent about your chest.
- You started referring to your boobs as your chest.
- You lowkey wished you had precancerous cells in your breast so you could have a “good” reason to get them removed. (Mate, wtf is wrong with you?)
- You wouldn’t care if your boobs vanished.
- You want to try binding out of “curiosity” or “because it looks cool.”
Dysphoria with name and pronouns
Some trans and nonbinary people might experience dysphoria with their assigned name and pronouns. But like with chest dysphoria, it wasn’t as simple as “yes this makes me dysphoric” or “no this doesn’t make me dysphoric.”
Jess. It’s not a very gendered name. Neither is the nickname friends and family sometimes use instead: Jesse. In fact, you might recognize that the spelling of Jesse uses the “boy” spelling (rather than the feminine version, Jessie). I randomly insisted and corrected the spelling of my nickname from the age of four years old when I first started pre-school and switched between Crayola handwriting attempts of Jesse and Jessica on all my papers.
In third grade, I had class with another Jessica M. So, we could not distinguish between Jessicas since we were both Jessica M. I offered to go by Jesse instead. My teacher and all my peers adopted the nickname my family used at home. Each new year, teachers asked if we preferred to use any other name. I never said I liked Jesse better due to my painful introversion and developing social anxiety. But after that third-grade class, classmates carried the name Jesse for me, teachers picked up on the fact that my peers never used Jessica, and my school district had so few students and staff that the name Jesse stayed with me through my entire K-12 career.
When I started university, I introduced myself as Jesse or Jess to new classmates and coworkers and used either of name during icebreakers. Most professors caught onto that.
I rarely had to think about the name I was given. But when I did, I wasn’t a fan. I knew a lot of Jessicas; it felt very common. And eventually, it stopped feeling like me. After dating my girlfriend for a short time, I knew I wanted to change my name when we got married to just Jesse or Jess.
I’m still exploring my relationship with pronouns. (Currently using she/her and they/them.) I asked my girlfriend and some close friends to use they/them for a while so I can see how it feels, and I’m not sure I have the answer yet. When I first saw or heard friends use they/them pronouns for me, it wasn’t a huge rush of relief, but also didn’t feel unnatural either. Part of me had been really scared of trying the pronouns, because honestly, I don’t want to like they/them pronouns too much. I don’t want to let myself feel so comforted by those pronouns that she/her feels painful.
I imagine what adopting they/them exclusively might look like, and it’s scary. If I learn that she/her becomes so uncomfortable, then I have to out myself to everyone in my life, and I just don’t know if that’s what I want. Even for people who understand the concept of nonbinary, it’s a lot to take in. It’s a lot for me to give away. I’m afraid that people will think being nonbinary and needing they/them pronouns means I want to make a spectacle of myself, or that I’m confused. And I am confused, which is the worst part. It’s hard to describe to someone why nonbinary makes all the sense in the world to me when I still spend some days wondering if this is all just in my head.
You might be nonbinary if…
- You have a weird relationship with your given name.
- You stopped using your given name and forced everyone to use a nickname strictly in “boy” spelling.
- You are considering using different pronouns.
- You’re considering changing your name because you feel disconnected from it, even if this name change is at the convenience of marriage.
Nonbinary gender euphoria
Gender euphoria is (you guessed it) the opposite of gender dysphoria. As I’ve mentioned, my experienced gender euphoria happened naturally by just letting myself explore new styles and embrace my body in a new way. It guided my entire journey with gender. And honestly, I didn’t think I experienced dysphoria at all until experiencing my many euphorias.
Euphoria one—them gains baby! Working out had me looking and feeling so good. I kept progress on arm muscle growth with frequent flexing selfies in the boxers I wore as PJs paired with cutoff sleeveless tops. Euphoria. I couldn’t stop taking pictures like this. My girlfriend said the flux of this exact selfie type was the single biggest indicator that the first gender conversation lacked any surprise.
Euphoria two—embracing the body hair! I stopped shaving my legs and it felt great. I had a conversation about my leg hair with my brother, fearing I “should” shave my legs because I was getting worried people would start staring. He said, “who cares,” and I was like yeah, you’re right.
I also used to shave my toes/feet because I have the feet of a hobbit. Plus, I often found myself avoiding crop tops because of body hair on my back and happy trail. But since settling into my newfound nonbinary identity, I’ve found so much comfort in wearing sandals (something I always avoided due to hobbit feet) and crop tops have become a wardrobe staple. The body hair just became an integrated part of a validating gender experience.
Euphoria three—haircut! After years of contemplation, I finally chopped my long hair into a bob. Easier to hide when I want to, and certainly easier to manage my curly queer hair routine, it’s helped me feel a lot more valid in my identity and feel more myself.
Euphoria four—binding! When I tried the binder my friend sent, I loved the way it made me look and feel. I was surprised to find the difference it made in some of my favorite shirts and at how much I genuinely loved the way I looked wearing it. I just loved the way I looked. I couldn’t get over it. I’m still obsessed. I tried it on with just about every shirt I own because I simply couldn’t believe it. The rush. The euphoria.
You might be nonbinary if…
- You discover a newfound love for your body.
- Your journey is guided by self-love, not self-hate. (Not every gender journey is mobilized by dysphoria.)
- You face the intense desire to cut your hair. (Or maybe that’s just a cry for therapy for other reasons; who’s to say.)
Coming out as nonbinary
Over the last several months, I’ve come out to my girlfriend, several of my friends, and my sister. I’ve had the great fortune of surrounding myself with all the right people in my early adult life so far, and letting so many of my friends become part of this journey with me has minimized the stress I anticipated from all this. Here’s the summary of all the coming-out exchanges.
Coming out as nonbinary to my girlfriend
The backseat thoughts of gender and weary possibilities of nonbinary failed to dissolve as I imagined (or hoped) they would. I had to tell my girlfriend.
I have to tell you something important, but it’s not that serious so you don’t need to be worried, I told her. I’ve been thinking a lot about my gender lately. I confessed to being confused and about letting a newfound self-love and appreciation for my body navigate my feelings and connection to gender.
I think I knew what this would be about, she admitted after assuring me that wherever this journey ended, I had her support. In fact her exact words were, “I love you no matter what. As long as you don’t become a Hey Mamas TikTok lesbian.” I could barely even use the word nonbinary in our conversation. I certainly didn’t use it for myself. But I knew, even then, that months of circular thoughts don’t end at the start of a journey. I’ve done identity before. Although this felt different, it had this nagging, unspoken familiarity. A path I couldn’t clearly see but also couldn’t turn away from.
So, months later, after several conversations, I came out as nonbinary to her. She obviously knew that was coming. We both did. She said, “I’m proud of you but we been knew.”
Coming out as “confused” and “I think I’m nonbinary” to my sister
My sister is the best ally I could ask for. When I came out as bisexual, she supported me and told me to just keep her updated on my journey, at her young age of 15 from our confederate-flag-flying hometown, and also confessed that she wasn’t very surprised. When I came out as a lesbian, she helped me make that transition too.
A great writer herself, I asked her if she wanted to write a guest post about my coming out, how it felt for her, and to let the post become something that reassures queer people as they consider coming out to their family members. In the same breath, I joked about “coming out again” and shared some of my gender thoughts. She responded nearly the same as the first coming out. With support and a “I’m not too surprised” comment. About a month later, I told her I was “pretty sure I’m nonbinary” and that the feelings haven’t gone away. She thanked me for the update and asked if there were anything she could do to help me along.
Coming out to my IRL friends as “confused” and “I am…[refuses to say the word out loud]”
I told my two closest friends that I’d been feeling confused about my gender for months, and both met me with such unconditional support that it empowered me. One managed to wade through texts of a near 1k-length featuring confused ramblings and half-thoughts, and came out declaring, “I’ll be using they/them pronouns for you, let me know if that changes!” and then offered resources and reassurance.
My best friend asked how the gender journey was going on a few of our scheduled phone calls. The most recent left me euphoric. How are you feeling about it now? She asked. I followed with inhuman sounds, thoughts that crashed into each other and derailed themselves, strings of run-ons and no inhales. I knew, but I couldn’t get the words out, and it showed. I just couldn’t say the word. But she knew what it meant. Even though you’re still stressed about this, she said, you seem a lot more sure now. I exhaled.
The nonbinary coming-outs to come
Like coming out as bi or lesbian, the hardest part for me is the fear of changing how someone perceives me. What will they think of me now? Some words come to mind. Confused, attention-seeking, maybe a 1995 birth is Gen Z after all.
But the experiences so far have been overwhelmingly supportive. I always knew my girlfriend would respond well, and knowing how reassuring and open she is about all things helped me share this with her early in the process. Soon after questioning it myself, I was able to bring it to her right away, which is something I’ve never been able to do before. This was actually the first internal crisis I’ve ever had where I turned to a person before turning to a pen and paper first. And didn’t that work out so great? Now I have a real story to give you.
I (re)told my best friend and my sister (that “I’m pretty sure I’m nonbinary” and “I’m[…]) on the same day, and I’ll always remember how receptive they were, how open and gentle and attentive their responses were–it made that the first day I really felt proud to be nonbinary. Having the right support is life-changing. The unconditional love I’ve met so far has undoubtedly made this process as smooth as it has been.
You might be nonbinary if…
- You feel the need to tell someone close to you that you’re confused about your gender.
- You hope your thoughts about gender go away.
- You’re scared to consider that you might be nonbinary.
- You have a hard time putting your thoughts about gender into words for someone else.
- You’re scared of changing the way someone thinks about you because of your gender.
Coming out as nonbinary on main
Interesting subheading, right? Here’s the deal: I’ve been using handle @koalatygirl since the dawn of time. And by “dawn of time,” I mean 2012 when I first entered the world of Tumblr dot com. The username entered all my active social platforms in the following eight years. Eight years of branding that tied me to a gender. Oh, how I really fucked myself over there. I wish I were joking, but this Internet branding has really held me back from publishing this post sooner, from coming out on Twitter sooner, from honestly exploring my gender because god forbid if I find myself out to not be a girl, I’ll have to undergo a complete digital rebranding. (Find me @koalatygay.)
As a bonus, I literally put pronouns in the title of this blog. Lord help me if I end up having to rebrand this too.
You might be nonbinary if…
- You use your branding as an excuse to avoid exploring your gender.
Talking to cis women about my gender confusion
Surprisingly, I found detailing my gender experience to cis women as the most validating part of the journey. Especially with cis lesbians. Many lesbians experience a strained or unusual relationship with womanhood anyway, so I attributed my confusion early on as just a gender side-effect to lesbianism. But talking to cis lesbians, like my girlfriend and especially cis lesbians who weren’t very femme themselves but still comfortable and confident in their cis identity—that was the real eye-opener.
One friend told me that she was mistaken for a boy once by a stranger—a catalyst for immediate offense. Oh, I wouldn’t be offended if someone thought I was a boy, I realized. I think I’d be pretty pleased with myself. The conscious thought about gender perception from strangers brought forth another reality of my past: I spent much of the winter tucking my long hair into a wooly hat in attempt to make my gender less obvious. Without ever thinking about those implications. Once again, in retrospect, that’s not a very cis thing to do. I just liked the thought of strangers at the grocery store not being able to tell what my gender was. And pretended everyone did that.
I also told the same friend about my realization about The Fosters’ pre-cancerous cells storyline. She said, “actually getting rid of your boobs would be like…really hard for a woman.” Huh, who’d’ve thought? Several of these moments continued to happen. I’d describe something about my experience and XYZ cis lesbians would say, “I’ve never felt like that.” Very validating stuff. Maybe I really wasn’t a woman.
You might be nonbinary if…
- You keep remembering things about your past that you thought everyone experienced but they actually did not.
- You keep wondering “is this a thing cis people do”?
- Cis lesbians have very different experiences of womanhood than you do. For example, cis lesbians feel comfortable in their woman identity and you do not. That’s a pretty telling sign.
But what if I’m not nonbinary and I’m actually a trans man?
This thought crossed my mind a few times and I recoiled. I played the bisexual to lesbian stereotype, and saw a few trans men start their journeys as nonbinary people. What if that happens to me? I brought the concerns up to my girlfriend (a lesbian), who had similar concerns, naturally.
I shared the same thoughts to a friend very early on in the journey, who’d suggested I detail my feelings and fears on reddit and see what other trans men and nonbinary people had to say/how their experiences aligned or diverged from mine. This was extremely helpful. Most of the people who replied said it’s something I have to figure out for myself, which was frustrating. I wanted answers now. Something a few said to try was to actually be a man for a few days. Use he/him pronouns, dress in men’s clothing, in every way possible, just live as a man for several days and assess how I feel.
I didn’t take their advice (yes, I dish it but don’t take it, anyway), I thought it might be helpful to share here in case someone reading this actually listens to advice. Truthfully, living as a man didn’t sound fun. And when I talked about it with my girlfriend and friend early in the journey, they both asked how I would feel if I was a trans man. Idk, I said. Idk there’s some things that I do like about being a woman. I like being a sister. I like being a part of collective women empowerment. I don’t know.
Something about imagining being a man felt not-right. But it really came down to accepting that even if this is the end point of the journey, it’s not who I am right now. The more I allow myself to explore and understand my gender, the more this question will dissolve, as it’s already begun doing so over the last several months.
You might be nonbinary if…
- You feel disconnected from womanhood but still enjoy some aspects of womanhood.
- You find it hard to understand your gender because neither woman nor man feels particularly right or wrong for you.
But what if I’m not nonbinary and I’m actually a woman?
I hope one day I will stop questioning the validity of my identity. Today isn’t that day. I’m sure tomorrow won’t be that day either. It’s the single biggest factor that restrained this journey for so long and forced actions and thoughts of gender years back deep into the subconscious, only resurfaced and explored years later.
I’m afraid that I’m just re-learning what it means to be a woman, I’d said to just about everyone I talked to about gender at all. Embracing the masculinity of my body could’ve been a liberating moment for any woman with my body type. But I’m just not a woman.
You might be a cis woman if…
- You’ve never thought about binding your chest.
- You’ve never watched tutorials about how to bind your chest.
- You’ve always referred to your chest as your boobs.
- You think preventative mastectomies are definitely not convenient. Actually devastating.
- You’ve always been comfortable with she/her pronouns.
- You’ve never even thought about your pronouns before.
- You dated someone for less than a year and didn’t think about how marriage is the perfect excuse to change your name.
- You never thought about your own gender, let alone think about it constantly for six months straight.
I am not a woman because I’m not a woman. I’m nonbinary. One day, I think the world could be ready to hear it.
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