Breaking the Binary | Trans + Allies Explore Gender Identity

Lucy Waldemer remembers their first time learning about gender identities outside of the female/male dichotomy.

“I had a job in a summer camp, and one of the other staff members was non-binary,” said Waldemer, speaking alongside 4 other panelists in the Student Union at last week’s Trans + Allies meeting. “We’d stay up late at night talking about gender and identities.”

For Waldemer, these late-night conversations marked a significant turning point.

“My mom would always tell me ‘you’re just a tomboy,’” Waldemer said. “Everyone older than me always said that, so of course I believed it. Those conversations at the summer camp helped me realize I’m not a boy or girl. I’m just me.”

     Non-binary is umbrella term used by individuals who feel that traditional ways of thinking about gender don’t accurately describe their feelings about themselves. Many (but not all) non-binary people prefer the ambiguous pronouns they/them instead of the gendered pronouns he/him or she/her.

While the five panelists shared a common non-binary identity, each of their unique stories highlighted the diversity of experience and personal, nuanced nature of this quickly growing community.

“One person who identifies as non-binary can be so different than the next person,” Helen Proctor said, recalling a recent trip to Chicago for a trans/non-binary event.

“I could visibly see how much diversity there is,” Proctor said. “It was incredible.”

Non-binary individuals don’t conform to the traditional female/male dichotomy. (Source: Trans Media Watch).

Non-binary individuals don’t conform to the traditional female/male
dichotomy. (Source: Trans Media Watch).

Most non-binary people differentiate their experience from those of transgender individuals, who typically identify as either male or female. Those with non-binary identities, in contrast, exist outside of the two-gender system completely.

Former UMKC student and panelist Michael Hutchinson helped explain this distinction to the group.

“I used he/him in the early stages of my transition,” said Hutchinson, who originally came out to family and friends as a transgender man. “The realization of me being [non-binary] led me to use they/them. That, or I just ask people to refer to me by name.”

Another panelist, Arie Foley shared a similar story of self-discovery.

“When I first identified as gay, it just didn’t feel quite right,” said Foley. “I had an underlying feeling that something was still wrong.”

After sharing these stories, the group explored topics including activism, intersectionality, police relations, gender identity in the educational environment and more.

For many in the non-binary community, feeling safe and supported is a daily struggle.

“I’ve never had a professor respect my identity,” Waldemer said, reflecting on their experiences at UMKC.

Despite this uphill battle, each panelist agreed the only way to move forward is to defend their right to be themselves.

“Not everyone wants to be an activist, and that’s okay,” Hutchinson said. “Because there are plenty of us who do.”

     The next Trans + Allies meeting is Monday, April 3. The group will discuss Trans People of Color in the Student Union.

 

sd6w8@mail.umkc.edu

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