Am I a Gender Traitor?

By Elise Wantling

My name is Elise, and I am nonbinary. Yes, I work at the Women’s Center, but I am not a woman. I’m not a man either. I’m just Elise. When addressing me I ask that people use “they” pronouns instead of “she” or “he” to reflect this. Yes, sometimes it’s hard grammatically or trips people up, but I feel it is necessary to be called “they” so that I can feel a little bit more like me.

Being nonbinary is difficult, plain and simple. A lot of people refuse to believe there can be more than two genders in the first place, or accept the idea that gender ≠ sex. Usually after introducing myself and my pronouns I have to do a lot of educating, about who I am and how I feel and why I choose to identify as nonbinary instead of as the gender I was assigned at birth. What people don’t understand is that being nonbinary wasn’t a flippant choice for me. I did a lot of internal work before I decided to go public about my gender identity.

One of the biggest struggles I had before fully accepting I was nonbinary was with the idea of being a “gender traitor”. I felt like I was turning my back on women-kind. I had been raised and encouraged by so many strong women, women who poured so much into me and expected me to do the same with other girls to make them into strong women. But what if I wasn’t a woman? Would their work have been in vain?

Growing up I was a proud Girl Scout (I actually have a lifetime membership now), my best friend was my mom, I believed in girl power and supporting other women and girls, I wanted to be the first female president. I was 100% a die-hard “strong woman” on the outside. But on the inside, things were more complex than that. Being a woman was like wearing a shoe that was too small; the toes pinched, I had a few blisters, but dang the shoes looked nice on the outside. It didn’t quite fit, and the problems were gradually beginning to show.

I struggled with wanting to wear the shoes that fit and loving the style of the shoes that were too small. I knew being nonbinary was who I truly was. Being a woman felt more like an act or a persona for me, but I loved the culture. If I went public about the way I was feeling, I would be losing a special kind of bond that I had with so many wonderful women in my life. No longer would we be sisters at arms, I would become an Other.

Of course, I am now writing this blog from the perspective of an openly nonbinary person, so it is something I overcame. It was a major struggle, and probably my biggest hesitation about coming out. I didn’t want to seem like a gender traitor, but I know I’m not. I’m still an ally to women and girls. I didn’t turn my back on them or “betray” them, I focused on becoming true to myself and found strength in that. I didn’t come out as nonbinary because I was turning my back on being a woman, because I was never a woman. I’m simply living my truth.