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Nonbinary Gender Expression

Picture a nonbinary person. Are they assigned male or female at birth? What kind of secondary sex characteristics (body hair/facial hair, breasts, etc) do they have? What do they look like? What are they wearing?

It is probable that the person you pictured is assigned female at birth with no secondary sex characteristics at all, dressed in what is traditionally considered male clothes, with short hair and no makeup. If not, great, congratulations, you are abnormal. This essay is still worth a read. If I was right, let’s examine those assumptions together.

First, their assigned gender. Because of the feminist movement, we are much more comfortable with women and AFAB people subverting expectations of gender expression; and therefore more comfortable with the idea of AFAB nonbinary people. The transphobic stereotype of “a man in a dress” has worked its way into the collective subconscious and succeeded at making us wary of or uncomfortable with AMAB nonbinary people. Just like the rest of the world, the population of nonbinary people is almost exactly 50/50 in terms of assigned gender. 

I believe that this bias towards AFAB trans people and against those who are AMAB, like many others, is rooted in classic sexism. Foundationally, men are stronger and better, women are weaker and worse. With this ingrained in our subconscious, the idea of someone who was AFAB or who we used to view as a woman transitions away from being female they are moving up. SO it is comfortable and understandable that someone would do that. Whereas if someone was AMAB and transitioned to be female or nonbinary, they are moving down, willingly chosing to be weaker than they inherently were before transitioning. 

If you are trying to accept nonbinary people as they are, as they identify, it is important to examine how you associate assigned gender and secondary sex characteristics with transition and nonbinary identity. Why is it that when picturing a nonbinary person, you don’t imagine someone with facial or body hair? Why are these characteristics tied to gender? Assigned male or female at birth, we all grow body hair. All of us have hair on our faces. When AMAB nonbinary people grow facial hair, or don’t shave their body hair, we gender them as male regardless of their identity.

The point I’m trying to get at is this: a nonbinary person’s body is a nonbinary body. Breasts aren’t intrinsically tied to gender and seeing someone with breasts should not lead you to the assumption that they are a woman. Facial hair isn’t just a characteristic of men, it can just as easily be a nonbinary characteristic. A nonbinary person does not need to keep away from these types of characteristics to validate their identity.

When it comes to clothing, hair, and makeup, the expectation placed on nonbinary people depends on their assigned gender. AFAB people are expected to dress in ”male” clothes, have short hair, and not wear makeup. AMAB people, on the other hand, are expected to wear makeup and ‘female’ clothes (not dresses). Those of us who are well versed in nonbinary and trans identity often make the claim that clothes and makeup have no gender. Yet, most of us fall into the expectation that nonbinary people won’t associate with gender expression that ‘traditionally’ aligns with their assigned gender. Why is this, if we all agree that nonbinary people are neither men or women and that clothes and makeup have no gender?

I would like to posit that this ties into one of the claims in transmedicalism, specifically that gender dysphoria is the determining factor in someone’s identity, as opposed to gender euphoria. That is, for a trans or nonbinary person, their identity is defined by discomfort and pain. In my opinion, identity should be about happiness and comfort instead.

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