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How do you know?

Have you ever had someone ask you to justify your gender? If you are cis gender (meaning the gender you were declared at birth matches how you feel inside), it’s highly unlikely.

Defining gender is a lot harder than looking up a word in the dictionary. It exists in our hearts and minds (and maybe our souls). it’s not simply being a sum of our body parts.

Take a second with me now, close your eyes and ask yourself: How do I know (without referencing body parts) that I am my gender? I’m not asking you to dig into your memory of high school biology class and tell me that it’s about Xs and Ys. I’m asking you, how do you know? How do you identify your gender and why?

If this question feels weird and uncomfortable for you, I totally get it, because it’s weird and uncomfortable for me too. The difference is that I am asked to answer some version of this question pretty often. How do I know that I’m non-binary and not just a tomboy? How do I know that I’m not just overthinking it? What’s it like to be non-binary? How is being non-binary different than being female?

I’m not sure that any of these questions really has an answer that can be easily boiled down into words. I know what it’s like to be me because that’s the only person I remember ever being. I can’t sum up what it’s like to be non-binary because I have nothing to compare it to. I don’t know what it feels like to be female or male, I don’t know what it feels like for other non-binary people. I only know how I feel as me.

The same is probably true for you.

If you identify as female, that doesn’t mean you know how every female identifying person feels in her body. You know how this gender feels for you and honestly, it’s probably all you need to know.

Now I totally understand that we have all been raised to believe that gender is binary. Boys and girls, men and women, ladies and gentlemen, sir and madam, mars and venus, opposites attract, where does non-binary fit into all of this? The truth is that we don’t. The English language (like many others) has not made room for us to exist. We have been silently erased. Sadly, being erased from the language also causes us to be erased from society.

This is why we can’t be silent anymore. We need words. We need to appear in the language that you use everyday. When you speak in the binary, I stay a shadow, visible only to the few who know where to look.

When you say boys and girls you teach another generation of non-binary people that they don’t exist. You teach them that I don’t exist. There are few words to describe us in the world, but please, include them wherever you can, because only through inclusion can we ever come out of the shadows.

Now, I know that if you are reading this, you are likely an open minded person who wishes to be accepting. I also know that there might still be a voice in the back of your head that whispers, but scientifically, there really are only two genders. I know that story too. Aren’t we either XX chromosome (female) or XY chromosome (male)? I mean, don’t our bodies have a story to tell that’s pretty black and white?

Turns out the answer to that is simple. No. Ok, maybe it is a loud and emphatic NO! That I would like to scream from the rooftops. We are not just a sum of those two little chromosomes. Our chromosomes have a complex story to tell. It might even be epic poetry (or maybe not). Whatever it is,it isn’t simple.

There is a lot of actual science that proves that not only is gender not binary, it isn’t even static. The gender markers of cells can change throughout an individual’s life. You can have a vagina and male chromosomes. You can have a penis and have female chromosomes. There is no set recipe as this article in Scientific American explains to make any one gender.

Gender is a spectrum, it is not binary. How do I know?

Because I’ve lived 45 years as myself.

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