Beauty Beyond the Binary: A Photo Series of Non-Binary Identities (Part 2)

The Rainbow Times explores non-binary identities and the courageous contention that beauty cannot be limited to traditional binary, cisgender, heteronormative standards.
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Exploring non-binary identities and breaking out of the gender box

By: The Rainbow Times/Alex Mancini—

In part two of this series, The Rainbow Times explores non-binary identities and the courageous contention that beauty cannot be limited to traditional binary, cisgender, heteronormative standards. Check out the center spread here.

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Alison Sarah Tippett

Age: 22

Preferred Pronouns: They/Them/Their

Lives in Newton, Mass.

Q: What does having a non-binary identity mean to you?

A: For me, finding the term non-binary was really comforting. I spent years explaining my identity as “not a woman,” but I also didn’t feel that I was a man. I threw around the word “genderqueer” for a long time, as it felt like it contained all of the uncertainty and indefinition I was feeling. But non-binary encompasses not only how I identify, but also how I feel and how I live my life. Not only am I not a woman or a man, I don’t accept those as categories that I could even be placed into. I don’t feel like those categories are as stable or secure as the majority of the world takes them to be.

Q: What is one common misconception about non-binary people that you’d like to dispel?

A: Something that I’ve seen a lot lately, especially on social media, is this acceptance of non-binary people as masculine-presenting individuals who were assigned female at birth (AFAB). I feel like non-binary and genderqueer have started to become synonymous with androgyny and that’s not necessarily the case for most people. Someone’s identity does not have to “match” their presentation,  their name, or their pronouns. People who are assigned male at birth (AMAB) can be non-binary, just as AFAB people can. Feminine-presenting people can be non-binary, just as masculine-presenting people can. To be non-binary someone does not need to dress differently than they have been previously, or go by a different name, or go by different pronouns.

Q: How can society be more inclusive of gender non-conforming people?

A: I think pronouns are an area where society as a whole can start to make more progress towards inclusivity. So many times, even within queer communities, I’ve heard people be able to start using a new “familiar” pronoun for someone who is transitioning or transgender. For some reason it’s easier for people to switch from “he” to “she” (or vice versa) than it is to switch from “he” to “they.” For some reason, people fight it. There’s something deeply seated in so many people that makes them angry that non-binary or gender non-conforming people have the nerve to ask to be respected. And the number of times I’ve heard, “can’t they just make up something else that doesn’t sound like a plural?” and then reject “alternative” pronouns like xe/xem/xir. It’s like there’s no winning. It is not a requirement of the queer and trans communities to change ourselves to make straight and cisgender people more comfortable. I think the next big subject of discomfort is pronouns. Why at women’s colleges is it so common for students to introduce themselves with their name and pronouns, but this practice is seldom seen outside exclusively queer and trans spaces? We can move away from assumptions. Away from reading and labeling people. We can move towards asking compassionately. Because this shows care. It shows respect.

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Daniel Alroy

Age: 40

Preferred Pronouns: He/Him/His; They/Them/Their

Lives in Somerville, Mass.

Q: What does having a non-binary identity mean to you?

A: Non-binary gender identity means freedom to me. It means being free of the shackles of a gendered identity. It gives me the freedom to be me, and not having to fulfill culturally projected expectations of who I should be. It means that my feelings, emotions, likes and dislikes, choices, etc., are simply about me, and not written off as an expression of the world’s gendered expectations. It’s about being given an opportunity to represent myself, and not having the perception of my gender lead people’s opinion about who I am.

Q: What is one common misconception about non-binary people that you’d like to dispel?

A: I think the most frustrating misconception about people who identify as non-binary is that they are doing it simply to be transgressive. This is so invalidating. It is a refusal to explore or accept the depth of a person’s identity and minimizing their experience to a mere political expression.  It’s not only an unfair way to travel in the world, but I think it is incredibly self-limiting.

Q: How can society be more inclusive of gender non-conforming people?

A: Before we think about how society can be more inclusive we need to start the pattern of inclusivity internally, exploring our perception of ourselves. I think this starts with being brave and accepting who we are, accepting how our world has shaped our perception of gender, acknowledging it and then letting go of paradigm and moving forward with clear compassionate eyes in how we view ourselves. And then, from this place, we can individually look out and be more inclusive of the people around us. When we are viewing the world from this perspective, creating a more inclusive society is really self-evident and not complicated.  

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Hallima Docmanov

Age: 22

Preferred Pronouns: Whatever I feel like when I wake up in the morningLives in Boston, Mass.

Q: What does having a non-binary identity mean to you?

A: I think my non-binary identity is [a] representation of all my identities that I encompass. I never seem to completely fit in with any one identity and in many ways they contradict one another in the eyes of today’s society. That being Queer, Muslim, Black, Somali American, I have never felt that my identity fit into a neat little box like it should have and, frankly, I have given up trying to fit into all together. Therefore, coming into my non-binary identity allowed me a freedom that I have been always searching for. That honestly, I am neither a girl or a boy all together.

Q: What is one common misconception about non-binary people that you’d like to dispel?

A: The idea that non-binary people cannot be femme or masculine presenting. I think you

can be femme and non-binary or masculine and non-binary. Who has the authority to dedicate

that beyond your own self? For me, part of living outside the binary is that clothing, make-up,

etc. does not have a gender and, therefore, lipstick on a person does not make you more “femme” or “masculine.” It’s just pretty color on a pretty person, who’s probably rocking it!

Q: How can society be more inclusive of gender non-conforming people?

A: I think we need to stop gendering clothing and products all together. Thats a great start. I never could understand why it was necessary to have only “boys” and “girls” sections. Oftentimes society doesn’t understand that it’s limiting … altogether. Another way society could be more inclusive to gender non-conforming people is that platforms, both mainstream and those actively trying to give a voice to gender non-conforming folks, should allow more diversity to exist in their representations. Especially when it comes to representing people of color, religious minorities, etc. because gender non-conforming people come from all backgrounds and experiences! And most importantly, gendering of bathrooms! I don’t get it! I think making our public spaces a little bit more inclusive would be an excellent start all together.

Lee Chumack/Ôchumuk

Age: 27

Preferred Pronouns: They/Them/Their

Lives in Boston, Mass.

Q: What does having a non-binary identity mean to you?

A: On the one hand, acknowledging and owning a non-binary identity means feeling complete. On the other hand, having a non-binary identity means invisibility and it also means anxiety about people’s opinions of that identity. I think in the popular trans narrative, non-binary identities aren’t part of that conversation. Everyone else wants trans people to follow the binary.  However, lots of trans people don’t exist in that binary. We never have, even if some of us pretended to for awhile. That’s uncomfortable to some people, so having this identity and openly speaking about it with everyone I know can be hard for me. It’s hard because I don’t want to make them uncomfortable but it’s so much more painful to hide my true self from them.

Q: What is one common misconception about non-binary people that you’d like to dispel?

A: I notice that people often try to neatly fit me into a label or box. I am not a square. My lines are not neat, and neither are the lines of the people who are trying to squeeze me in there. I’m guilty of trying to fit myself into a box too! I think we should all [be] allowed to be fluid. Claiming identities can be so freeing and yet adhering to those identities without fluidity is extremely limiting.

Q: How can society be more inclusive of gender non-conforming people?

A: Love, compassion, and embracing fear. Whether you’ve known them for a long time or you’ve just met them, loving someone means trust and vulnerability, and that’s a very scary thing. In order to love someone you have to embrace fear, and it’s harder to embrace something you’re not familiar with.  Remember that a group of people are made of individuals, and we each have things in our lives that we worry about. I worry about my loved ones, and I worry about whether or not I’ll make friends at that party or whether or not I’ll be able to pay that bill on time. I also worry about whether people will be violent towards me because they can’t embrace fear and deal with our differences.

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Kimm Topping

Age: 23

Preferred Pronouns: They/Them/Their

Lives in Cambridge, Mass.

Q: What does having a non-binary identity mean to you?

A: I identify as genderfluid. For me, that means that I experience and express my gender in many different ways. It’s both an internal sense of myself and also what I show the world.

Q: What is one common misconception about non-binary people that you’d like to dispel?

A: That they have to look or act a certain way. People read me as feminine, or as a woman, one-hundred percent of the time. Outward appearance doesn’t always match up with people’s expectations of gender expression. Gender is much more complicated than that, and I’d want to dispel the idea that we can read a person’s gender identity by looking at them.

Q: How can society be more inclusive of gender non-conforming people?

A: Society can be more inclusive of gender non-conforming people by first accepting the many expressions and experiences of gender. Gender is a personal experience, and shouldn’t be monitored or judged by others. Larger social policies, like public accommodations, gender neutral restrooms, and access to health care are slowly gaining more attention and allowing for greater freedoms. Individual acts, like using gender inclusive language and respecting folks’ pronouns, can also create a safer, more inclusive environment for gender non-conforming folks.

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Mattia Maurée

Age: 28

Preferred Pronouns: They/Them/Their

Lives in Somerville, Mass.

Q: What does having a non-binary identity mean to you?

A: It means that I’ve never quite fit into the “male” or “female” binary buckets, and when I learned there was another set of options I said “yes, this is it! This is me.” It means that when people recognized that, and when they use my pronouns, I feel more accepted and seen than I have in a long time.

Q: What is one common misconception about non-binary people that you’d like to dispel?

A: That gender and presentation are the same, that all femininity is female, and that only thin, white masculinity is androgynous. Any body type, any presentation, any color can be androgynous. And there are non-binary femmes!

Q: How can society be more inclusive of gender non-conforming people?

A: Start moving away from binary language (“ladies and gentlemen”), gendered bathrooms, gendered ways of talking about bodies/periods/birth/genitalia. Stop forcing gender on kids. Think about the way your language sounds to someone who is not included in it. Get our pronouns right!

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Jamie Bartholomay

Age: 29

Preferred Pronouns: They/Them/Their

Lives in Quincy, Mass.

Q: What does having a non-binary identity mean to you?

A: Having a non-binary identity, to me, is just the way things have always been. I remember thinking, as a kid, that it was so interesting (and a little bit confusing) how most people performed gender in such specific, binary ways. Until I started exploring things for myself, it never occurred to me that anyone would actually, strongly identify as male or female. I always assumed that everyone struggled to conform just as much as I did, but they were just more successful at it than me.

Q: What is one common misconception about non-binary people that you’d like to dispel?

A: That non-binary people always have a non-binary (or androgynous) appearance. Shout out to the non-androgynous non-binary folks—I know you’re out there. That if a non-binary person were in the room, they would have made themselves known. It’s a strange feeling to be non-binary in a space where everyone continues to talk about non-binary people in hypothetical terms.

Q: How can society be more inclusive of gender non-conforming people?

A: By relaxing expectations and requirements surrounding gender. Gender non-conformity is really a response to the societal pressure towards gender conformity. (If there was no pressure to conform, we wouldn’t need the category of “non-conforming.”) To become more inclusive, all anyone (or any group) really has to do is loosen their rigid hold on the binary. Sometimes people are not what you expect, and that’s okay! Oh, and for crying out loud, stop arguing about proper grammar and use of the singular “they.” It’s allowed. Plus, you already use it and understand it!

Missed part 1 of this series? Check it out here.

[This photo project was originally published on The Rainbow Times’ Nov. 3, 2016 issue.]