by Hawwa Ibrahim
Art by Sarah Ahmed
“Non-Binary”. This hyphenated word has been surfacing around the mainstream media seemingly all of the sudden. It is a word that can mean something to you and something completely different to someone else. But hold on! Contrary to popular belief, the word didn’t just fall out of the sky. It is something that has been around since the beginning of time just like being straight, gay, lesbian, or anything else. And while at this point in time, it does seem like it’s becoming more and more popular, we have to thank society’s obsession with labels for that. However, even though labels don’t always do justice, in the case of gender identity and self-expression, it has helped many people find the words that closely describe how they‘re feeling. When it comes to the label “non-binary”, we have finally succeeded in pinpointing the emotions that so many people have been identifying with over the years. I will say, if it weren’t for the recent discussion around it, I would still be lost in my own thoughts of who I am and how to identify myself.
Let’s take a couple of steps back and delve into what the meaning of being “non-binary” really. As stated before, being a non-binary person can mean something different to everyone and just like with everything else in life, there are always exceptions to it. But the umbrella term of being non-binary usually comes with identifying yourself by using they/them pronouns and not characterizing yourself as male or female, but a mix of both or, in some cases, neither. Even though the umbrella term stands with a lot of people within the community, especially myself, there are numerous exceptions to how a non-binary person may identify themselves. On the other spectrum, some people are convinced that genders are to stay exclusively within the male or female and the idea that there are more than two is just non-existent to them. But even with the rise of more people coming out as non-binary, some people have come to believe that it’s a type of fad that will just disappear within a few years once the next big thing comes along. The whole confusion around it, as well as the continuous urge for people to want to be able to take one look at you and determine who you are just by your appearance, is the direct result of people who are refusing to accept things for what they really are. Even though the world is becoming more progressive, this is still something that constantly happens on a day-to-day basis and needs to stop immediately. What is all comes down to is how you feel in the inside and with regards to gender, the labels bring us a sort of security in knowing that we’re not alone and our feelings aren’t wrong.
When it comes to my personal experience with being non-binary, I have found that the easiest way is to just live life in the most comfortable and self-fulfilling way you know how. To this day, it’s hard for non-binary people to express themselves without generating a large amount of confusion with it, so just flaunt whatever you want. Most of society is finally grasping that just because you look a certain way, doesn’t mean you have to be boxed into a certain category. Growing up, I can assure you that I knew nothing about gender identity. Hell, for the longest time, I didn’t even know what it meant to be gay or a lesbian unless it was an offensive joke made by an equally confused third grader. My upbringing consisted of living in a semi-liberal Muslim household with my mother and siblings. For almost all of my life, I lived in a small town in Minnesota. Any talk about the social construct that is gender was swept aside. You’re born what you’re born and while that’s true for the most part, we stop before we get to the part where if you’re uncomfortable, you can change it. Getting older and digging deeper into social media and different communities while I was a junior in high school was when I started to understand more, but even back then, which was only about three years ago, there was still barely any talk about what it means to be non-binary.
The fact that my religion was also a huge factor into my lack of self-acceptance as well made me realize that when I come to terms with myself, only I know how my religion affects me and what my religion means to me and the others within it have no place to judge. While it’s easy for me to say now, it wasn’t that way at first. It took me coming to New York City and creating a whole new life that provided me with constant enlightenment to realize that I’m not the one in the wrong. I’ve been blessed to learn and on top of that, the mainstream media’s consistency with representing non-binary people has assisted as well.
However, just because I have come to term with who I am, it doesn’t mean everyone around me does and will. Just like the other half of society, my family is still confused on the matter and get the meaning of gender identity and sexuality mixed up. Believe it or not, my mother is still convinced that being non-binary means I’m attracted to cisgender females, and while that’s a whole different story on its own, I can somewhat see that she’s starting to come to terms with everything and trying her hardest to understand it which means a lot coming from her religion beliefs. But with others who aren’t so lucky, it seems that the key to acceptance, I believe, is to continue to inform people and if they obtain it, that’s admirable, but if they don’t, kick ‘em to the curb.
Gender has and always will be a complex thing and most of the time is extremely confusing to everyone. What makes sense to one person may not make sense to the next. However, the simplest solution to the problems involving gender is to just open your eyes and ears and try to understand other people’s experiences about things that are foreign to you. It’s only been about three months since I had the courage to admit who I am and how I identify myself. It helped that I found such inspirational people in New York City that helped me break out of my shell in order to understand people around me and eventually myself. Surround yourself with positivity and supportive people and eventually, you’ll have the courage too. Keep up with the push to educate people. And for those who didn’t know; the key to avoiding any awkward run-ins with anyone who is non-binary is to simply ask them what their pronouns are. Please and thank you.
Meet the Writer:
Hawwaa Ibrahim is a Fashion Designer, Blogger, and an activist all based in NYC.