Navigating A Binary Society As A Non-Binary Person

The thing with being non-binary is -offline at least – you’re still living in a binary world. Stuck in a binary society.

A kid in a pink jacket and an adult in a blue t-shirt standing in front of some trees

I’m not binary. Most of the time I am a genderless blob made up mostly of tea and anxiety. 

Modern society is not made for people like me, for kids like Snappy. For the past 100 years and longer, white western society has been forced into a very binary way of thinking. It’s not made for non-binary people anymore and once you add in other factors, illness, disability, weight, parenting, it’s even harder to navigate.

Being queer is to come out over and over. Coming out once is a bit of a myth, society is heteronormative and cisnormative. The assumption is cishet as the default. White as the default. Male as the default. Healthy, thin, working, they’re the defaults. Being anything other than that is to move around the world in a different way.

I’m not always reminding people that I am not – a woman, a man, a mum, neurotypical, mentally, straight, a lesbian. Not because I am not constantly misgender, misrepresented, misnamed, mislabelled but because I am constantly mislabelled. It’s tiring. Day after day I do not have the energy, the words, the calm to remind people I am queer, non binary, bisexual, disabled, neurodivergent, a parent. To remind people I am Bow, not mum, Ren not Rhi, person not woman, that I see the world and move around it differently to cishet people. 

I give people a lot of slack than I should. I’m never sure if it’s because I’m too tired, too shy, too anxious or if I really don’t care. As I get older, I do start to care more but I ache more too. I’ve diabetes, I’m looking at an arthritis diagnosis, my mental health illnesses are life long. Plus some people I love and don’t care how they address me. It took my niece a year to start using Ren, but I’d already said to both her and my nephew they can still call me Aunty Rhi. My mum has dementia, my dad doesn’t know I actually changed my name. 

I navigate the world not necessarily how I want to but how I am able to. 

I feel this more keenly as a parent.
a toddler in a blue jumper and an adult in a black fleece and navy cap

Nothing is set up nonbinary parents. Things are barely set up for two mum families, two dad families, let alone a mum and a parent, a bow. And not only are you coming out as bisexual, queer, nonbinary, you’re coming out as something other than a mum or dad too. And then come the questions, and the forms.

I love forms, something about my brain means that if you give me a form and a pen I’m happy (except the visa form – that was 48 pages of anxiety). Except I end up having to cross bits out and add bits in. My title, my salutation, my role in the lives of my own children. And that’s not always possible with online forms – I’m actually down as “other family member” on the countys school register because the parent options are mum or dad. 

Groups are set up for mums, for dads, and where do I fit? The school is pretty good about addressing things to parents to be fair, but it isn’t always the case and Snappy’s nursery really struggled with me being Bow. 

Facebook posts are started “hey mums” or “hey mums and dads.” 

I get lumped in with whatever I’m perceived as on that particular day, people who’ve known me for years still address me as mum, even though I’ve not been mum since Snappy was about 6 months old. 

Even within the LGBTQ community, groups are set up for lesbian mums, entire business catering to the two mum family. It’s always “Something Something Mummies” and “but don’t worry we welcome all parents”…except the title is off-putting and doesn’t feel like a safe space or a welcome space in the first place. 

In a non-bio parent group, a post addressed us all as mums. Another as ladies. I’m neither, but still a non-bio parent. I still belong in the group as much as the mums.

I still belong here, in the world, in society, even if I don’t fit into it quite as neatly as some people would like, or some systems would like or, hell sometimes, even how neatly I would like.

I don’t fight every battle. I fight enough of them to know which ones to choose, which ones to avoid. I annoy plenty of people, but also am slowly learning to recognise both my physical and mental limitations. I can only bang my head against the brick wall so many times before getting a migraine and misgendered.

people crossing a road - the crossing has been coloured digitally in the nonbinary pride flag colours - yellow, white, purple and black

But I am committed to keep fighting. For me, for the kids, for every other trans and nonbinary person. I’m just trying to make it so that it’s not detrimental to my own health, my own relationships, my own space in this world. 

However, if that means I’m that nonbinary parant that pissed you off that time, I’m fine with that.

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