Karen Yates interviews Logan Pierce, program coordinator of TransMentor, the mentorship program for trans youth at Chicago’s Lurie Children’s Hospital.
This is part of the podcast’s ongoing “What’s Up with That?” segment about words in the sexual lexicon that can be confusing.
Karen Yates: Logan, let’s chat about the word “nonbinary.” What’s up with that?
Logan Pierce: This is a great term that we’re seeing more and more in media and TV shows, the internet, maybe in the classroom. I’ve got tons of friends that identify as nonbinary. Let me just say that nonbinary folks, people that identify as nonbinary, have been around since the beginning of time. This is a term that we can typically see under the transgender umbrella.
Last time I was on, we talked about “transgender” being an umbrella word. Well, nonbinary is under that word. I think the simplest definition I could give for nonbinary is, sometimes folks can see being a man or woman on sort of a scale. And so, someone can see that scale and say, “Oh, I fall somewhere maybe closer to the man side, maybe I fall somewhere in the middle, wherever that might be.” That is someone that could identify as nonbinary. Or it could be someone that sees that scale and goes, “I see your scale, and I’m working over here, totally off that scale. I am a human, I don’t identify as a man, I do not identify as a woman. I am just a person.” Nonbinary.
KY: So within yourself, if you don’t feel like you are a man or a woman, you feel completely separate from those identities — would that be nonbinary?
LP: That’s one way that someone could identify as nonbinary. There are other people that feel like they may be leaning more towards one gender over another. “Binary” being that binary of man and woman. So maybe they feel that they are closer to one or another, or maybe not at all. And it’s going to be up to that individual person to describe how they feel.
KY: Do you feel sometimes it’s a political statement? Or does it always occur in your mind, in your experience, as a deeply felt sense?
LP: Can I say both? Because I think it very much is a deeply felt sense of self, that you are going to be the expert on yourself. And I can’t tell you who you are. I think anything that we do that is beyond a binary, beyond our social norms that we were taught, is going to be a political action as well. So while it is your deeply felt sense of self, even existing in the world that we live in is going to be political. Absolutely.
KY: Is it the rule that most nonbinary people like to use the pronouns they/them?
LP: It’s definitely based on the individual person. A lot of folks that identify as nonbinary will use they/them/their pronouns. But there are so many. We could even do another show on pronouns. There’s so many pronouns out there. But someone can still identify as nonbinary and maybe they say, “she/her/hers feels good to me right now, because of where I am in my life,” and their own personal reasons. It’s just whatever feels good for you.
KY: Is it a fluid decision? I have one friend who does change pronouns based on how they’re feeling, or phases that they’re in. Can you talk about that a little bit?
LP: I think it’s kind of like what you said: it’s up to that individual person. I know people that identify as cisgender (and so they align with what the doctor assigned them at birth), but they say, “You know what? Pronouns? I’ll use them all. Because none of them feel bad to me, and it’s 2020, language is ever-evolving!”
We’re always changing and evolving. I’m not the same person I was yesterday, I’m definitely not the same person I was five years ago, and I’m not going to be the same person tomorrow.
KY: For some people who are cisgender, who don’t question their cisgender-ness and who are moving through the world, trying to make sense of nonbinary is the most mysterious.
LP: It’s something that trips people up. And people are like, “Why can’t you choose one or the other?” And I think growing up in this society, and in the world in fact, we’ve been told there are two boxes. And there’s not just two boxes for anything. We’re seeing this term more and more, and we’re seeing more people identify as nonbinary, and we’re putting language to feelings. That’s all that is.
As we teach in our classroom settings, with our parents, and outside organizations, we have this really beautiful quote, by the poet Adrienne Rich:
“When someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you were looking in a mirror and saw nothing.”
How am I supposed to know that I exist in the world if we never talk about nonbinary people, or transgender people? And you know, the first time myself, I heard the term “transgender” was in college.
KY: Wow, and you’re pretty young. What are some key points about being nonbinary that we might not have covered yet?
LP: That’s a great question. I myself am not nonbinary. I don’t identify as nonbinary. But I would just say, we want that person to come out when they feel comfortable — if they ever want to come out — and we want to respect their name and pronouns. And if we make a mistake, we have four easy steps: 1. apologize, 2. correct yourself, 3. move on, and 4. practice.
Header photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash