#non binarity
3 September 2008

I am androgynous and pansexual, but how do I communicate that to people?

Not to long ago I discovered that I was androgynous which was honestly the happiest day of my life. I’ve never felt so good to understand who I am. I’m also pansexual. But not a lot of people are familiar with these terms.
A lot of people seem to blindly say things against who I am. I don’t blame them for not knowing about androygnous but I do still hurt when they use words like daugther or girls or boys. I mean why must I choose a side?
I just don’t know how to get people to understand exactly what I mean. It’s so hard to explain to them why I’m androygnous. I mean I didn’t choose to be it I just chose to accept it and now I must try and and live with it and get by with all these questions like “please check male or female for your gender” I mean what do I pick? I’m reminded every time I sign up for something or even when I’m shopping in both “men” and “women” sides of the store.
I don’t know what to do anymore? How do I make this huge part of me known?!

Kay Wo

Hello again Mickey,

It’s so wonderful to hear that you’ve had such a big breakthrough concerning your understanding of who you are. You’ve discovered labels recognised by society that you are comfortable enough to identify with.

Now that you have made this discovery, you seem to have come across new problems regarding your identity in your day-to-day life. It looks as though two main problems have surfaced that both seem to stem from the same source: the lack of recognition our society has for androgynous people. Firstly, there’s the fact that a lot of people you interact with are not familiar with terms such as androgyny / non-binarity and pansexuality and that the assumptions that most of them make about your gender (using terms like son or daughter) can be irksome, if not hurtful. Secondly, it seems that you are often reminded that society does not really recognise androgynous people and this also leads to more frustration. Let’s discuss both problems one by one.

When considering the first problem, it’s important to take a moment to discuss the society we live in. One of the great things about living in Canada is that the culture here is very diverse and is made up of many different cultures and communities. Compared to other countries in the world, Canadians are generally quite accepting of diversity such as with language, race, religion, sexuality etc… and many pride themselves in being able to live in harmony with so many different kinds of people. However, acceptance can only be achieved when there is recognition of difference. To illustrate this point, take this example: many people of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer) community can probably remember at some point in their lives when they were offended by a homophobic remark said by a friend who was unaware of their sexual orientation. Chances are that this friend simply didn’t know any queer people and said the comment without thinking that they could have been hurting anyone, let alone their friend. This sort of thing probably happens to you all the time, like when people use language that imply limiting categories, like saying girl or boy instead of kid/child. Most people do this just because they do not know that other genders exist other than male or female; they are ignorant of the difference so they make the assumption that gender is binary.

In order to try and stop people from making this assumption, one of the things you can do is speak up! Even if it seems like a giant pain to have to explain what androgyny and pansexuality is to people, that’s the only way the ignorance can be dispelled. The things you said in your posting about how being androgynous isn’t a choice and that it was something you accepted is a great start. Of course you don’t have to explain it to every single person you see on the street, but try to make sure that the people you interact with most frequently know that you don’t like it when they use gender categorising terms like he and she, him and her, or daughter and son. Ask them to call you by your name or to use pronouns that you are comfortable with (some common ones are “zie” and “hir” or singular “they”). Be specific about what you like and dislike and try to define yourself to the best of your ability so that the other person can better understand you. Without spreading awareness, society will keep assuming that only male and female genders exist. However, you have to be careful about trying to explain yourself to everyone in your entourage, even distant acquaintances. Some individuals might be not as accepting as you expect them to be and could react negatively, thereby hurting you unnecessarily. You should start by explaining yourself to those closest to you first and start from there, so that you always have a support network.

All this ties into the second problem as well. It can be really annoying and upsetting when you are constantly reminded that the person you are doesn’t fit in with the general society. This, unfortunately, is something that you might have to continue dealing with until a change can be made by the people like you that make up our society. Take, for example, the gay and lesbian communities. Before you were born, most people did not accept homosexuality. It was taboo, unaccepted and people were ostracised if they identified with “them”. It wasn’t until people started coming out and became open about their sexuality in great numbers did society slowly begin to change. Now homosexuality it is part of our mainstream culture; we have shows and movies like Will and Grace, Queer as Folk, the L Word, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Brokeback Mountain, etc… that are viewed by everyone, not just homosexuals, as well very as well known and celebrated gay icons such as Ellen DeGeneres and Elton John. Some other signs of progress: gender neutral bathrooms in Canada and the U.S. So when you are subjected to choosing male or female as your gender or when you have to shop in different sections for your clothes, remember that things are slowly progressing; it will just take time and patience for society to recognise and accommodate all the different types of people that make up the whole.

The bottom line is that if you want people to change and respect the person you are, you have to show them how. It is so wonderful to hear that you are not afraid of being the person you are, so if you feel ready for this, share your experiences with others, spread awareness and understanding to the ones around you. Seek others that also identify as androgynous so that you can rant about your experiences together (i.e. “Which public restroom do I choose?!”).

hanging the way society views certain things takes time and it all depends on minority populations voicing their needs. Hopefully this will help you on your journey to proclaim who you are and that you can fight through the frustrations of everyday life with the assurance that change is at hand. Good luck and thanks for writing to us again with your questions. Feel free to write again if you have more questions or if you want to share anything else!

K-Wo, for AlterHéros