Imagine you’re searching for a bathroom. You turn down a hallway and survey the options: Men and Women. That’s it. But what if you don’t identify with either gender? What are your options then?
A recent Washington Post article titled “When No Gender Fits: A Quest to Be Seen as Just a Person” explores the life of Kelsey Beckham, an 18-year-old who identifies as neither male nor female, and their experiences of binary gender options (from clothing options to OKCupid profiles), coming out to their mom and her friends, and going on their first date with another non-binary individual. The article gives a unique voice to an underrepresented but very important group.
But what is the definition of a non-binary/agender person? According to Genderqueerid.com, agender is defined as “not identifying with any gender, the feeling of having no gender.” It is the identity that individuals choose when neither the male label nor the female label feels comfortable (for more info on essentialist labeling and why it sucks, check out SpongebobBloggerpants’ post from a few weeks ago). Kelsey themself explains it best:
“I don’t want to be a girl wearing boy’s clothes, nor do I want to be a girl who presents as a boy,” Kelsey wrote. “I just want to be a person who is recognized as a person. That’s how I’m most comfortable. I’m just a person wearing people clothes, who likes to look like myself and have others see me how I see me.”
This article does an excellent job detailing Kelsey’s life experiences in a very nonjudgmental and informative way. Kelsey describes that identifying as agender “is like living on an island apart from the rest of the world.” Kelsey views the people in their life in terms of how close they are to the island. If the experiences of non-binary/agender individuals were considered an island, this article is a huge step towards the island for society. By highlighting Kelsey’s experience, The Washington Post opens up dialogue for other non-binary/agenders to share their stories and allows for further understanding by those that do identify with a gender.
This shift in acceptance of gender neutral individuals can be seen right here at JMU. Currently, JMU has 46 gender neutral bathrooms, a Harassment Reporter where students can submit reports of harassment on campus, and Safe Zone, an organization made up of faculty and students that work to provide a “safe and open environment” for all students (particularly those that identify as LGBTQ). These resources mark real progress with regards to gender identity; while we still have miles to go, they show signs of real gender acceptance. I hope to one day live in a world where people like Kelsey will be seen as just that: people. I hope they can turn down any hallway and find restrooms that read: Male, Female, and Neutral.