Contributing Author: Jo Ferraro
Published: September 8, 2016
In a flash of pixelated swords and fireballs, I realized I was nonbinary through the video games of my youth.
Because of cultural obstacles, my realization didn’t come quickly or naturally. Our culture adheres to the gender binary – that is, the idea that there are only two gender identities: male and female. Gender is generally far more complicated, however. A nonbinary person feels like neither gender, both genders, some combination of the two, or fluid. Gender fluidity refers to the idea that a person’s gender is dynamic, and can change depending on various factors, like the people they are around.
Of course, I couldn’t put any of this into words as a child; back then, I usually described myself as an alien (a common thread for young people who eventually identify as NB). I disliked games that forced me to play as a male protagonist because I usually didn’t feel connected to them at all. It went beyond aesthetic disconnection for me. There was an emotional disconnect to the idea of “maleness” these games usually pushed. As the player, the character we’re representing onscreen should theoretically be the character we want to succeed, to beat the game with.
I usually gravitated towards games where I could play as a woman or androgynous person. For a shy, introverted child, interactive media and books provide comfort and sanctity; without them, I would’ve had no outlet for my identity.
Though nonbinary is my identity, I, like many other NB – or “enbys” – lean in one direction. My pronouns are usually gender neutral but I am comfortable with feminine identifiers, as well.
We’re a diverse bunch, and like most folks in the LGBTQ+ community, we appreciate it when people ask what our pronouns are.
Don’t be afraid to ask!
A lot of us recognize how difficult it can be to adapt to new norms, particularly neutral pronoun usage directed towards specific people. Except it’s not particularly “new” so much as more prominent. Indeed, the singular “they” has been commonly used since Chaucer’s time!
We often levy “they” or “their” to curse out the unknown driver who cut us off this morning, or when a person leaves their phone behind. Even The Washington Post adopted a formal, staff policy in 2015 for utilizing gender neutral language.
Despite some controversy – if you’ve ever visited Tumblr, you’ll see numerous blog posts postulating the problematic but complicated idea that nonbinary people say they are nonbinary so they can “opt out” of gendered privilege – many societies both current and in antiquity have a rich history of embracing nonbinary identities: First Nations tribes, India, Mesopotamia, the Incas, and more.
Nonbinary lives are not a recent invention.
The websites Tumblr and Reddit both host a large, informative enby community, but for those seeking more face-to-face connections, I’ll be facilitating a nonbinary support & discussion group every second Monday of the month at Triangle Community Center. Our first meeting is next Monday at 7:30 PM.
All are welcome to attend.