You may not be aware of this, but nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people basically run fashion. We sashay down the runways, exist as living art in galleries and sparkle up salons. I love how the world is bearing witness to the world of gender fluidity. That said, it’s a lot to live up to. How can anyone be expected to sparkle all the time? We can’t all be Jonathan Van Ness.
The truth is that nonbinary people — people who don’t identify as male or female — are everywhere, just going to work and walking our dogs and trying to find pants that fit. But you never see gender-nonconforming people on TV looking basic — we always look like we go from fancy brunch to the Met Gala and back again. It’s a lot of pressure and, honestly, sometimes I just want to be basic. I want to wear yoga pants and watch reality TV while sipping something pumpkin-spiced. And I want to see people like me doing totally mundane things. It doesn’t seem like a lot to ask to be able to be recognized for who I am — aka not ma’am — even if I’m just wearing sweatpants for a mid-week Target run.
Yes, I am part of (several) queer subcultures, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not also part of mainstream culture. Still, since there’s no established role for people who don’t identify as male or female, we’re forced into the role of quirky outliers. It feels like a trick. If I play into the role of sparkly, flamboyant queer fairy, then my gender fluidity feels more accepted in the world. But I also run the risk of overplaying the gay card and then I’m accused of throwing my “lifestyle” around. It feels like a social game that I can’t win.
Since there’s no established role for people who don’t identify as male or female, we’re forced into the role of quirky outliers. It feels like a trick.
Take, for example, the aforementioned Target run. First of all, when I go to Target, there’s no section of clothes for me. I have to wander back and forth between the men’s and women’s sections in an attempt to piece together something that both fits and also feels authentic to who I am. The one month of the year that Target carries clothes made for gender-nonconforming folks — Pride month — they’re all covered in rainbows and slogans advertising queerness. If the only unisex clothing option is tie-dyed and covered in glitter, then I’ll take it. But then I have to deal with the (sometimes violent) consequences.
You don’t have to look very far to see an example of what I’m describing. Look how the whole Target Pride collection debacle played out this year. The designer of Target’s now infamous — but relatively innocuous — Pride merchandise even reported that he received death threats over the collection. And now that that merchandise has been removed from stores, not only are there zero clothing choices designed with nonbinary people in mind at one of the biggest retailers in the country, but I can’t even shop at Target without feeling like a traitor. Who wants to support a company that caved to homophobic extremism? Not I.
If I’m being honest, I’m not actually that basic. I’m constantly changing my hair color and I have a million tattoos and my style tends towards power-clashing and bolo ties. But my personal style is not the point. Or if it is, the point is that my personal style is likely the result of having been forced to the margins for my entire life and adjusting accordingly. Maybe if there was literally anywhere for me to buy khaki pants I would really like khaki.
Of course, I can’t know how any hypothetical cultural changes may have affected me, but what I do know is that opting for traditional clothing options when I’m in mixed company — aka not just queer people — makes me feel invisible, like my gender doesn’t exist. Glitter has somehow become the queer neutral and while I’m personally a fan, I also don’t really feel like I should have to perform my sparkle.
Nonbinary people don’t, after all, emerge from our beds perfectly put together. I spend half the morning in my bathrobe, most of my work day is spent in a totally basic button-down and I spend my evenings binge-watching reality TV in a hoodie — just like the rest of America. In other words, I do not wake up with glitter oozing from my pores any more than traditionally feminine-presenting women wake up with makeup on.
Maybe if there were more mundane cultural representations of nonbinary folks, people would start to evolve the way they see us. While I am super proud of all the fabulous celebrities making waves on the red carpet with the gender-bending fashion, we also need some more accessible nonbinary role models. Where is the gender-fluid equivalent to Meg Ryan? Come out, come out, wherever you are. We’re ready for our pumpkin-spiced nonbinary rom-com.
I can’t be the only one aching for Mae Martin as a wide-eyed but straightlaced barrister to fall head over heels with Janelle Monae in a manic pixie meet-cute. Think “Garden State” but make it queer romance.
We need some more accessible nonbinary role models. Where is the gender-fluid equivalent to Meg Ryan? ... We’re ready for our pumpkin-spiced nonbinary rom-com.
Yes, awareness of gender fluidity is increasing, but I see it as increasing in a specifically showy way. And even though I am, like I said, actually a bit flamboyant, I want more for us. I cannot speak for all nonbinary people, but the way I experience my gender resists categorization, so the idea of creating new stereotypes for nonbinary people seems counterproductive and limiting. Nonbinary people are just people. Some of us love sparkly things and some of us love beige.
Well, maybe not beige — because ew, but definitely mauve.
Perhaps if curiosity and acceptance were normalized in our culture, we wouldn’t have to work so hard to be seen, recognized and accepted. According to the Pew Research Center, about 5% of young adults in America identify as nonbinary. That is a lot of people to relegate to the sidelines of culture.
Surely we all deserve more choices than pink, blue and rainbow.