Dear Cis People,
As a cis person, you may have heard the term, but you may not be sure what it means. So, let’s start there. Cis is short for cisgender. It relates, per one dictionary, to a person whose self-identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to the standard* interpretation of their biological sex. So, if you have a vagina and think of yourself as a woman, you’re cis. If you have a penis and think of yourself as a man, you’re cis. If you have a vagina and don’t feel very strongly about identifying as a woman, you may be on the nonbinary palette.
I use the term palette instead of spectrum—the word frequently used to describe gender diversity—because it further illuminates the non-binary ("Binary" means "involving two things," for example, female and male.). Because, you see, there’s not a neat little slider you can move left or right until you settle on exactly where your gender is positioned right in between two other perfectly definable gradations. Palette of colors is such a useful concept because a palette contains the ingredients that can create infinite variety. A little bit of blue with red and black mixes to a beautiful shade of plum for one person, a dab of vermilion with yellow and white become luminous apricot for someone else. Whether apricot or plum, or another color, what all gender-nonconforming people have in common is that they don’t identify as standardized, unchanging, and uniform colors like, say, blue for the female gender and green for the male gender.
Even if you would, upon consideration, not think of yourself as solidly blue or green, chances are you haven’t given much thought to whether your gender is female or something else. Why would you? Vagina equals woman; penis, man. It’s self-evident. Well, it only needs no further proof if everyone shares the lived experience of that truth. Not everyone does. Some human beings don’t feel like women or like men. To them, the gender roles, as set forth by society, are restrictive and painful. To us—as I am part of that wide-ranging palette—these roles feel, at best, like a bad fit, at worst like a destructive lie the telling of which would hollow us out, estrange us from ourselves until we feel like aliens who cannot get comfortable portraying gender roles that are, strangely, tied to our genitalia.
To get back to the idea that you may not think very much about your gender identity. Imagine for a moment that you would introduce yourself by saying, Hi, my name is Becky and I’m not a woman. How would that feel? Utterly false, right? (If not, then grab a palette and start mixing your own special hue.) That’s how it feels for a nonbinary person who tries to present themselves as one of the binary genders. Blue or green? Both feel utterly false.
I hope this gives you a little insight into the gender-nonbinary and how exciting it is! Imagine that all your life you’ve thought of yourself as simply blue. But now, with the realization that gender is as diverse as a limitless palette, you might realize you’d like a dab of green with your blue for a beautiful teal, or a dollop of blue and lots of white for a bright turquoise to make that perfect shade of you. What freedom! What color! On the other hand, if you’re perfect as blue, I say, 'Right on! You do you.’
For now, that’s as much as I want to say about the nonbinary which is a term in itself, as well as a descriptor for gender diversity (more than two genders). Here's why. Because I want to get to something really important: How you can successfully navigate a world in which gender is no longer presented as purely binary. When you find yourself around nonbinary folks and in nonbinary spaces...
* I chose the word "standard," because the definition of "biological sex" varies among the groups who seek to define what it is.