Beauty isn’t Binary: My Self-Image as a Non-Binary Individual

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Falling into the non-binary spectrum brought so many previously unclear moments into focus, and solidified thoughts I have about my own gender expression, today. Much like when I realized I was gay, it felt like a joining of puzzle pieces I could never quite describe until they came together. It felt correct. So correct, in fact, that I felt that surge of euphoria when I felt them slide together.

What’s been far less satisfying is how it intensified my need to feel desirable.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the way I express myself. I still present fairly masculine, though I’ve taken such a liking to makeup, and been having fun with its beauty-enhancing aspects every time I try it. I’ve been more comfortable leaning into slightly more feminine mannerisms, and being outspoken about how little I identify with masculinity.

I so rarely feel like I have to hide my less masculine expressions, a combination of a desire to break down constructs of gender, and a bit of a brazen disdain for anyone who would scoff at a male-presenting person wearing any amount of makeup (it also helps that the area I live in is fairly pro-queer). I’m comfortable with who I am, and how I present, and I’ve never felt the need to dial that down for anyone.

No matter how comfortable I am with my presentation as a non-binary person, it rarely translates into the feeling that I am desirable.

I know I have a lot of feelings of self-worth and self-image to work on, but how it relates to my non-binary identity feels so much different, so removed from the rest of my feelings about myself. Feeling so distant from masculinity, but not really being feminine, puts me in this position of wondering who exactly I would be desirable to.

The world is stubborn in its rigidity, that in far too many situations, it can’t even handle the fact that there are people out there who are attracted to men and women. It created so many concepts that are “one or the other, no in between.” So where does that put me, who doesn’t feel like a man or a woman?

It’s so hard when the spoken message is “express yourself, and be who you want to be,” but the implied message among my dating pool (typically, but not limited to, cis gay men) is “masculine, bearded, rugged, and all things manly will always be superior to everything else.”

Getting anywhere close to identifying myself as masculine makes me cringe, and couldn’t feel any more incorrect. Growing out my facial hair more than two days feels so uncomfortable, not just because it’s itchy, but because it just doesn’t feel right on me because of the dysphoria it triggers a lot of dysphoria. No matter how many men imply that they would prefer how I look with on, it doesn’t feel correct. I’m just not traditionally manly, and in a community where the dominating message, even among gay men who don’t outright admit that masculinity is always more desirable, I will always feel like I’m a puzzle piece that ended up in the wrong box.

It’s the strangest feeling of push and pull, because the more I express myself in ways that feel genuinely me, wholly removed from any expectations of gender, the more I feel the desire to be perceived as desirable tugging at me, sometimes so hard that I can’t regain my balance.

It’s always so baffling. It never makes a shred of sense, because in my head, I am absolutely sure of who I am. I am confident in it, unshakably so, but all it takes is seeing a guy I’m interested in admire someone who looks like the epitome of masculinity to shove me right off my feet, again. It doesn’t always, but it’ll unearth thoughts like “they only want someone that looks traditionally masculine” and “they’re going to think being non-binary isn’t ‘male’ enough” and my absolute favorite, “no one is going to want you for being non-binary.”

While I realize, even in the moment, that these thoughts stem from past experiences, as well as anxiety and depression, it doesn’t make combating them any easier.

When I’m able to, I sometimes have to grab that anxiety and depression by the ears and remind them just how much of a construct gender is, just how much society formed the idea of “man” and “woman” based on our genitals with no other possible option for how we may feel about our own identities. I have to catch the spiraling emotions by telling myself that attraction is far too complex to say that every man/male-presenting person I’m interested in would shy away from the words “I’m non-binary.” I have to breathe in thoughts that I deserve to feel beautiful, and exhale feelings of being absolutely abhorrent to anyone who catches my eye.

Even on the best of days, I catch myself just wanting to feel beautiful. I want to be that male-presenting person with mascara and painted nails in the bar who catches the eye of the guy across the way. I want people to look at me and be attracted, not because I appear to be “masculine” or “manly,” but simply because they find me attractive. I want to feel desirable because I am desirable, because my newly-realized gender identity doesn’t change the fact that I have always had this body and this face, which I have had to remind myself every day is perfectly attractive to more than enough people. I want to feel desirable because feeling so, exactly as the person you are, is both magical and empowering.

As a matter of fact, being non-binary is both magical and empowering even though the feelings tend to come and go quite often. The world doesn’t handle things outside of a binary very well, so more often than not, it feels like we’re in a box on the sidelines, trying desperately to manufacture feelings of desirability. Sometimes the people of the binary world come by our little box and say that we’re pretty, and it gives us this boost of hope, like this might be our ticket to desirability, and we hold onto that hope until it fades away while we watch the binary people go back to their binary lives and live in binary beauty.

And it’s not that the binary people don’t mean what they say, because I’m sure they do, but it’s feeling so different, that we cannot possibly exist in the same realm. The world wasn’t built to see beauty in feeling like you’re not wholly male nor female, and sometimes, it creates the feeling like we’re in these boxes to be observed, and not invited into the world to feel desired.

I just want to feel desirable. I just want to go one day as a non-binary person where I feel like I am desirable in every aspect of my identity. I realize that this feeling starts with me, but that doesn’t mean I’ll stop wanting others to see the desirability in me, too.

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