margins sept art 1Illustration by Valentina Quiñonez.

White, skinny, shorthaired, flat-chested: words that commonly come to mind when thinking of non-binary people. It seems to me that people who adhere to these traits have become the face of non-binary people as a whole. And while they are indeed a beautiful face to have, they don’t even begin to encompass the traits of the entire community.

That seems obvious—no single “face” can represent an entire population, no matter what group of people. Yet, when I tell my friends that I identify as non-binary, incredulous looks, “Really?”s , and a myriad of confusions I must clarify are among the reactions I receive. Even a few of my fellow non-binary friends have failed to acknowledge me as the same, as if they can forget my gender identity due to my appearance.

Looking at myself in the mirror: bulging, round, with big boobs and long hair, tan skin and hyper pigmentation all over my body, I feel nervous. I don’t fit into the general schema of non-binary, and this has caused people to treat me differently. Not only do my fellow non-binary friends tend to leave me out of conversations about gender, but they also ignore my stories and feelings. It’s like they don’t “believe” me or believe in me, and never did in the first place.

It stings. Knowing that they don’t see me as “one of them” because I don’t look like them. It used to make me second-guess my gender expression and myself. What if they’re right? I don’t look it, how can I be it? I spent nights obsessing about it, how I don’t look the part, and how what I did look like was not right and was, frankly, hideous.

It took patience to lift myself up from all that negativity a while ago. It takes patience; a deep breath, a roll of the eyes, to get over it today. I remind myself that breaking the binary includes not stereotyping a certain look. Just because I don’t match the presumed appearance of a non-binary person, doesn’t mean I’m not one.

My gender expression does not invalidate my gender identity—I’ve told this to myself and I’d like to tell others who might be going through this too. Gender identity is within you, and gender expression is what people see. The two can be completely separate or deeply related. My gender identity is not defined by the way I choose to dress, walk, and look. Those are decisions that are up to me and do not correlate with my identity in any way. The same goes for you (regardless of how you identify).

We often get involved in the push and pull of society’s expectations of us, doubting ourselves for not being the way everyone anticipates for us. We question who we are based upon what society thinks of how we look, and it’s a messed up bunch of questions to have to ask ourselves.

The idea of fitting in is ingrained into our minds and it’s hard to move away from. It’s hard to look for acceptance, within your own community and out of it, and be denied it due to your appearance. To my fellow non-binary friends who may be going through the same situation, I’d like to remind you to hold your head high and remember that if you don’t fit into any of the traits assumed for all of non-binary, you are not at fault, you and your gender are valid, and, you are not alone.