All About Gender

Everything you need to know about gender, sexuality, and more.

Non-Binary

Why is Being Non-Binary Not Cool?

Photo by Sebastiaan Stam

(***Author’s note: I’m attempting to discuss this subject from a politically moderate point of view. I want to dive into non-binary stereotypes and why people think non-binary folks aren’t “cool,” but to do so I had to describe those stereotypes. Please know that I’m trying to get to the bottom of this complex topic as best as I can, and I do not mean to offend anyone in the process.

I am writing this article for people who want to be themselves (re: non-binary), but hold themselves back because of what people will think about them. Here’s how to feel safe in non-queer spaces but still be you.)

This article is in response to a comment I got on “How to Know if You’re Non-Binary.

“I really love this article, it helped a lot. But how would I express myself as non-binary without people thinking I’m some “whiny entitled snowflake millennial wanting attention”

Now, I can foresee at least two responses I’m going to get writing “Why is Being Non-Binary Not Cool?”

  • Don’t worry about what other people think about you. If you’re a snowflake millennial, be a snowflake millennial. The people who think that are bigoted and small-minded anyway. Just be you!

Or…

  • If you “identify” as one of those “non-binary” snowflakes or whatever other 73 genders you SJWs have, of course you’re going to look whiny and attention seeking (because, of course, there are only two genders). Don’t be shocked when people call you out on it.

One side is pro-nonbinariness, the other side is against it. I’m not going to go into the politics of deciding whether being non-binary — this website operates under the assumption that non-binariness is real. Just as real as the stigma around being non-binary.  

That’s why I’m writing this article. I live in the South. I’ve lived in the South a majority of my life. I know there are pockets where people can be as gender-bendy as they prefer.

But the rest of the state pretty much looks down on people who express as non-binary/genderqueer/gender non-conforming. Why?

Because it’s not cool to them. And here we are concerned about what these people think about us.

How did we get here? What is it about not wanting to perform as the gender you were assigned at birth that makes being non-binary so hard?

I’m going to investigate why people think non-binary folks are “whiny entitled snowflake millennial wanting attention” and provide you actionable tips for what you can do if being perceived this way hinders you from expressing your non-binary identity.

Let’s go.

Prologue: “Oh god, we’re on that side of YouTube again.”

YouTube’s algorithm is designed to slowly get more radicalized the deeper you go into it. It’s like how porn users slowly end up masturbating to more hardcore and violent material — our brain needs ever more stimulation to feel fulfilled, and search engines know that.

So if you search “what is being non-binary” on YouTube, you’ll find pretty benign videos explaining what the identity is. These videos will be from people like me — those with actual experience being non-binary simply trying to educate the public on what such an identity means. They’re rather neutral and meant to appeal to anyone interested in learning about the subject.

Mixed into the educational videos are right-wing channels denouncing the whole existence of the identity right off the bat. These videos sneak in those critiquing non-binary people, not the subject of gender non-conformity. Such videos usually includes showing someone with blue hair talking about gender, but that person’s quote is probably taken out of context and distorted by the YouTube commentator.

They’re poking fun at the non-binary person. They’re calling the person a snowflake, whiny, disillusioned, entitled, wanting attention, blah blah (I’m not going to link to any videos for proof, but you get the idea).

So when someone tries to educate themself on new terminology in modern gender discourse, some of the first videos they see will be of (usually) cis people bad mouthing non-binary folks, making them look dweeby or dumb and overall tarnishing their reputation.

That’s the right-wing side of YouTube. On the other side, though, are the people kinda making the stereotypes about non-binary people look true.

This is the left-wing side of YouTube. These are people who say “systematic institutions of power” and “hegemony” to discuss the “dismantling of the gender binary.” These are people who are intolerant to those who misgender them and maintain a militant attitude about their gender identity.

So it seems no matter where you are on YouTube, there are two lines extending on either side of the term “nonbinary:” one on the left leading you to educational videos and very, for lack of a better term, “SJW” stuff, and the other line going to the right saying the entire identity is a sham, that those who believe are a joke, stuff like that.

With those videos, both borrowing from and fueling the ideology behind the “whiny millennial snowflake nonbinary” person, comes the nonbinary caricature.

This is the looming stereotype non-cis people who want to be accepted by mainstream cis people (eg, those who might not be super versed on gender discourse) deal with.

How do you fit into the anti-non-binary narrative?

I can see two paths for you (but, of course, it’s a spectrum 😉 ).

  • The first is “Who care? I am what I am! I don’t care what you call me, I’m going to express myself and say what I want.” Even if your tendencies aren’t SJW like as the right would say, you simply don’t care. You’re non-binary and proud. You’ve probably taken it upon yourself to educate yourself on what it means to be non-binary.

From personal experience, I’ve noticed that people like this tend to surround themselves with left-leaning people, or at the very least people who understand there are more than just two genders/two ways to express your gender. You can feel comfortable taking on this attitude because you won’t be within earshot of vocal anti-non-binary folks.

  • The second is, well, you do care. You’re probably around people who don’t understand existence outside of masculine/feminine gender expression. These people could probably understand being trans, as that still happens within the binary. You’re still following the paradigm of what a man and woman should be, look like, and act.

You’re not cool if you go against the group’s mentality of what gender should be — seeing gender as a binary of man and woman based of male/female body characteristics.

Those actively advocating for a renewed lens of gender expression are called “whiny millennial snowflakes,” which is to say that being gender non-comforming occurred in the past 20-30 years (millennial), you’re too vocal about it and express your grievances too readily (whiny) and you’re willing to fight back or express your concerns when people do not act in ways that affirm your non-binary gender identity (snowflake), and since you’re probably one of the few people with that identity, you will be noticed merely on the numeric fact that you are an outlier (wanting attention).

The fear of being a “whiny millennial snowflake” comes from a fear of being the one to challenge people’s beliefs. It’s othering yourself from the in-group (cis people) and painting yourself as the gender non-conforming outlier.

In short: By existing as a non-binary person, you throw a wrench in people’s world views. You challenge their status quo. You’re very existence in front in front of them brings them mental resistance, and you’re self-conscious of that.

So. How do you battle that self-consciousness?

Accepting your non-binary identity

Again, I’m going to boil this down to two pathways (Ah! Internalized binaries!)

Number 1) Go back into or remain in the closet. Don’t ask people to call you a different name or pronoun. Don’t speak up when someone misgenders you. Wear the clothes people expect you to wear. Cut your hair the way people expect you to cut your hair. Act the part. Speak the part.

Congratulations, you are remaining conventional and aren’t challenging people’s perceptions of gender, but you probably aren’t expressing yourself in your authentic way.

If you can tolerate the discomfort traditional gendering gives you, staying conventional is the best way to not look like a “whiny entitled snowflake millennial wanting attention.” As long as you act your assigned gender, you could meet the most  transphobic/sexist person on this planet and they’ll never think you’re such a stereotype.

But keeping up such a front like holding up a glass of water. Yeah, it’s pretty light and you could do it for a while, but could you do it for a whole day? Week? Year?

No. You’ll have to put the glass down at some point.

Forcing yourself to act unnaturally and constantly thinking about your presentation to others is draining, and eventually you’ll want to put it down. Which leads us to #2.

Number 2) Accept discomfort. Learn to be patient and empathetic. Alright, so you decided you can’t keep up the act anymore and that today’s the day to finally tell people you’re non-binary. Great!

I don’t know how receptive your friend group is, but try to explain your identity (non-binary) and what you want (neutral pronouns, to go by a neutral name) to them calmly and positively.

For extra cool points, tell your friends it’s fine if they mess up a few times in the beginning — understanding and empathy puts you back in the human realm, not falling into intolerant SJW stereotype that extreme right-wingers like to fall back on.

If your friend calls you “she,” gently remind that friend, “by the way, I prefer ‘they.’” Your friend will probably apologize and you two will move on. Such a reminder may be awkward at first, but it’s necessary for those around you to readjust their mentality/behavior to accept gender non-conformity if that’s what they aren’t used to.

You’ll most likely have to educate these people about gender non-conformity too, since people are more likely to change their behavior if they know why they should do it. Do so gently but not condescendingly — you don’t want to belittle your interlocutor or make yourself seem smarter or more “woke.”

If the people around you are accepting and open-minded, they should be able to adopt the changes you’ve requested of them (again, such as pronouns, new name, new look, etc). If you can educate the less tolerant folks, go right ahead. If not, it would be best to walk away.

You’re just a person trying to be comfortable in your body and the society you live in as much as you can, using the language and new ideas about gender to do so. How you go about making that personal change is what determines if you’re cool or not.

The best way to not look like a “whiny entitled snowflake millennial wanting attention.”

I could give you superficial tips like, “Don’t dye your hair blue, don’t constantly talk about gender non-conformity or talk about ‘patriarchal hegemony,'” etc.  

But in reality, you can do all these things and still not be labeled a “whiny entitled snowflake millennial wanting attention.”

It all depends on how you package how you say things and present yourself to be more tolerant and “mainstream.” Dressing and speaking more traditionally will make your message more palatable to conservative audiences. You’ll also have to either forgo educating people on gender identity or do so in a sensitive, empathetic, and nice way.

As with feminism, civil rights, and now diversifying how people think about gender, those who raise their voices and advocate for people to change their thinking are uncool. They’re uncool because they go against the group, othering themselves while telling people what to do (change their thinking).

If you don’t want to look like a “whiny entitled snowflake millennial wanting attention” around non-left people, you’re going to have to be okay with people saying or acting uninformed around you. They might even say downright rude things to you, but being cool requires you either don’t call them out or do so discreetly and respectfully.

For example:

(Your parents named you Thomas and you were assigned male at birth. That doesn’t really vibe with you, so you go by Mattie and use they/them pronouns. You told this to your friend Hannah recently, who isn’t very well read on gender discourse. Hannah is introducing you to her friend Jake.)

Hannah: Jake! This is my friend Thomas! He’s (blah blah blah)… and I’ve known him since middle school.

(The conversation continues. The mood remains light-hearted, and eventually the conversation ends. Once Jake leaves, you pull Hannah aside.)

Mattie: Hey Hannah, it was so nice meeting Jake! Just wanted to remind you, though, that I go by Mattie now and use they/them pronouns.

Hannah: Oh! You’re so right — I’m so sorry I forgot. This whole thing is new to me, and I’m still trying to understand the whole non-binary thing. It’s just… It’s just super new to me. And…I don’t know, if I’m honest I don’t quite get it.

Thomas: That’s okay! I know it’s a learning process and it’s hard to get a handle on it, but I know you’ll get it eventually! Um, if you want, I can explain it more to you?

Hannah: Yeah, definitely!

(You explain your experience feeling non-binary to Hannah, a little bit about gender non-conformity, and, of course, recommend allaboutgender.com to her.)

Mattie: Hope that helps! Listen, I know it’s a lot to wrap your head around if you’re not used to it, but I really appreciate you trying.

Hannah: Oh my gosh, Mattie, it’s no problem at all. Thanks for letting me know about this!

(The conversation fades away to another topic, and you go about your lives. Hannah makes a few more hiccups but eventually gets the hang of your new name and pronouns.)

I think this is an exemplar way to assert your gender identity without looking “whiny” or that you’re wanting attention. By maintaining an upbeat attitude about the whole thing, you keep the mood light, which makes people more likely to respond positively to your requests. You

TL;DR: Why being non-binary is not cool to some people and how to be a “cool” non-binary person.

Being called such a thing boils down to being a cool non-binary person. Being a cool or not cool non-binary person depends on how charismatically you maneuver another person’s intolerance. The more charismatic you are to conservative audiences, the less likely you’ll be perceived as a “whiny entitled snowflake millennial wanting attention.”

Now, how authentic that charismatic ideal to your authentic personality is a different story, but that above point is why many people look down on non-binary people who don’t package their beliefs and presentations to a closed-minded palate. It’s the nature of being an outsider trying to tell people what to think.

Should you act like a “cool” non-binary person?

If you want to, sure. Some non-binary folks live in spaces where they’ll have to be more palatable and “cool” to feel safe. If that’s you, then do you.

But if you don’t want to make yourself more palatable to conservative-minded people, if you want to be vocal and in people’s faces about your gender expression, then hell yeah, do you.

There’s value to opening up dialogue about the diversity in gender identities that exist — but I also know that not everyone has the desire to do that.

So that’s why I wrote this article! I hope it helps. Let me know in the comments what you think.

Much love,
– MK

1 Comment

  1. Danny

    Thank you for writing this!!

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