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Non-Binary Transition - Part 1: What is Gender?
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Non-Binary Transition - Part 1: What is Gender?

by Micah at

I presented Non-Binary Transition at the Gender Odyssey Professional Conference, held in Seattle, August 2015. The audience was primarily medical and service providers of transgender health.

The recorded presentation is on YouTube. Aside from my slide deck, I used these copious speaker notes as a script, so you can follow along at your own pace. The workshop is 90 mins long, split into 3 parts.

Everything is housed on this page:

You are definitely encouraged to share with your provider, as well as family or friends, or yourself.  I only ask that you include  attribution or acknowledgement; the best way to credit me is linking to my site.

If you find value in this work, please consider a small contribution.

Hint: To get the most out of this, on the parts that say INTERACT, actually stop and give yourself a minute to silently provide an answer.

So Who Am I?

This is a picture for those who can’t see me in the back.

I’m Micah, and I’ll be your host for this workshop.

Personal Intro

I’ve been transitioning for 5 years, and blogging about it for nearly as long.

At first, I thought I didn’t “qualify” as transgender, and I would never be able to do anything about the discomfort I felt around my gender.

It was hard to find information on being non-binary, much less on non-binary transition.

My journey has been: to figure out what transition is, what it means to live as a non-binary person, what options are available, and how these services can be accessed while navigating a rigid binary-thinking society.


This is my 4th year presenting a variation of this workshop.

I’m not a “professional” anything.

This content is based on my own layman’s research (a lot of it), personal experience, experiences gathered from my community, deep thought, and a dash of common sense.

Here’s an overview of what we’ll be covering today.

There are no stupid questions! Ask anytime.

INTERACT: Room census

  • Let’s get a quick feel for who our audience is.
  • Who is a provider?
  • Types of providers?
  • What kinds of questions do you have before we start?
  • Keep in mind throughout: What concerns do you have as a provider?

What is Gender?

Here’s a quick intro to get our minds warmed up and thinking about gender.

Throughout the conference, ask yourself this question: What is Gender?

If you are more confused by the end of it, we did a good job.

If we’re asking What is Gender, then it also begs the questions:

What is male?

What is female?

Let’s explore some of the components that make up gender…

There are physical aspects of sex and gender.

There are social aspects to one’s gender.

And there is the concept of legal gender as well, which applies to a wide aspects of daily life.

All 3 put together — physical, social, legal — we start to get an idea of what makes up gender. But do we we really know what it is?

How do you know your gender?

INTERACT: Think of the moment when you first knew what your gender was.

  • How clear was this moment? How old were you?
  • How did you know you were a boy or a girl?
  • Can you explain that moment/feeling to someone?

Something indescribable… a feeling? Something only you know about yourself?

Hopefully we have more questions than answers!

Now that we’re warmed up, let’s dive into our main topic:

What is transgender?

These are side-by-side pictures of my California driver’s license, taken two years apart. In one of these pictures I’m legally Female; in the other, legally Male. Can you tell which is which?

There’s a broader point to all this.

This is one “official” definition of what Transgender is.

[read slide]

It’s from the APA.

Here are useful definitions as we move forward, just to make sure we’re all on the same page.

[read slide]

We’ve defined transgender, but what does it look like?

Ryan Sallans - Advocate, author, educator, and public speaker, also here at the conference.

Jenna Talackova - Canadian Ms. Universe contestant.

Kye Allums - Came out while playing Div 1 college basketball. Advocate for LGBTQ inclusion in athletics.

Laverne Cox - I hope you all know who this is.

Balian Buschbaum - German Olympic pole vaulter.

Janet Mock - another famous face; also an author, journalist, TV show host, and vocal trans advocate.

All of these folk have one thing in common: they are transgender, trans men and trans women.

Granted most of us normal schlumps aren’t that glamorous…

Let’s go back to the official definition.

[read slide]

Note that it’s very broad. It’s purposefully broad, as our understanding of the trans experience has expanded.

It does not mean that you have to identify with the “opposite” sex to be transgender. This definition includes anyone who does not conform to the sex they were assigned at birth, in expression, behavior, or identity.

So now…

What is non-binary?

After all, it’s in the title of this workshop.

Here’s a non-official definition of non-binary gender.

[read slide]

It’s not by the APA.

So what does non-binary gender mean, exactly?

The non-binary umbrella usually includes people who are:

  • uncomfortable with their sex assigned at birth
  • uncomfortable with the “opposite” one too

It is impossible to choose between man and woman, because neither fits the person entirely.

Non-binary genders are very diverse, with many identities and expressions.

People may feel outside of, in-between, adjacent to, far away, from maleness or femaleness.

Note that language is imperfect, and even words like “male” and “female” are limited in encompassing non-binary identities.

That is why the transgender lexicon continually evolves.

Here are just a few of the many, many, many labels and words people use to approximate what they feel their gender is.

Yep, there’s a lot of them.

And those were just the ones for Gender - there are many more for biological sex, sexual orientation, romantic orientation, sexuality, presentation, expression, etc etc.

Gender is varied and complex and encompasses more than what we normally think of as gender.

But a label is just a placeholder for what? For gender. For this elusive feeling of a gender that sidesteps the only two words we have for it: male and female.

I’ve asked you how you came to know your gender, but…

INTERACT: How do you describe your gender?


Just how complicated is it to find a word that describes your gender?

I took to my social media outlets and asked my followers this very question.

Here’s what they came up with…



Non-binary boy

Transmasculine. Not a dude.



Feminine trans guy


Genderqueer girl

A kaleidoscope of all genders


Can’t describe what I don’t have.



Kinda like an old, beaten-in sneaker.

Green! Yellow for ‘other’ and blue for male, mixed together!

With a “meh” sound and a wavy hand gesture.

If a color spectrum, gray.

Boy, if I can get away with it

Non-Binary. Not really sure if I can go beyond that umbrella.

“masculine-neutral” - that’s an adjective for my gender, not its name. I don’t have a word for its name.

Online, genderqueer male or agender. IRL, transman without getting into it.

non binary dmab non fem spectrum leaning, demiboy to true neutral to questionmark fluid

Genderqueer, though I’m not sure if it’s totally correct. It’s the closest.


As rarely as possible.

Downright confusing.

Depends on the day.

I just don’t have a gender.

As we saw, non-binary identities are as varied as people.

You can’t “tell” someone’s gender identity just by looking at them.

Identity is internal. To know someone’s identity, you have to ask.

There is no go-to pattern for who is non-binary.

Our identities are individually constructed; often abstract, complex.

Our gender is de-constructed from ingrained ideas of gender most people take for granted as unquestionable truth.

That’s why it can be very difficult to figure out, or put our experience into words that others can understand.

We’ve seen what transgender people look.

What, specifically, do non-binary people look like?

These are photographs from Chloe Aftel.

Chloe’s project, called “Gender Queer,” features the pictures of many folks who identify somewhere on the non-binary spectrum.

(and that’s me on the left!)

It’s been on-going for over two years, and featured in many online publications as it gained steam…

…lending visibility to our small and often overlooked population.

The media didn’t get a lot of things right when they featured it…

…but Chloe continues to photograph people, trying to showcase the vast diversity within our community.

Gender is not just pink or blue, male or female.

So… what is gender?

We’re back to the beginning, with no real answers.

By now you can hopefully appreciate why this is so complicated.

Ok, we’ve defined non-binary. Let’s move on to the second word in the title of the workshop.

What is transition?

Excited? Good. Let’s stretch, breath, caffeinate, and get to Part 2.

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