Breaking Binary

Jun 14, 2019 | 2019 Summer - Nonbinary x2 (and more), Articles, Poetry

By Emily A. Fisher

I was raised without much gender enforcement, which I’m so thankful for. My dad bought the toys I think he wanted, and I got to play with those as well as what girls normally get. I had Legos, My Little Ponies, an erector set, Ninja Turtles, and Bar- bies. I remember wanting to be a princess for one Halloween and a knight the next. I had a lot of imagination, and being an only child, I made up all my own stories. I was a boy character one day, a girl the next, but most often a dragon or a lava monster. When I was a teenager, I would read about people who were my heroes and I would see myself being just like them—fictional characters like Picard of the Starship Enterprise, Hermione from Harry Potter, Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Frasier.

For my real career aspirations, I could be just like George Washington Carver, Rosalind Franklin, Marie Curie, or Richard Feynman. Their gender was irrelevant; we liked the same things: science and discovery. I saw myself in them. I wanted to explore, invent, and unravel the mysteries of the universe.

I didn’t know it at the time, that there was a label for my expe- rience where gender doesn’t define who I am—it’s non-binary.

I was happy, pursuing the things I loved from childhood through college without thinking about gender.
It wasn’t until I entered the workplace that I was surprised to learn that I was a woman. I was told how to be a female scientist, not a scientist.

Every time someone mentions gender, it’s been a bad thing for me:

When are you having kids? Right away or later? . . . But I don’t want to be a parent.
You get to experience the miracle of childbirth . . . I took biology, hard pass.

Welcome to womanhood, you will bleed, be in pain and feel bad several days of the month . . . is that what being a woman is?

Don’t you want to be beautiful? . . . Do I have to? I don’t want to spend time and money on it. Men don’t have to do that.

You make good money, now dress like it! . . . How am I sup- posed to dress?

Skirts are so nice and flowy . . . But they makes my legs chafe

Girls tend to major in caring and creative discipline . . . But I like science and engineering.

All the steel-toed boots have pink accents . . . But I like green.

Think like a man, work like a dog, act like a lady . . . I think and act and work like a scientist. Dogs don’t work hard.

you should
you can’t
you have to don’t
You can be gentle and caring
Women can be strong
Women can be compassionate
Don’t you want to support other women? Lean in
Be strong
but, not too strong
Be bold
but, not too bold
Stand out,
fit in
You can’t say “like,”
remove “just” from our emails,
don’t start a sentence with “I think”
don’t uptalk if you want to be taken seriously
Smart women are intimidating, you’ll never get a man like that
Are you sure about those results?
Dress professionally
You can’t wear that
You have to have kids, that’s what it means to be a woman
Don’t you want a family one day?
What does your husband think of that?
Don’t make more than him
When are you having kids? Now or later?

We’ve got pink hard hats

You look prettier when you smile

Women’s pants don’t have pockets

Be skinny

no, be fit

no, be healthy

no, be happy


I just want to be . . . me

In the LGBTQ community I found more ways to understand gender. That I didn’t have to force myself into a box that says “she\her.” I could use pronouns that don’t come with burden.
The first time someone used the pronouns they/them/theirs to describe me, I stood up taller, I took a deep breath, it matched me. I had been trying to shove my identity in this female box where it didn’t belong, a puzzle piece that was never going to fit. They/them/theirs fit effortlessly.
They/them/their pronouns are a blank slate where I can draw what I really care about.

Emily A. Fisher is a geologist in California. They led the formation of the local bi/pan+ community in Bakersfield and the LGBT+ Allies employee resource group at their place of work. They continue to strive for bisexual representation at work and in their community. They use oil painting and creative writing to express their bisexuality and non-binary identity.

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