Nonbinary Transcript

Adan is a white settler living on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee nations. They are a PhD candidate in English and cultural studies at McMaster University working in Mad/crip studies and digital media. Follow Adan on TwitterContact the Author


Follow the thread / of twine / to find / your way home / if home ever existed in the first place / We make space / for our breath / for our spines / that are bending / Breaking / the binary / of a binary culture / built on binary code and passcodes / passwords we are hacking / with our

Living, loving bodies

Nonbinary: A Choose-Your-Own Adventure

“What better way to maintain a power structure—white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, a binary and rigid gender system—than to drill the lessons of who is dominant and who is subordinate into the bodies of children” — Eli Clare, Exile and Pride, pg. 150.


You are going to a:

  • Conference
  • Game jam
  • Gaming expo

You arrive at the event in a black binder, a sky-blue button-up shirt, and dark skinny jeans.

You look down at your name tag, which includes the pronouns you selected on the form you filled out online several months ago. The font is small, and difficult to read, but you still wear it proudly on your chest. Look at me, you think. This is me. You will spend the rest of the event eagerly staring at other people’s name tags, and smiling too excitedly when you find someone else like you.



“They isn’t grammatically correct”

“I liked your long hair better”

“language is a living thing, and I find attempts to preserve it from the threat of gender-neutral pronouns to be a transphobic reaction” -Rae Spoon, 203

“language changes and evolves to reflect the culture of those using it”- Ivan Coyote, 221

You look up at the bathroom doors on the far side of the room. M or F. Your heart begins to accelerate. Maybe you should have chosen a less androgynous look today.



  • Copy of Gender Failure by Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon
  • Pen & notebook
  • Cell phone
  • Collapsible cane
  • Extra-strength ibuprofen
  • Panic
  • History
  • Intention



You’re giving a presentation on the tactics that nonbinary players use to perform identity through digital avatars. Nervously, you look around the room and swallow. The spit sticks to your dry throat and takes a long time to slide down.

“In “Dressing Commander Shepherd in Pink,” Krobova, Moravec, and Švelch write that players use “stylized performance” as a tactic of queer identification. For example, players describe dressing the hypermasculine Shepherd in pink as a stereotypical signifier of queerness.”

“I have employed this tactic in my desire for nonbinary play: my female avatar has a shaved head (like I did when I played the game), and wears boyish clothing, while my male avatar wears long mage robes and make-up.”

“Furthermore, Mary Flanagan identifies tactics of critical dollplay that continue to be relevant for digital avatar play. I will discuss two of these tactics: “reskinning” and “rewriting” (33).

In reskinning, “Players make alternative arrangements and disguise their dolls for subversive roles.” We see this tactic applied by modding communities to create nongendered characters in Stardew Valley.

In rewriting, “doll fiction was a way for girls to explore deeper social and personal meanings in play.” We see this tactic employed through fan fiction as players create stories about their favourite video game worlds with nonbinary and trans protagonists.”

You conclude by inviting game designers to expand non-binary representation within their games, and to hire more gender-nonconforming creators.

After the presentation, you spend the rest of the day listening, working, playing. Your mind starts to drift.


Remember your last publication

It was a piece on feminism and digital media, and you were using multiple pronouns then. You had used both in your bio.

The editor wrote back: “pick one and be consistent.”

You are tired of being asked to choose.


Remember your last meal

Last night your parents had taken you to a restaurant where they knew the owners. Your mother had started to say “This is my—” and then stalled; stuttered, lost for words. Lost because we haven’t found the words yet. Fumbling through dictionaries and Wikipedia pages. Lost in a sea of imperfect words that weigh everything down.

“She’s my mom,” you said, finally, not because you aren’t out but because you don’t want to explain or defend yourself today, and not to a stranger. You eat in silence. The food is delicious. You only have to correct your parents on your pronoun use a few times. Your sister helps, which makes you feel less alone.

“My childhood idea that my body was a spaceship came back to me. I was not in the wrong body. I was in the wrong world” -Rae Spoon, 120



  • Copy of Gender Failure by Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon
  • Pen & notebook
  • Cell phone
  • Collapsible cane
  • Extra-strength ibuprofen
  • Several business cards
  • Free lanyard
  • Caffeine rush
  • History
  • Intention



After the event you hang around with a group of people at the bar. They all have shaved heads or brightly coloured hair, so you think you’ll fit in OK. One of them moves closer and offers to buy you a drink.





You blush and say “Sure, thanks.” You order a beer.

“I like your hair,” they tell you.

You remember the lover who laughed when you came out as bisexual; who praised your long, feminine hair. You remember wearing that relationship like a wool sweater on bare skin, and how clean and free you felt when you finally took it off.

You remember the lover who called you “boy” and “girl” interchangeably. You had a chalkboard in the kitchen and wrote “Today’s Genders” on it. You filled it with words like “alto saxophone,” “toque,” and “plaid.”

Every time someone calls you by your pronoun, a small wound heals.

You have thousands of these tiny hurts, but they are healing.

Ivan Coyote: “Tell me again how you love the half she and part he of me” (Tomboy Survival Guide 231).



There are a lot of trans and nonbinary game developers out there,” you tell the person enthusiastically. “Let me show you a few that are doing really cool work.”

The person smiles and nods, moving closer. You can smell their shampoo—citrusy and sweet.

“That’s cool. You know, I think enby representation is getting better,” the person tells you. “Like, more common. Mainstream. I saw a MEC ad over Christmas that had nonbinary models and used the pronoun “them.””

The MEC ad: Image of two thin white people exchanging gifts. One has glasses, the other wears a toque. Both wear jeans and t-shirts. They are exchanging footwear. The title of the advertisement is “Gift ideas for them” and the ad reads “In the spirit of getting out of the binary, check out these gift ideas for them.”

You make a face.


“It’s just so limiting. Like, hey, don’t get me wrong, I love skinny white androgynous folx. It’s just that seems to be the only “third gender” getting shown in ads and on TV. You know? Non-binary isn’t just white, or thin, or boyish. It’s fat, Black, Indigenous, brown, disabled, Mad. It can be femme as hell, or whatever you want it to be. I don’t like the idea of being put in a box. Or sold as a product.”

They say nothing for a long moment, thinking.

Maybe you’ve said too much.

Maybe you haven’t said enough.



“More and more, I have thought of my gender as a story I tell myself”- Rae Spoon, 239

“I’m more inclined to leave the narrative open for myself than I have in the past. Now that I define my gender and sexuality as stories I tell and agree upon, I want to leave room for future possibilities that I have not been presented with yet” -Rae Spoon, 242


Haven’t said enough

“Think about disability. You think queer dance clubs or zinefests are accessible? They’re all stairs and loud noises and flashing lights and forced socialization. Like this event.

There’s no space for someone who doesn’t fit the M/F binary—and even where there are non-gendered bathrooms, there are still so many other barriers that people face if they aren’t white, able-bodied, and middle-class.

I just think we need to do better, instead of congratulating ourselves for including one androgynous character or using pronoun badges—as if all of us feel safe and comfortable using pronoun badges. Like, sure, let me just come out to this room of cishet people I’ve never met, you know?”



After a long pause, the other person smiles.

“To doing better and never being stuck in a box. I’ll cheers to that,” they raise their glass. You raise yours. The glasses clink together and the sound rings like a bell, sweet and clear.

You exchange numbers before leaving, promising to stay in touch



“My friends call me he, or they. The government and most of my family call me she. The media calls me she, because I don’t trust the, enough to request that they do anything else. My lovers call me sweetheart. Or baby. Somewhere in all of that I find myself”-Ivan Coyote, 224


  • Copy of Gender Failure by Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon
  • Pen & notebook
  • Cell phone
  • Collapsible cane
  • Extra-strength ibuprofen
  • Several business cards
  • Free lanyard
  • Anxiety
  • Hope
  • Attraction
  • Pint of beer



You suspect that they’re offering you the drink because you are white and thin, your crazy and crip folded away in your bag, not easily recognizable on first glance. Besides, you’re tired and a little overwhelmed by the crowds and the anxiety of navigating conversations with people who don’t bother to read the pronouns displayed proudly on your chest.

“No, thanks.”

All the popular enbies and genderfluid people these days seem to be white and thin, with half-shaved heads and boyish attire. Colonial pop culture turns nonbinary into an hegemonic third gender with short hair and button-up shirts, when in reality it’s a universe of bodies and experiences and work boots and lipstick that learned to refuse the binary from Indigenous two-spirit peoples and nations that never imagined a world could hinge on the brutal choice of M or F.

These days, you move between spaces where you are the only nonbinary person and spaces where you are just one queer among many.

In your Catholic family, the crushing weight of gendered expectations makes you hunch your shoulders and pull your arms in tight to your chest as if protecting your heart. The bruise of being misgendered over and over again is still growing.

In queer and trans spaces, you are celebrated for the privilege you were born into.

What are you going to do about it?

Put everything down

Hold onto everything

  • Copy of Gender Failure by Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon
  • Pen & notebook
  • Cell phone
  • Collapsible cane
  • Extra-strength ibuprofen
  • Several business cards
  • Free lanyard
  • Caffeine crash
  • Anxiety
  • History
  • Fatigue




You arrive home just as your energy runs out. You unbutton your shirt and hang it in your closet, then start to pull off the binder. You inch the stretchy fabric over your skin, and then have to bend over and pull it forcibly over your shoulders and neck. It gets stuck halfway, and as you hang upside-down, trapped (again), you have a minor panic attack. Then you calm down and finish undressing. The binder leaves red marks on your body. Maybe you should have bought a bigger size.

You love the way you look in it.

You’ve almost mastered explaining what a binder is to those friends who don’t know. Some early attempts:

  • “Uhh not like a school binder, um…”
  • “Like a really good sports bra but not?”
  • “Remember how in those Tamora Pierce books we read as kids the girl who wants to be a knight has to bind her breasts to pass as a boy?”
  • “Binding…you know [wild gestures] like, wrapping a mummy…”
  • “Dude, Google it”
  • “Stop looking into my eyes- my flat chest is down here! Admire it!”


Confirm therapy appointment for next week?

Confirm chiropractor appointment for next week?

When you started seeing your therapist, you had to fill out a form with your mental health history. At the top of the form there were boxes for you to check off: M or F. You wanted to leave them blank, or maybe check both, or add a third little rebellious box, but you were worried it slow down the process of seeing a counsellor—it still took 3 weeks—so you checked off the gender assignment that’s still on your birth certificate, passport, driver’s license. You’ve been seeing your therapist for three years and you still haven’t told her you’re nonbinary. You’re worried about how she’ll react.

When you started seeing your chiropractor, you had to fill out a form with your medical history. At the top of the form there were little boxes for you to check off: M or F. You wanted to leave them blank, or maybe check both, or add a third little rebellious box, but you were worried you would have to explain it to the men in the office who were supposed to fix you, and what if they treated you badly? You’ve been seeing your chiropractor for two years and you get misgendered every visit.


  • Copy of Gender Failure by Ivan Coyote and Rae Spoon
  • Pen & notebook (now filled with notes, names, and numbers)
  • Cell phone (filled with unanswered text messages)
  • Collapsible cane
  • Extra-strength ibuprofen
  • Several business cards
  • Free lanyard
  • The taste of burnt coffee on your tongue
  • History
  • Anxiety
  • Pain
  • Exhaustion


Panic Attack

Breathe in

Breathe out

Tell yourself it’s going to be OK

If you get too panicky, call a friend

Take a cold shower, or go outside

Breathe in

Breathe out

There. Feel your heart rate slowing? You’re going to be OK.

Everything is going to be OK


What are you going to do?

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson: “Naming the gender binary as colonial is important because when I think about this binary from within Nishnaabeg conceptual thought…it makes no sense in terms of the ethical systems grounded normativity sets up” (As We Have Always Done 128).



Hold the book close to your chest until you can feel your heartbeat pounding against the cover; feel the blood move through your veins and imagine it’s the same material as the ink on the pages that loved you when no one else knew what was growing under your skin. Touch your skin. Stroke your arms, your scars, the freckle on your palm and the spot of ink from your leaking pen that always leaves its mark. Unfold the long limb of your cane and press it against your cheek. Sing to the rhythm of anxiety in your breathing and know that it will always be here for you.


This is how you hold yourself together.


Don’t let go. Don’t let go. Don’t let go.


You return Gender Failure to its place on your bookshelf, nestled between Vivek Shraya’s I’m Afraid of Men and Elisha Lim’s 100 Crushes. The cane goes in the closet. You take two ibuprofen and gently set the bottle on your bedside table. (You like to have the things you need within arm’s reach). The pen and notebook are abandoned haphazardly on the desk.

You wonder if you can learn to set down all the memories and bodies and fears and dreams you carry with you. Every year there are more, and they are heavy.

They will always be a part of you.


Works cited

Clare, Eli. Exile and Pride. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015.


Coyote, Ivan and Rae Spoon. Gender Failure. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2014.


Coyote, Ivan. Tomboy Survival Guide. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2016.


Flanagan, Mary. Critical Play. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009.


Krobová, T., Moravec, O., & Švelch, J. (2015). “Dressing Commander Shepard in pink: Queer playing in a heteronormative game culture.” Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 9(3). doi: 10.5817/CP2015-3-3


Simpson, Leanne Betasamosake. As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017.