Breaking the Binary of Students

College can be a time to fulfill self exploration but how much does UCSB help with that? Trans and non-binary recognition and support is something our world is continually working on. Unfortunately, it’s still not safe in many areas in the world because of transphobic governments and societies. In many areas of the world, being trans could mean you are targeted for death. Although college campuses have a semi-reputation of being places where tolerance and acceptance is valued and activism is promoted, they also can be very gendered. From restrooms to dorms to professors that insist on using ‘his or hers’ and ‘he/she’ exclusively, it can be a minefield of exclusion.  

In cases like UCSB, colleges are advertised as being very inclusive and places where you CAN partake in activism and freely express yourself. This advertising can create hope and expectation for minorities that there will be safety, community, and support. In my case, it created an idea that my identity will be respected and there will be accommodations and support for me being non-binary. 

This is the agender pride flag. Top to bottom colors: black, grey, white, green, white, grey, black.

I identify as agender, a term that is not as commonly known as other identities so I will usually tell people I identify as non-binary instead. “Agender” is basically a term that describes someone who does not identify as any gender at all. I usually explain my gender by saying “imagine you are looking at a line that is the gender spectrum. One end is male and the other end is female. Now imagine a dot off to the side that is not connected or close to the line at all. That’s agender”. “Agender” is a member of the non-binary community. Non-binary can be used as an identity to simply say you don’t identify as male or female or it can be used as a descriptive term. In short, agender is always going to be non-binary but non-binary is not always agender. 

Transgender is a term that many people have heard, fewer know, and even less understand. But what about non-binary? Well, even less people know about non-binary than transgender. Transgender is a term which describes someone who does not identify as the gender they were born in to. That could mean someone was born female but identifies as male or the other way around but it also means that someone could be born female or male and identify as non-binary. Non-binary is always transgender but transgender is not always non-binary.

This is the trans pride flag. Top to bottom colors: blue, pink, white, pink, blue.

In order to have an understanding of what non-binary means, you have to understand what the gender binary is. The word binary means something composed of two things or something having two parts. When someone refers to the gender binary, they are referring to male and female. Non-binary defines any gender identity that does not fall within the binary of male and female. One can be considered non-binary if they identify as not being strictly male or female. 

For me, my gender has steadily become a larger part of my life without me trying to focus on it. I never really felt like I belonged with other girls growing up. Every time there was a “girls only” situation, I felt like I was intruding upon something I wasn’t supposed to. I never really thought about it consistently until 8th grade when I started learning more about the queer community because I was learning about my sexuality. I learned more about the term “transgender” and I started to question if I was male, but I knew I wasn’t so I settled on that I was just female and going through puberty.

This is the non-binary pride flag. Top to bottom colors: yellow, white, purple, black.

I didn’t fully start questioning if I wasn’t male or female until 9th grade when I learned that it was a possibility. I started using different pronouns and labels with only myself to see how it felt. In this process, I stumbled across the term “agender” and tried it out. Lo and behold, it felt like the perfect label for me. Every time I would say to myself “I am agender”, I would smile involuntary and get that warm, happy feeling in my chest that only happens when something truly great happened. It just felt right and it felt like I found my place in the world.

It took time for me to get used to using they/them pronouns and using my label aloud, but now it’s so pertinent in my life and feels like a stab in the gut when I’m misgendered or erased. With the current political climate and my own pain of being misgendered, it was a huge factor for me to attend a college that would guarantee my safety as a trans student and have my pronouns respected. I was partially drawn to UCSB because they advertised an incredibly safe campus and everyone would introduce themselves with their pronouns.

Misgender, misgendering, or misgendered mean the same thing: someone got labeled the wrong gender. Mistakes happen and anyone can screw up someone’s pronouns. However, most people tend to treat misgendering a cisgender person differently than when they misgender a trans person. Most times when someone misgenders a cisgender person (someone who was born as a gender and still identifies as that gender) people will simply correct themself, maybe say a quick sorry, then move on with what they were saying. In itself, misgendering someone is not a bad thing. It becomes a bad thing when it is used maliciously or someone side tracks an entire conversation to gush about how sorry they are they screwed up a trans person’s pronouns.

As I am not the only non-binary student on campus, I talked to a few people and got a mix of uncomfortable and relaxed responses. In my interview with Kels, a first year Classics major, they had confidence and a sense of comfort when talking about their experiences with their gender on campus. In regards to what campus expectations were like as non-binary student, Kels stated with friendly confidence what they were expecting but also the type of support that is on campus such as the pronoun pins, adding pronouns to the ends of emails, and the lack of needing to constantly tell people about which pronouns to use.

Kels expectations and experiences for UCSB regarding gender.

 “To be honest, it was the same as pretty much everywhere else I’ve ever been which is just, there’s going to be some people who…can vibe with that sorta thing and then [for] the majority of people, you’re just like, no, Kels is not my middle name…it’s nice to know that I don’t have to be like, by the by, have you considered switching up the pronouns you use for me”

Kels (they/them)

In a similar manner, Abby, a first year theatre major, talks about how UCSB has been advertised for diversity and inclusion. They talk about how their hometown is drastically different and how UCSB shows its inclusiveness to potential students.

Abby’s expectations and comparison with UCSB and hometown

“Well I found out about the Rainbow House so I already knew it was going to be better than my hometown because they actually had inclusiveness…when it came to the LGBT community so my expectations were at least higher than my old town. Just in the sense that it would be more inclusive and that I would have more resources and I could meet more people within the community.”

Abby (she/they)

With both Abby and Kels, and many other non-binary people, there was a sense of trepidation when talking about their identity but a relaxation in their voice when they started to talk about the welcoming environment that UCSB has promised. 

When I questioned Abby and Kels if they have encountered any hate or uncomfortable situations, both struggled to bring a concrete example of a negative experience. Kels talked about the stereotypical dude that doesn’t believe in they/them pronouns and how they would deal with that person by mostly just ignoring them. As they explain this, they use a fun, joking manner which indicates that the campus has given an atmosphere where they can be comfortable around the subject of their gender. 

Kels example and how they deal with rude people

Abby explains that their experiences have been almost all positive and they have been reaching out and finding a community of people that are like them. Abby’s tone indicates comfort and happiness that can conclude that UCSB has been able to offer the support and family to make a safe home.

Abby has found their people

“I’m starting to feel like I’ve found my people and that makes me very very happy”

Abby (she/they)

In regards to how gender connects to majors and jobs, Kels and Abby had really interesting things to say. Kels works for KCSB and so I wanted to get an idea of how gender and voice connects in an area where you don’t have any visual stimulus to influence an idea of gender. They talked about how being a disembodied voice gives the listener nothing to go on as far as what the speaker looks like and is therefore just a voice with no attached gender. In a way suggesting that gender has little to no participation in radio unless someone makes the effort to go make a connection.

Kels and gender over radio

“That’s like the magic of radio, no one needs anything more than what you’re willing to tell them”

Kels (they/them)

Abby, on the other hand, felt gender had a huge role to play in theatre. Abby brings up the conversation of who should be playing what roles in theater and film, a current controversial conversation which argues that an actor’s job is to play the role they’re given regardless of who or what that is. Abby expresses the passion and importance of this conversation by connecting how they feel about their own gender in relation to roles they may play.

Abby and gender in theater

“As an actor, we should be able to play any role that is handed to us and play that to the best of our abilities”…”now, to not necessarily limit myself to gender norms in my own life, I feel it helps me open up to the possibility of, I can truly be anything in theater”

Abby (she/they)

All in all, UCSB is one of the most inclusive places I have been and I can hear that reflected through other people’s discussions of their experiences with our campus. I have my own experiences to understand my new home as well as the support and experiences of other people. It doesn’t matter if you’re trans- or cis-gendered as long as you can hear someone else’s side and understand that the world is different for different people.

Abby’s final thoughts

“To go out and actually explore the world…can help people with understanding who they are in relation to gender and just in relation to themselves as a person”

Abby (she/they)

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