How To Respond When People Question Your Gender Identity

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As a non-binary person who most people perceive as a woman, I've had trouble figuring out how to respond when someone questions your gender identity. Gender identity is personal, and you should never need to justify it to anyone else. But there are some ways to help people understand that — or, at the very least, leave you alone.

When I first started identifying as non-binary, several of my friends told me I seemed like a woman and was overthinking it. A gender studies professor even told me that since we live in such a binary culture, such an identity was unfortunately not really possible. And when I wrote about my gender, some self-described feminists on Twitter told me that being both masculine and feminine is a normal thing that shouldn't merit a label.

As these reactions show, trans and non-binary people face criticism from progressives as well as conservatives, and they're often well-intentioned. Nevertheless, it's not within their right — or anyone's — to tell somebody else how to identify. All sorts of people hold misconceptions about gender, like the idea that you can look or act "male" or "female" or "non-binary." If someone tries to question your gender identity, here are some things you can tell them.


"But You Don't Look Like..."

The same way we've challenged what it means to "look like" a cis man or woman, we need to challenge the idea that you can "look" trans or non-binary. It's OK for a cis man to paint his nails, so it should be OK for a trans man to as well.


"But You Don't Act Like..."

Similarly, there's no such thing as "acting" trans or non-binary either. Just as a cis woman can be an athlete or a scientist, so can a trans woman.


"That's Not A Real Thing"

Nobody's gender is a "real thing." No DNA test, brain scan, or personality test can tell you the "truth" about someone's gender. Gender is something people have created (and while we're on the subject, here's your reminder that sex and gender are not the same thing), so we might as well all create genders that work for us instead of letting a select few privileged people hold a monopoly on gender.


"But How Can You Be Both..."

Some people have multiple gender identities. As this video by Riley J. Dennis explains, for example, you can be non-binary and a woman because a non-binary person is someone who doesn't exclusively identify as a man or woman. You can also be a man and a woman or literally anything under the sun, because it's totally up to you.


"That's Too Much For Us All To Keep Track Of"

Cis people sometimes complain that it's too much work to accommodate us by referring to us the way we prefer, but we already do a ton of labor accommodating them by either tolerating being misgendered or educating them on why we shouldn't be. The same way you wouldn't call someone by the wrong name, it's disrespectful to call them by the wrong pronoun, and and using the right one is really not so hard. It's OK if you forget and slip up — just do your best not to repeat the mistake.


"Everyone Has Some Masculine/Feminine Qualities"

Yes, everyone has qualities that could be labeled masculine and feminine, and they can do what they want with that. Gender identity is a personal feeling. It's not based on how masculine or feminine you are — or any one thing.


"That's Unfortunately Just Not Possible"

Since a lot of people don't understand what trans or non-binary gender identities are or have negative feelings about them, some say it's just not realistic to identify this way. But while it may unfortunately not be possible to get everyone to call you by the correct pronoun or acknowledge your right to use the bathroom that matches your gender, there are plenty of communities that accept people of all gender identities, and telling people their gender isn't realistic just dissuades them from finding these communities.


"It's All Just A Social Construct Anyway"

Why should you care about your gender, some argue, when gender is just a social construct anyway? But pretty much everything we use on a daily basis is a social construct. Money is a social construct, and we still need it. Toilets are a social construct, and we'd be pretty unhappy without them. The point is, social constructs affect us. Cis people aren't held responsible for undoing social constructs by not caring about their gender, so trans and non-binary people shouldn't be either.