My name is Renae Gage1 and I am a binary thinker.
If I was ever anything else, it was far away and long ago, lost even to memory. Not 100% of the time of course. It do hate peas and carrots more or less equally, and I observe that some folk really are a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll. Nevertheless, binary thinking is my tragic flaw, the pit into which I regularly fall. “As a dog returns to its vomit,” offers the scriptures, “so fools repeat their folly.”
Speaking of which, I blame religious indoctrination for this rut in my thinking. I was raised on Heaven and Hell, good and evil, darkness and light, blessings and curses. The stripe of Christianity which I was force-fed does not do nuance well. Whether this only amplified some innate tendency within me or produced it out of whole cloth, my reflexes are honed to a razor’s edge. Where others see similarity, I see difference. My contrast knob 2 is dialed to the maximum.
The fact that I have rejected the crucible in which I was fired is of no consequence–the pattern is etched in my brain, and there isn’t a hell of a lot I can do about it. In fact, the manner in which I extracted myself from religion looks just as binary–some people just file their faith on a dusty back shelf and ignore it. I sent mine packing, barred the doors and secured a restraining order lest it ever contemplate a return.
Being a binary thinker is a serious bummer as a transgender person. It has taken a Herculean effort for me to understand, for example, gender as a spectrum or, even more, as a social construction. To be sure, I understand it up here, but not so much in here. Note to self: add head/heart to my list of artificial binaries.
It seems that the difficulty is primarily internal. I have friends who reject gender completely and I think I am able to take their assertions at face value. Nor would I think any less of another trans person who told me that they don’t fit neatly into the boy or the girl box. I thoroughly accept that people are, so long as they are honest, exactly who they say they are.
For me, however, the binary tyrant lives. I am unable to shrug at my variance. Every day, I run into people who are ostensibly 100% male or 100% female with the singular exception of my morning encounter with the mirror. I can opine until I am ROYGBIV3 in the face about gender as a spectrum, but waiting for me around every corner are two little boxes labeled “M” and “F”.
Nor is it just me, society. I hear your “Good night, ladies. Good night, Renae.” I feel your hand-crushing handshakes and bro hugs. I notice the angle of your lip when you stare at me in the checkout line. Nevertheless, I recognize the steep discount I am getting. In some places, the price is much, much higher.
I don’t believe in a world without gender. I don’t feel genderless. I feel feminine. While the younger generations may be starting to chip away at the moulds, most of us were already hardened in them. I’m told that I need to let go of the binary. What if I can’t? What if this also is simply something that is?
I’ve had the privilege of meeting more and more trans people. Some are happy and others not so much. Almost none of them are “embracing the broader gender continuum”. To an individual, they all seem to be crawling into the “other box” and closing the lid. The ones who fit in the box better seem to be happier. Maybe that’s all you can do. You can’t beat everybody.