I am a genderqueer and nonbinary therapist. I’m also bisexual/pansexual. I am writing this article to articulate my understanding of what’s hard about these identities, and what helps.
This post is lightly edited from an article that was published in the Summer 2017 edition of the Oregon Counseling Association newsletter, which was a special issue on social justice concerns. Here, I am trying to articulate my position to educate counselors about the needs of people like me.
Being genderqueer is hard because I almost never get read right. Outside of queer circles, most people will call me ‘man’ or ‘sir,’ which I find pretty irritating. Even when I present in an androgynous way, wearing makeup, dangly earrings, and what have you, I get misgendered and erased.
So please, never assume you know someone’s gender or pronouns until you ask them. Until then, avoid binary pronouns or salutations. Rather than “ladies and gentlemen,” say “honored guests;” rather than “sir” or “ma’am,” say “my friend,” or simply “hello.” Gendering strangers is needless. Genderqueer and nonbinary people are trying hard to be read as who they are, and getting cast into a binary gender by others is to experience a kind of subtle and pervasive violence.
On the plus side, I get to choose my own adventure, and remix my gender performance however I want. That leaves a lot of room for creativity and exploration.
Being bisexual/pansexual in a world that assumes monosexuality is confusing. Speaking for myself, I am inclined towards deep emotional intimacy and stability with perhaps one person, but my sexual and romantic desires pull me in multiple directions. This is not pathological, but it requires constant adaptation.
I am gaining greater clarity on my own sexual and relational needs, and non-monogamy seems increasingly rational. This runs counter to everything I was taught by my family and culture about how to conduct relationships. This dissonance has caused a lot of stress. Navigating the tension of multiple desires and intense needs for emotional intimacy, safety, and freedom are core themes of my relational life.
Once when I discussed this problem with a counselor, he said being bisexual must be great— I had more of everything. I was livid. He had no idea how difficult it is. I get neither the privilege of heterosexual culture, nor the belonging of homosexual identity. I am stuck in the middle (or somewhere else altogether) and it is uneasy. Yet this creative constraint forces me to really look at things and choose for myself.
Community: Violence and Healing
White supremacist heteropatriarchal capitalist culture teaches us that sex is bad, being different is bad, and being sexually different is especially bad. Living in this world, being who I am, loving who I love and having the sex and relationships I want has long felt forbidden and profane.
Good books, good therapy, good relationships, and good community are the most important resources I have encountered in my queer recovery. We all need to recover from this violent system, and feminism, racial justice, and other social justice movements are crucial to doing this work.
Because social violence creates queer suffering, queer identity is a place of political commitment. We should stand in solidarity with other movements to create a truly just society, and heal individually and collectively.
Adams, M., Blumenfeld, W. J., Castañeda, R., Hackman, H. W., Peters, M. L., & Zúñiga, X. (Eds.). (2000). Readings for diversity and social justice (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Adichie, C. N. (2014). We should all be feminists. New York, NY: Anchor Books.
Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues in Counseling (ALGBTIC). (2012). ALGBTIC competencies for counseling lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, and ally individuals. Retrieved from http://www.algbtic.org/images/stories/ALGBTIC_Comps_for_Counseling_LGBQQIA_Individuals_Final.pdf
Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues in Counseling. (n.d.). LGBTQQIA References & Resources. Retrieved June 18, 2017, from http://algbtic.org/lgbtqqia-references—resources.html
Bornstein, K. (2013). My new gender workbook: A step-by-step guide to achieving world peace through gender anarchy and sex positivity (2nd ed). New York, NY: Routledge.
Butler, J. (2006). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity (10th anniversary ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Carrellas, B. (2012). Ecstasy is necessary: A practical guide. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House.
Easton, D., & Hardy, J. W. (2009). The ethical slut: A practical guide to polyamory, open relationships & other adventures (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts.
Eisner, S. (2013). Bi: Notes for a bisexual revolution. Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.
Firestein, B. A. (Ed.). (1996). Bisexuality: The psychology and politics of an invisible minority. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
hooks, bell. (1989). Talking back: Thinking feminist, thinking black. Boston, MA: South End Press.
Halperin, D. M. (1997). Saint Foucault: Towards a gay hagiography. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Magnuson, J. (2008). Mindful economics: How the U.S. economy works, why it matters, and how it could be different. New York, NY: Seven Stories Press.
About the author
Sasha Strong, Ph.D., is an LPC in private practice at Brilliancy Counseling in southeast Portland, OR. They offer individual therapy and support groups for trans and nonbinary/genderqueer people, as well as trans and non-binary competency trainings for health professionals.