Many of this decade’s pop culture juggernauts—from Orange Is the New Black to Caitlyn Jenner—have highlighted the lives of trans people. These artifacts have helped popularize the narrative of “switching” from one gender to the other, or feeling “trapped” in your body. But while this narrative has made transitioning easier for many, it has also reinforced the notion that people are either male or female, and that there is no middle ground. For genderqueer or gender nonconforming people, that narrative is insufficient, and they’re often left struggling to explain to TSA agents, to clothing retailers, even to close friends that neither pronoun reflects who they are. That understanding is slow in coming. As Alex Marzano-Lesnevich wrote in their January essay in Harper’s Magazine, many people still ask, “I mean, what am I supposed to think of you as?”
In this week’s podcast, Marzano-Lesnevich, author of The Fact of a Body, speaks with web editor Violet Lucca about why it’s so hard to convey a nonconforming identity to a society trained to sort everyone into one of two bins. Historically, they argue, this gender essentialism is relatively recent, a product of a simplex Darwinian worldview that reduced everything to the biological elements of reproduction. Through this essay and conversation, Marzano-Lesnevich says, they hope to open more space for those who feel confined by the gender binary, and illustrate how the quotidian minutiae of their experience add up to a life that we have the language to understand.