Nina Howe-Goldstein ’25
SAS Party Czar
At the Core 3 Tea in December (for which I had been volun-told to represent my class), a well-known Scripps administrator stopped by my table.
“I had heard about this,” she told the colleague. “It’s about helicopters, mostly, but it’s also about the post-9/11 militarization of D.C. and the absence of self-governance. She- wait, ‘they?’ ‘She?’ They? They? She?” When she turned to address me, the entire train of thought seemed at risk of being disrupted by a desire to get my pronouns right.
“Just ‘she,’” I responded pleasantly.
“Right. She — oh, but I forgot what I was talking about. Point is, it’s interesting.”
The “Nonbinarification of Nina Howe-Goldstein” is something I’ve struggled mightily against for years. Ever since I set foot onto Scripps campus, I’ve suffered the indignations of being misgendered straight into a liberal arts college stereotype while clinging tightly to the one thing I know for sure: I am a cisgendered woman, in spite of all purported evidence to the contrary.
At face value, the problem is that I’m bald. In ninth grade, never having learned to take care of my curl pattern, I simply shaved it all off. I liked the new cut tremendously; I thought it made my features look nicer, and I no longer had to contend with hair care. But little did I know that 13-year-old Nina was actually buzzing herself right into a gender crisis. I am bald, and I am Whiter than mayonnaise, and I have large glasses and wear quirky earrings. It turns out that at Scripps, merely waking up in the morning when you look like that is akin to coming out.
Should I list all my other pseudo-nonbinary traits? I have two pairs of Lucy & Yak dungarees. I listen to Sammy Rae and the Friends. I own a lot of houseplants. If I define myself entirely by my consumptive practices, I am the platonic ideal of androgyny. When Intro Chemistry students try to synthesize a “They/Them” in a lab, they get a 100% yield.
It’s impressive how often, as a cis woman, I still end up being misgendered. Preteen incels on TikTok will comment that I’ll “never be a she-her,” trying mightily to do a dumb transphobia on someone to whom it doesn’t apply. And perhaps most amazingly, this provokes overwhelming levels of anxiety in my extended family, because ever since my brother came out, they’ve been working very hard on the whole “pronouns” thing — nice on principle, but now that we have the same haircut, they eye me nervously and ask my mother in whispers if I’ve changed my name.
But this demands that we ask: what about the actual they/thems of Scripps College? I have a handful of doppelgangers wandering around campus — all of us pale, buzzed, and glasses-wearing, and of whom I dress the most femme… but all use “she/her” — which suggests that the stereotype is missing the actual nonbinary people it aims to identify.
I can’t help but suspect that this vision of androgyny is tied up in (what we might uncharitably call) the many “quirky White girl” aesthetics. I went to Pinterest on a whim, searched “nonbinary,” and was presented with rows of skinny, largely White models in dark academia fashion interspersed with the expected 2014-era-Tumblr-purple-and-yellow ephemera. If that won’t do, I can scroll a little further and see Jonathan Van Ness in the most appalling floral prints known to humankind — but there our variety ends. The increasingly-mainstream vision of nonbinary people imagines me, with my Doc Martens and lipstick and button-ups, but never seems to find someone outside that narrow range of identity and ~vibe~.
While I was out with a friend a few weeks ago, we discussed this issue. She was persistent in her belief that I must somehow be at least a LITTLE nonbinary, while I remained resolute.
“There’s gotta be a ‘they’ in there somewhere,” she teased.
Another example: an incident in which I accidentally they/them’d someone who uses she/her pronouns, and was promptly corrected by an onlooker. I’ll call him my “Anonymous Transgender Friend” (or “ATF,” an acronym with no other connotations whatsoever).
“I get sort of defensive about it — since women of color can be viewed as more masculine than they are. Or, like, more feminine too, I guess,” said the ATF nervously.
“Women of color, particularly Black women, often have to deal with the fetishization of their femininity and simultaneous unwanted masculinization,” I said. “Tracy McMillan Cottom has some good writing on the subject.”
“Were you in Waco, Texas in 1993?” I asked.
Devoted followers of this column may be wondering how, in the spirit of tradition, I’ll manage to drag long-suffering philosopher Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò into my bullshit this time. Don’t EVEN worry — a shamelessly flippant browse through Elite Capture provides all the answers.
The term “identity politics” was first popularized by the work of the Black feminist Combahee River Collective, who identified the need for a coalition-based approach that would allow Black women to “set their own political agendas” — not, as the term would later become notorious for, the creation of a supposed moral aristocracy through marginalized identities. The bastardization of the term, Táíwò eloquently argues, comes about when the elite — corporations and the powerful — take the latter definition and use it for their own interests, instead of collective uplift.
My going theory is that the presented vision of nonbinary-ness, embodied in — of all people — me has come about largely through a benign, boring attempt to corporatize and distill androgyny into something easy to understand and market towards. If I am nonbinary, then surely I am a marketable demographic who wants quirky vases, nonbinary-flag-themed socks, and the six-pack of haterade I buy weekly with my fake ID. I refuse to blame some corporate or transphobic conspiracy, so much as I apply Occam’s Razor in believing we all take the easy road when it comes to understanding the unfamiliar. Even the most well-meaning (my relatives; liberal arts college administrators) can fall victim.
Keep up the good work, Scripps.
Image Source: Aanji Sin ’24