Nov 122021

In discussion with a close friend of mine, she mentioned that she thinks of herself as non-binary. She is cis, sexual, beautiful, and obviously female. I was curious what she meant by non-binary.*


I may have missed some aspects of it, but the primary thrust was such:  She never fit in with other girls/women. The things they were interested in bored her. The things she was interested in made them look askance at her. She doesn’t care to talk about make-up and girly stuff. She’s not a barbie doll. She hated their social dynamics. She felt far more comfortable in groups of boys, and would seek those out. She basically always felt like an outcast, and hated when other people pushed her to go play with girls, or denied her things because she was a girl. The female world didn’t fit her. And she was denied access to the male world. To this day she gets anxiety when thinking about joining any groups marketed as “for women,” and strongly avoids them.

I was a bit taken aback, not by the experience, but by that idea that this means she’s not a woman. In my view, thinking that this makes you not a woman is really sexist (and by extention, NB’s now seem even more sexist to me). We don’t need to make this about sex! We’ve had a word for this type of person for decades. It’s “Nerd.” (Or “Geek,” depending on your dialect.) The first thing I wanted to say was “That’s it? Try being a nerd growing up.” I didn’t, because I’m not an asshole. And also because I already know she was ALSO nerd growing up, and still is. It’s one of the things that binds us together. :)

The thing she described is, IMO, the experience of being a social outcast because you’re weird and different. That… can be looked at in a gendered way, I guess, if you want to force it. Especially if that’s how the people around you are pushing you to see it. But it’s not about gender, directly, is it? It’s not about feeling disgusted by your body. Not about feeling horrified when you look at yourself in a mirror. Not about feeling like something went terribly wrong and you’ve been forced into the wrong skin and can’t get it off, and no one can see that, and if only they could see that things would be better. It’s not gender dysphoria. It’s a more basic not-fitting-in with society, or the world at large. It’s existence dysphoria.

Existence dysphoria is feeling aliented from the world around you. Something went terribly wrong, and you’re living the wrong existence. The world doesn’t fit. It doesn’t have room for you, you don’t interface well with it. All your instincts and feelings are wrong, either subtely or blatently, and you are constantly being reminded of it. And no one else realizes how wrong everything is. No one can see this. If only they could see it, things would be better.

Sex and gender roles are a part of that, sure. But they aren’t the cause. Implementing gender dysphoria treatments won’t fix existential dysphoria.


I don’t dislike any given non-binary person, but I find the movement as a whole to be a bit obnoxious. First, because it does seem rather sexist, as commented on above. But also, because it appropriates the extistential dysphoria experience and tries to make it about gender.

If you swap the genders in the first paragraph of Section I, you’d have a perfect description of me (and my nerd friends, of both sexes.) I was bored to death of sports and “masculine” stuff. I’m not manly. I hated the social dynamics of all the normal kids. I felt (and feel) far more comfortable around girls/women. I was always an outcast from the regular people. I will never join anything marketed as “for men” and even thinking about the type of people who would join such a group gives me the willies.

But that doesn’t make me not a man. Anyone who tries to belittle me or impy otherwise can kiss my ass. This was one of the pillars of the gender-equality movement. It was one of the reasons we fought for gender equality. It doesn’t matter what’s between your legs. You are allowed to dress how you want, talk how you want, wear make-up or not as you want. You can be interested in whatever interests you, and stereotypes be damned. It will never, ever make you less of a man/woman to have different interests. Those trying to control you like that are barbarians living in benighted intellectual squalor.

To cede that ground now seems like giving up after we’ve already won. It is saying that not only were the sexist assholes right, they were so right that we can’t even consider ourselves sexual humans any more. We aren’t men or women. We are a non-gendered other.

To make matters worse, it strengthens the stereotypes of those who don’t alienate themselves from their sex. It buys into and reinforces the idea that to be a real man you have to like sports and beer. To be a real woman you have to love make-up and gossip. In both cases, you have to dress a certain way, and talk a certain way.

And what for? The existential dysphoria mostly remains.

The best outcome is that geeks suffering from existential dysphoria find each other through these non-binary channels, connect with each other, and form their own social support networks. This is certainly a benefit. But it does not need to come at the expense of surrendering to the claims that we aren’t really men/women. Geeks have been finding each other long before non-binaryism was created.

The worst outcome is that those suffering from existential dysphoria will expect the implementation of gender dysphoria relief measures to help them, and when they don’t, sinking further into x-dysphoria. One of the major negative impacts of homeopathy is displacing actual real medicine that would have otherwise helped a patient. Non-binaryism has the same problem. Telling people to they/them you doesn’t make the world not broken. It addresses literally nothing.


I also find it distasteful the way non-binaryism appropriates the experience of trans people, and tries to legitimize itself off of their suffering and struggles. But I’m not trans myself, so I have very little to say about this other than what I just did.


In summary, non-binaryism is yet another way for people to try to take the lives and experiences of neuro-divergents (“nerds/geeks”) and redirect them to their pet political causes (“wokeism”) while giving the neuro-divergents little of value, and harming a great many of them in the process. Same as it ever was.

*if you’re reading this, hi! I hope you don’t mind me using this as a jumping-off point for my public thoughts.

  9 Responses to “Existential Dysphoria”

  1. It’s not clear to me how gender dysphoria relief measures don’t help; that feels like an empirical question that a case isn’t even made for the only enby referenced, let alone as a class.

    Also, it feels weird to take an experience like “I feel bad being called a woman” and reply “Don’t worry, we’ve won! A woman can be anything she wants! Have you tried not feeling bad (but not by taking actions to distance yourself from the thing that makes you feel bad)? You don’t need to feel like less of a woman, and if doing so makes you feel better you’re giving in to the barbarians! I’m the good person here by treating your personal pain as either a political tool you are wielding with malice, or that you yourself are simply a naive tool yourself!”

    • I mean… do you hate women? Or do you hate being thought of as a woman? If the former, then yes, I think that is a problem with you. But it’s not an uncommon problem, and it’s one we (as a society) have been working on fixing for a while. If it’s the latter, then I regret to say this, but… asking your friends to pretend they don’t know what sex you are won’t actually change that they can see what sex you are. Shaming strangers that don’t pretend they don’t know what sex you are, also won’t change what they can see.

      It’s not exactly a secret that I’m not a fan of males, and I dislike being one. Putting requirements on others to use special language about me won’t change anything about the fact that they see a male when they look at me. The best we can do it make it not matter so damn much what sex someone is. And furthering the narative of “being this sex is so awful I want people to pretend I’m not that sex” does the opposite of that.

      I want to apologize in advance for the hurt that I think saying this has probably caused. I’m not sure how to put it in less hurtful terms without making myself a liar in my eyes. I’m sorry the world sucks. :(

      • How does this square with your perception of binary trans folks? Why is it okay to tell AFAB non-binary folks that they can just present less femme if they want without having to be not-women, but I assume you think doing the same to AFAB men is rude?

        • I am having a very hard time parsing your question. It’s OK to tell women they can be less femme because *they can.* How femme or not you choose to be doesn’t matter to anything or anyone aside from your romantic partner (or, I guess, for certain professions, but those are rare). Women shouldn’t feel pressured to be more or less femme to fit anyone’s ideal but their own. Ain’t nobody’s business.

          Transmen explicitly want to be seen as men. Being seen as women is, from what I’ve been told, traumatic. They *do* have gender dysphoria, which is a horrible condition by all accounts. Telling someone like that “don’t worry about looking femme, it doesn’t mean you’re not a woman!” is explicitly besides the point, and kinda cruel.

          • I’m likely tapping out of this conversation, but I wanted to be explicit that
            1. It’s due to personal bandwidth, not the contents of the conversation itself.
            2. Even though we didn’t get to that point, based on the above I predict we would have gotten to a point where we weren’t talking past each other.
            3. You displayed a supererogatory amount of equanimity in response to my (by my estimation) heated/not entirely friendly first comment, and should get credit for that.

  2. Well put. I don’t want to especially be in the business of trying to police others experience and I want to be able to trust that if someone says they don’t identify as gendered then they can do so, but I also think what you’re seeing is right: there’s some nasty incentives at work within our current culture that are pushing us to become more sexist on the whole as we try to become less sexist. Something like we’re Goodharting ourselves on sexism because we’re unwilling to tolerate even a hint of sexism, and it’s pushing things so hard that it’s backfiring and making sex more rather than less a factor in people’s lives.

    I think something very similar is happening with race and racism. I’m not saying we’re really a post-racial society or anything like that, but that we’re also pushing so hard to squeeze these things out that in the process we’re actually making the on the ground situation worse by making race more rather than less important in ways that don’t advance equality, justice, or equity.

    I also see something like this happening with mental health. Rather than being a little weird, people seem quite eager to be diagnosed as one thing or another. In some cases a diagnosis is quite useful, but again it’s something like we’re pushing it so hard to identify every ounce of possible mental illness that we’re pattern matching and finding it in places where people would have actually be fine if, rather than treating their issues as mental health problems, they just tried to work through them using more prosaic methods. Something like identifying as having X amps up the X in a way that goes way beyond what would have happened if X was not even identified and was allowed to fizzle out on its own.

    My guess is there’s something going on underneath that’s about suffering and identity. Humans really like understanding themselves and doing so through identifying with things that help explain themselves and others. Then mix in that people find their lives are not perfectly happy, and then try to find the root of that suffering. You mix these things together and sometimes it can seem like the way to fix a problem is to change your identity. Sometimes this will be true, but sometimes it’s just wasted motion.

    To give a silly example, imagine people strongly identified as Coke or Pepsi drinkers and this had significant impacts on where they could work, what hobbies they could have, and who they could be friends with. Maybe 70% of the population felt comfortable being in one of those two camps. What about the other 30%? It’s a mix of folks who don’t like cola, like other brands, are indifferent between the two, and so on. What would benefit us more in this world: if we normalized this third category of Other drinkers or if we just made it so what you liked to drink just didn’t matter so much? When you frame it this way, I think it becomes clearer that the Other category is only useful if we give up on the idea that creating a world where you can drink whatever you want and it put no limits on your actions.

    To bring this back around, my guess is that many people feel like sex, race, and other categories are fixed strongly in the world and that the only way they can get around them is to try to work within the system by putting themselves in a box that doesn’t tie them to the common choices or try to do things to make living in a particular box more tolerable. For some reason the idea of just not having these boxes trap us has come to seem less attainable I think, and so people are now less excited about that route.

  3. So your model is that non-binary folks are just nerdy people who don’t fit in or are neurodivergent. Sends like a strong and somewhat interesting claim but also seems extremely unlikely to be that simple and misunderstood. Any evidence other than your guesses about this one friend of yours?

    • Evidence of what? That non-transitioning non-binary people aren’t transitioning? You can just ask them if they are or aren’t. That they don’t feel like the stereotype of Barbi/GI Joe? You can ask them that too. That they believe if they don’t fit that stereotype then they aren’t real women/men? Again, the solution is obvious.

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