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Reconciling Non-Binary Identity on a Woman's College Campus

Radix Admin

by Emma Podolsky '18

Last night after a long phone call with my mother -- half of which was spent trying to explain how I identify, the other half spent ugly-crying -- I walked back to my room from the green and, the minute I got into bed, just knew I had to write. Write about my experience with non-binary identity, with coming out, with how it affects my educational trajectory, with reconciling all this in a women’s space.

Lately I’ve found myself in a halfway world where I know this environment may be the best I’ll ever experience in terms of encouraging self-development, as well as educational opportunities presented to someone like me. Halfway between wondering if I truly belong in a space for women, being that I don’t align myself with womanhood entirely. Explaining my non-binary identity at a historically women’s college to anyone on the outside feels like speaking in halves rather than a whole.  

Whether I’m sitting in a classroom, dining hall, general lectures, or at an on-campus event with friends, I always call my agency and authenticity into question as a student on a campus such as this. Am I taking up space that a woman could benefit extraordinarily from? Am I only here because I’m read as a woman by my peers? Do I deserve a place at a women’s institution even though I experience life as neither a woman nor man, but as a non-binary person? Before the monumental change to our admissions policy was announced at this year’s convocation ceremony, I couldn’t help but think that I was only admitted to Mount Holyoke by somehow duping the staff at the admissions office: selecting “female” on the common application because it was one of the two options I had. “Male” certainly didn’t fit. I knew that much, but neither did the former. These feelings of strange un-belonging and impostering remained and, in many ways, still haven’t gone away. Although these thoughts and emotions haven’t dissipated entirely, I now feel more established in myself as a member of this community than I did walking through the gates for the first time last August.

Part of my experience comes along with a constant sense of self-vigilance, always remaining extremely aware of who I am, and the space I take up. What’s “right” for me to do, shrink myself or make myself larger? Embrace with abandon or live quietly with the feelings I carry?

I do, however, know that the safety I feel within this community is unparalleled by anywhere else I’ve ever been. The opportunities I’m granted as a student at this institution may have never been option had I attended a co-ed school.  I’m still learning to accept that I am as valuable a member of this community as any woman on this campus, that my existence here is just as important as the existence of any other student attending Mount Holyoke.

In short, I do exist in parts. I’m two halves of a whole slowly moving closer together as I learn to negotiate myself in a neither world of non-binary identity at a historically women’s institution. I’m slowly learning to build more bridges to connect myself between these worlds, to travel between my two spheres of existence more often, and maybe even bond them with one another if that day comes.

After a long night of puffy, red eyes and snotty Kleenex, I woke up to a text from my mom reading, “I understand. I am trying my best to, anyway. I love you.” This seemingly continental divide inches closer together.