The Outsiders : The Struggle Of Nonconformity


According to a recent study conducted by Dr. Gretchen P. Kenagy, a health and education researcher at the University of Illinois, “43% of gender non-conforming individuals reported feeling uncomfortable in public because of their gender identity” (Kenagy 4). This unsurprising statistic represents many agender people who feel threatened by a society of citizens unlike themselves, as most cis-gendered individuals have biased views on gender identity. As portrayed by the article, Struggles of Rejecting the Gender Binary, by Daniel Bergner, some gender-nonconforming individuals are inevitably damaged by the limits and restrictions of a predominately heterosexual and birth-sex identifying society (Bergner). This could mean physical harassment, emotional abuse, or possibly, being a target of a hate crime. Similarly, Dashka Slater’s novel, The 57 Bus, follows an agender teenager named Sasha and the horrific act that set them aflame due to their nonbinary representation. A cis-gender teen named Richard, the perpetrator of this crime, represents the root of gender bias in The 57 Bus, as he crafts an image of hate and prejudice in the story. This article emphasizes that the limitations of gender barriers in the non-fiction book result from cis-gender bias and dramatically expresses the social struggles and consequences of modern-day teens who do not conform to the outdated standards of basic gender identities. 

In the article, Bergner highlights the social struggles faced by many nonbinary teenagers, such as implicit bias from peers, social embarrassment for defying strict gender barriers, and internalized identity confusion due to an outside society of criticism, all of which follow a common theme of cis-gender bias. As stated in the article, one nonbinary teenager named Kai faces trouble transitioning to the person they once dreamt of becoming. Specifically, they were met with struggles inside of their home, as many of their family members questioned their choices about becoming agender, for they made it seem as if being nonbinary was not an adequate life choice for Kai. This included the disapproval of their parents, and a select group of Kai’s uncles. When asked about their experience of being exposed to a family of cis-gender people, they mentioned that sometimes “coming out requires preparation, putting on emotional armor… “‘One of the hardest things for me,”’ he said, ‘“is to say to myself, Yes, I’m real”’ (Bergner). As a person that differs from a society of “normal” people, it is hard to recognize that they are accepted. Obviously, Kai struggles to comprehend that being nonbinary is “real” (Bergner), as many people refuse to understand, or even acknowledge their life choices. As a result of this ongoing ignorance, it is hard for people such as Kai to live their lives, for a society of cis-gender people makes it seem unrealistic to become nonbinary. 

Another nonbinary teenager named Salem emphasized their struggle with society, especially with cis-gender people who have trouble comprehending Salem’s struggles. Even as early as elementary school, Salem recounts that they told a friend about their gender identity issues, which resulted in an end to their relationship. They remember that “they confided...in one of their closest childhood friends, hoping for the intimacy of the sleepovers they’d once had...they were on the brink of tears. “‘I’m sorry,”’ they said” (Bergner). This shows the societal disapproval of nonbinary people; even implicitly, the bias is hurtful to those who do not fit into basic gender identities. Such behavior makes people such as Salem question themselves and eventually cause them to be humiliated with who they have become, for people like them “were on the brink of tears” (Bergner). This draws back to how a society of pressure, internalized hate, and strict gender barriers are hurtful and destructive. Especially for the nonbinary citizens who must endure the pain and harassment of being unlike many others, as these behaviors sprout from cis-gender bias. 

Evidence of Bergner’s ideas are displayed in The 57 Bus, as Slater portrays a common theme that, in a society of primarily cis-gender people, nonbinary citizens such as Sasha are oppressed through public harassment and humiliation due to defying the stereotypes of basic gender identities. An example of this statement occurs when Sasha is singled out by Richard and set aflame, chosen because of their nonbinary representation. Sasha’s parents, Karl and Debbie, discuss the incident during Richard’s trial. With compassion, Debbie crisply announces that “you attacked our child as they slept on a bus...maybe you thought it was weird that Sasha was wearing a skirt (Slater 263). She continues to explain that Richard’s actions were filled with hate and frustration, for he physically harassed Sasha because of their skirt (Slater 263). This emphasizes that Richard, and his actions, are an evident example of a society in which cis-gender people harass those unlike themselves. As stated by Debbie, Sasha’s mother, it is likely that Richard thought Sasha was “weird” (Slater 263). Due to this, Sasha will live in pain because of Richard’s hurtful behavior, proving the repercussions of cis-gender bias. These implicit, yet deadly actions are the root of gender-bias in the non-fiction book and prove to be the source of all issues presented in the story. As seen with Sasha, if they were not wearing a skirt, it is likely that Richard would have avoided setting their clothing aflame. In the end, these behaviors highlight the social rejection and humiliation that nonbinary teens must endure for being themselves.

The lasting effects of cis-gender bias are seen when Kai and Salem are frowned upon by a society consisting of family members and friends, all of which exert anger and frustration with them for not conforming to basic gender identities. In similarity, Sasha is physically assaulted for wearing a skirt, showing the disapproval of nonbinary people in a civilization in which many teens experience bias, especially from citizens of cis-gender backgrounds. This statement, and therefore issue of injustice in The 57 Bus and the article, prove that teens such as Salem, Kai, and Sasha need to be treated as equals no matter how they choose to express themselves. Through learning and education, it is possible to help others understand the struggles of being nonbinary. Possibly creating for a kinder, and more empathetic generation. This means eliminating the implicit gender bias the many nonbinary people must endure on a daily basis. In reality, the world could become a kinder place, but only if people were to stop hurting each other for being different, as differences are what makes the world beautiful.

Works Cited

Bergner, Daniel. “The Struggles of Rejecting the Gender Binary.” The New York Times, 4 June 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/06/04/magazine/gender-nonbinary.html.

Kenagy, Gretchen P. “Transgender Health: Findings from Two Needs Assessment Studies in Philadelphia.” Health & Social Work, vol. 30, no. 1, 2005, pp. 19–26, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15847234, 10.1093/hsw/30.1.19. Accessed 17 Dec. 2019.

Slater, Dashka. The 57 Bus : A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives. London, Wren & Rook, 2018.

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