Courtney Stodden Is a High-Femme, Nonbinary Icon. Yes, They Can Be Both.

Stodden's nonbinary identity coupled with an over-the-top feminine aesthetic comes as an important lesson in why you can't tell gender by appearance

closeup selfie of Courtney Stodden
Courtney Stodden has come out as nonbinary.
Twitter/Courtney Stodden

Courtney Stodden, a public figure best known for an exaggerated, Anna Nicole Smith-esque aesthetic and controversial marriage to middle-aged actor Doug Hutchison at the age of 16, has come out as nonbinary. Stodden broke the news on Twitter earlier this week, announcing their pivot to “they/them/theirs” pronouns.

“I don’t Identify as she or her,” Stodden wrote in the tweet. “I’ve never felt like I ever fit in anywhere. I was bullied horribly in school because I was different. The other girls never understood me. I never really connected with anyone my age. My spirit is fluid w a kaleidoscope of color.”

Stodden’s coming out quickly drew support from fans and nonbinary advocates, with particular praise for the star’s role as a representative of the high-femme nonbinary experience. “I love more high femme presenting NB people coming out, I always feel so much more valid,” tweeted one supporter.

From their debut in the public eye as a 16-year-old child bride in 2011, Stodden’s aesthetic has always preceded them. As a teen in heavy makeup, sky-high platform heels and skintight dresses contoured to an obviously cosmetically altered figure, Stodden was a walking embodiment of a highly sexualized brand of femininity most closely associated with Playboy centerfolds of the ’90s and early 2000s. For someone so long linked to such an overtly female-presenting identity to come out as nonbinary speaks volumes for gender fluidity and the crucial distinction between presentation and identity.

While many who are unfamiliar with the nonbinary community may tend to assume individuals who identify as nonbinary would appear obviously gender-nonconforming, the reality is that trans and nonbinary folx can and do embrace a wide variety of different aesthetics, even seemingly contradictory ones that may or may not reflect certain gendered influences. A nonbinary announcement from Stodden, who appears to maintain a passion for elaborate false lashes, barely-there bikinis and sexy lingerie, comes as an important reminder that you can never tell someone’s gender identity just by looking at them.

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