Amber Sherer is nontraditional in every sense of the word.
Sherer is a 26-year-old senior who will graduate spring 2020. Sherer identifies as nonbinary and as bisexual.
Hannah Hanshaw, who works in the education and outreach division of Torreyson Library, approached Sherer about volunteering as a book for the Human Library to give the nonbinary community a voice.
“Amber’s official book title was ‘Living Beyond Binaries,’” Hanshaw said. “I thought that would make a great title that would attract readers’ attention and help them to understand what [being nonbinary is] about.”
Sherer accepted the challenge, regardless of struggling with depression, borderline personality disorder and anxiety.
Out of the dozens of people who interacted with Sherer, almost all Sherer’s experiences were positive.
“Overall, I want to stress that it was really good,” Sherer said.
However, two instances were not. When a psychology student and then a physiology faculty member checked Sherer out, Sherer spent each 20-minute session defending their own identity because of the student and faculty member’s differing ideologies.
Sherer was most uncomfortable with the faculty member’s insistence that, biologically, only two genders exist; however, intersex people born with a variety of biological variations atypical to binary gender norms.
“My mom completely ignores [that I’m nonbinary], and my dad will purposefully call me a girl to mess with me,” Sherer said. “I’ve just kind of given up on [my mom] accepting it, and I just have to deal with it if I want to have a relationship with her.”
Sherer was home schooled in her primary and secondary education. After graduating at 18, Sherer enrolled at Ozarka College in Mountain View, Arkansas, because their home life was tense. Sherer graduated with an associate of art degree at age 20 before transferring to UCA for one semester at 22.
Sherer’s education has been intermittent over the years as living situations have changed and impeded focusing on college. Sherer remained determined, reenrolling at UCA at 24, double majoring in computational linguistics and philosophy with double minors in sociology and Chinese.
Sherer has volunteered at the Bear Essential Food Pantry for two to four hours per week for the past two years and at Paper Airplanes, providing one-on-one tutoring in English for Syrian refugees for the past two and a half years.
Sherer is a readily recognizable character whom many have likely seen across campus, between trademark — cherry red, heart-shaped glasses — and a flare for dresses and unshaved legs, most who have seen Sherer have likely taken notice.
“I got these [glasses] on Zenni and I was like, ‘These are super cute but there’s no way you are going to wear them every day,’” Sherer said. “[But] they tend to make people happy, and I like making people happy.”
Regardless of their affinity for dresses, Sherer said that you can’t really judge people’s identities based on accessories.
“I get that people are going to look at me and think, ‘Yeah, that’s a girl,’” Sherer said. “But one thing I’ve tried to really stress to people is that you can’t tell a person’s gender by looking at them. And so, I try to explain that a really good praxis is to ask people what their pronouns are.”
Beyond a striking physical appearance — complete with tattoos and facial piercings — lies the story of a person who has faced many trials.
Sherer was diagnosed with anxiety and depression at 11, then experienced sexual assault as a teenager. Sherer was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder at 15, and was properly diagnosed with borderline personality disorder at 20.
“I learned more through memes than I did from a few years of therapy in how I deal with my borderline experiences,” Sherer said.
BPD is typically experienced through big emotional experiences, but for Sherer all those emotions get turned inward.
“I have all the suicidal ideation that is like one of the classic qualifier questions for borderline,” Sherer said. “[Along with] splitting, which is going from one emotional extreme to another, usually [against] someone you care about, and you can’t control it.”
Through therapy, Sherer learned to control their borderline symptoms.
“It’s usually worse with people you are closer to,” Sherer said. “That’s why it’s a lot harder for me to control my tendencies when I’m in a relationship than whenever I’m not in a relationship. Just because that person becomes your favorite person, the one that you want around all the time or the one that you talk to [the most].”
Sherer said, oftentimes, borderline symptoms are comorbid with eating disorders, self-harm and fear of abandonment, each of which have flared up for Sherer recently.
“Borderline is often misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder,” Sherer said. “There’s also some thought that borderline is just complex PTSD, but that because it presents more in women, or people who are coded as women, that it is misogyny that is not classifying it as PTSD … some of the symptoms overlap.”
Despite their struggles, Sherer has continued their educational journey with the simple aspiration stamped on the side of their glasses, to just “be good.”