Non-Binary Social Transition

"passing", activism, agender, cissexism, coming out, dehumanization, dysphoria, gender fluid, genderfluid, genderqueer, misgendering, non-binary, pronouns, transgender, transphobia

TW: transphobia, binarism, coming out

You all, being out is exhausting some days. It is a hard, long, heartbreaking slog. I remember when I was first finding words for my gender and reading about how rainbowgenderpunk wore name and pronoun tags everywhere, insisting that people respect their gender identity.

I was completely impressed and astonished at how rainbowgenderpunk went out into the world every day, insisting on being recognized for themself. Some trans people do not have this choice–some trans people simply do not pass as a cis person of either binary gender. They can’t revoke their own passing privilege with a nametag–they just live it, every day.

I pass as a gender-non-conforming cis woman, most of the time. It’s a wrong assumption, but it’s what people see when they see me: a queer woman. Just typing that makes me feel dysphoric. Coming out has meant dismantling that assumption whenever I am able/comfortable. And, the longer I am out, the more I clarify my gender in a larger amount of places and with more people. The longer I am out, the more I have the courage and confidence to insist on my right pronouns with people who already know them.

Now that I have been out publicly for a whole… hm, 3 or 4 months, I have to say that the excitement has worn off. The glow, if there was any, is gone. The apprehension and anxiety of “Will they accept me?” has changed to the apprehension and anxiety of “Should I be the ‘good trans person’ or the ‘angry trans person’ today?” The question is never, “Will my voice be heard and respected today?” This has become my real life, and it’s hard to swallow.

A friend of mine asked me this weekend, “Do you want to fight?” I said “no” with the core of my being. No, I do not want to fight. I do not want to fight for a space in this world where I can be myself. I do not want to fight, but I have no choice. I must fight, in almost every space I am, every minute of every day. I have some havens, unlike many trans people. I have friends who are totally affirming–I’ve ditched the ones that aren’t. But outside of that small circle, the world erases my existence over and over, and I am pushing so hard to keep myself intact.

I wish I could choose when to turn on my fight, at least, but that is not an option. I wish I could find a job where I was physically and mentally safe. Maybe that will happen. Settling into non-binary social transition means apprehensive faces on the people that have heard about you, but don’t know what to do with you. It means faces that have turned from friendly warmth, from asking how you are doing and how your job is going, to an “Um, hi.” Coming out means being seen as angry when you ask for people to call you by the right words. Coming out means no matter how good a worker you are, how fancy your resume, you will be unemployable.

Because coming out as non-binary means coming out as a revolutionary. There is no other option. I am radical, and I care about our movement, but I want to take off the cloak once in a while. I want to just be me.

Here, though, we are revolutionaries, day in and day out. We are revolutionaries when we insist on respect, over, and over, and over. We insist daily on what others have for granted. We are revolutionaries, too, when we simply keep on breathing. We are revolutionaries by being here in this world, this world that has erased us over and over into dust, still stuck in rubbery threads to the page. We are revolutionaries when we stay stuck to that page no matter how they try to brush us off. When we slowly, slowly, piece ourselves together from the indentations that were left by those that came before.

We are, too, revolutionaries if we never come out. Coming out–and then being out–is the hardest shit, sometimes, a lot of the time. Being yourself and alive inside of your skin–no one even knowing–that is a radical act. Because once you are out, you can never stop fighting.

Who are you when you transition to “neither” or to “both”? What are the social expectations for non-binary people? We talk about transitioning to male or female and what the jarring disorientation of that looks like–but what happens when we insist on non-binary gender?

Our experiences vary even more widely than for binary social transition. Please feel free to share your own stories, here or on your own blogs. Keep on going, keep on going, whether you only live on the private insides of your skin or you wear a nametag every day or you wake up fully visible as trans or non-binary. You are giving love to yourself and love to your community every time you wake up.

Thank you. The world does not thank you, but I do. Thank you for sticking tight to the pages of the world, and filling in the painstaking drawings of our lives, again and again and again.

…And stay tuned for Part II, where we get out of the downer end of things and into some highlights of my own coming-out process. AKA “In Which Coming Out Is Actually OK Sometimes.”

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“Women’s” Colleges, Trans Inclusion, and Non-Binary Invisibility

"passing", activism, agender, ally, cissexism, dehumanization, gender fluid, genderqueer, non-binary, privilege, trans men, trans narrative, trans women, transgender, women's college

TRIGGER WARNING: cissexism, trans exclusion in “women’s” spaces, binarism, suicide statistics

Cis women do not have a monopoly on gender-based oppression.

Let me say this again, louder: CIS WOMEN DO NOT HAVE A MONOPOLY ON GENDER-BASED OPPRESSION.

One thing we talk about is how any oppressed group has a “dominant”–a more discussed–subset. In the case of gender-based oppression, it can be tricky to determine who has the most privilege. There are all sorts of gender-based privileges: cis passing privilege, the privilege of passing as your actual gender, binary privilege, cisgender privilege, male privilege, masculine privilege. Many or most people who experience gender-based oppression also hold one or more of these privileges.

What is very clear, however, is that the movement for gender rights that has the most institutional power is the movement for cisgender women’s rights. I’m not saying they have a lot of institutional power. I’m not saying they have it as good as cis men. I’m not saying any of that. I’m not trying to say that sexism against cis women is unreal. All I’m saying is that they don’t have a monopoly on gender-based oppression–yet they have a near-monopoly on the resources and spaces to combat it.

There are times when any and every subset of people that face gender-based oppression need their own space, or their own moment to speak out against wrongs done to them. Closed spaces are important. However, there are times when closed spaces become exclusive spaces. There are times when that closedness is oppressive.

It is oppressive many of the times that cisgender women close their doors to anyone else facing gender-based oppression. The exclusion of trans women from closed women’s spaces is egregious. It is vital that they are included in closed women’s spaces. I fight for that right whenever I can.

What hurts, though, is when people don’t recognize this fact as well: women–trans and cis–don’t have a monopoly on gender-based oppression, either. It’s not solely trans women that are struggling to gain access to the resources and support that the cisgender women’s rights movement has long hoarded to themselves. And it’s not solely a dichotomy between trans men and trans women, too. (Although trans men and boys also need access to empowering resources and space.)

We exist, you all. We exist and we are a part of this conversation. We are non-binary, agender, genderqueer, genderfluid, A/G, genderfuck, bois, grrlz, birls, pansies, and everygender else. We experience gender-based oppression for our gender identities (or lack of gender). Womanhood is not the only gender identity that is oppressed. We are so marginalized that our existence doesn’t even occur to the wider societal mind.

And I, for one, and many others that I know, are tired of being excluded from the conversation. I am tired of my gender not being listed when we are talking about inclusion in “women’s” colleges, in girls’ after-school clubs, in every space that is a closed women’s space–but that holds institutional resources or power I cannot find elsewhere. Yes, there are times and places for all specific subsets of people who face gender-based oppression to have closed spaces. But when one particular subset holds most of the institutional power (in this case, cis women), they gotta share a little. Given that there are no educational institutions that support trans people of all genders, women, men, and everyone else (and those without genders as well)–“women’s” colleges need to take a good look at their resources and stop being such bigots. Given that there are few to no other institutional spaces for trans people specifically, certainly not at the (small, not enough) level there is for women and girls (trans and cis, although trans women and girls are often excluded or only have lip service paid to them), all spaces that provide resources solely to women need to look at how, why, and if that is necessary.

Given that there are ZERO schools that provide a closed, safe space for trans people, I say that “women’s” colleges and other exclusive “women’s spaces” have a feminist/civil/moral responsibility to step up. I am so tired of this conversation having no nuance.

We need to distinguish between identity and expression. Where do we draw the line? Why is it that FAAB transmasculine genderqueer people aren’t allowed in some rubrics, but cis women with a masculine expression are? Both are claiming masculine expressions, which, by some estimations, shouldn’t be allowed at a “women’s” college… at least if they aren’t on a woman. But genderqueer people face so much discrmination based on their genders, so why can’t we share this space? What about someone of any birth assignment who’s almost a guy, but not quite? What about someone who’s genderfluid? What about a trans guy who doesn’t medically transition or who doesn’t pass? What about MAAB non-binary people? Their bodies and voices belong in this space. They face so much oppression and censure. And if some of those MAAB non-binary people don’t physically transition, then there are typically MAAB bodies on campus that may never become more “feminized,” even if trans men aren’t there. What about trans men who do physically transition, but have feminine gender expressions? Why would we allow a MAAB non-binary person but not a femme trans man, given that their treatment based on gender perception might be similar? Where do you draw the line at, not kicking someone out, but at judging them for being at a “women’s” college and asking for basic recognition and respect?

I say, you don’t. You don’t draw the line at judgment. You say, you all are dealing with severe gender-based oppression, in different ways. You all, or many of you, also have various privileges from your gender even as you are being oppressed. We can process that in a community that’s committed to gender justice. I would like to say that “women’s” colleges are one such community, but they clearly aren’t, given that MAAB trans people of all genders (or lack thereof) aren’t part of the conversation, and given that FAAB trans people of all genders (or lack thereof) are marginalized when they do attend. What’s the bigger evil? Of course—it’s not even being allowed to attend. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t work to do to make our schools inclusive as well. Both things are important; including MAAB trans people of all genders (except cis male, of course), and agender people is the priority.

Of course supporting trans women is important and vital. I’m just saying that supporting non-binary people is vital, too. We’re killing ourselves at a higher rate than the general trans population; we face higher rates of most other forms of oppression as well. It’s time to count us. It’s time to include us. It’s time to recognize us as part of this movement. Use words for us when talking about gender equality and trans inclusion. Say the phrase, “trans women and non-binary people.” Say the phrase “all gender-oppressed people.” Say, “all forms of gender oppression”–and mean it and include it in all the work that you do.

It’s time.

Non-binary People, the Trans Narrative, and “Passing” Privilege

"passing", agender, cissexism, gender fluid, genderqueer, misgendering, non-binary, privilege, trans narrative, transgender

TRIGGER WARNING: discussion of misgendering, invalidation of trans identities

 

NOTE: I want to use this post to start a conversation. I know that there’s plenty of trans experiences I don’t have–so if I’m missing something, please don’t be afraid to let me know! 

So, this flashy word people throw around, “trans narrative,” when they say it, they’re talking about the normative idea of what it is to be trans, what it involves. Knowing you were trans before you could barely speak and asserting that clearly to your family, expressing your true gender in normative ways, wanting to medically transition in all ways possible. Not really “counting” as trans until medical transition starts. This is the normative trans narrative that so many people decry in their vlogs and blogs and all sorts of places.

This trans narrative does not have room for non-binary people.

There are normative pressures in the non-binary world, too, possibly that you’re AFAB and that you express more on a masculine spectrum/androgynously. But the dominant trans narrative, cultivated by so many years of warped guidelines for therapists (and warped therapists) and our own trans community, does not even leave space for our existence. It also doesn’t leave space for many binary trans people. Anybody who doesn’t check all of those boxes can deal with some invalidation because of not fitting into this narrative. 

Much of the dominant culture and conversation about what it is to be trans is constructed for and focused on binary trans people. It’s important to note that this isn’t the only point of focus: dominant conversations about transness revolve around white, able-bodied, thin-privileged, class-privileged citizens of the United States (at least in the US). All of this intersects in different ways. Right now I’m going to focus on non-binary identity because I’m not versed in all of these intersections–I need to work on that. If I create any glaring holes, I apologize. If you feel comfortable, please let me know and I will do my best to correct it.

I will give you one example of how this plays out. I’ve heard a lot of people talking about “passing” privilege that non-binary people can sometimes have. I want to front-load this conversation by saying that “passing” can be a complicated topic for many people, and not everyone’s goal is to “pass.” The word itself is cissexist and sucky. But I’m going to use it here because people do talk a lot about “passing” privilege. If folks have an idea about a better word, I’d love to know about it!

Inside the trans community, there are two types of “passing.” One is to “pass” as cisgender. The other is to “pass” as our true genders. For binary trans people, even if it is hard or impossible to “pass” as either of these things, “passing” as one’s true gender can often mean “passing” as cisgender. (This is still true, but more complicated, with binary people who have non-normative gender expressions. There are also many binary trans people that do not want to “pass” as cisgender.)

As diverse as the binary trans community is, it’s harder to talk about non-binary people because we are even more diverse. However, for many non-binary people, it is nearly impossible to pass as our true gender(s) (or lack of gender). Very rarely does it cross people’s minds that “non-binary” could be an option when they’re projecting their gender assumptions onto people. Some non-binary people are (sometimes, often, or always) comfortable presenting as a binary gender. Some non-binary people CAN’T be read as cisgender because of their gender expression or medical transition. (I think that part of this assumption about non-binary “passing” privilege is based on the wrong idea that none of us transition medically.) Some wish they weren’t read as cisgender or binary trans, but due to any number of limitations, that’s what they are read as. When trying to be read as our full selves, sometimes the best we can hope for is confusing people. Many binary trans people can hope for being seen as their true genders. In order for non-binary people to be seen as our true genders (or lack thereof), we first need to educate people not only on what it means to be trans, but on the existence of our gender(s) (or lack of gender).

Then, while we’re doing that educating, we are also working against a dominant trans narrative, and many binary trans people, that also say that we don’t exist. Or that if we do, we are doing this for political reasons or something, or just to threaten binary people’s genders, or some other hogwash. So, yes, some non-binary people have the “passing” privilege of appearing cisgender–as do some binary trans people. Very few to no non-binary people have the “passing” privilege of being read as our true genders (or lack of gender). This is also true for some binary trans people. The difference is that binary trans people’s true genders at least exist as a pre-formulated possibility in people’s minds, even if they refuse to recognize a binary trans person, even if “that person might be trans” doesn’t occur to them when projecting gender onto someone. Non-binary people do not exist as a possibility in most people’s minds.

This is why we need binary trans people to have our backs. Many of us across the trans community are challenging this dominant trans narrative, but it is pervasive. It contains a lot of binary prejudice. There are many other ways that we talk about binary trans experience as if it’s the experience of everyone who isn’t cisgender. It’s not just in conversations about “passing” privilege, it’s everywhere. I hear a lot of non-binary people apologizing for their “passing” privilege, and I think it’s important for any and everyone to own what privileges they do have. Some non-binary people do have a variety of privileges. But I also want to recognize that the whole dynamic is skewed, is set up from a binary trans perspective. What would it look like if we had a narrative that held everyone equally? It might be a lot messier and longer and take some more words, but then everyone would be seen.