This weekend I have had an education, and it has changed my perspective quite a lot. I have learned that it’s not acceptable to sit back and let people with multiple minorities be the only ones creating conversation and inciting action about the exclusivity of the queer and trans communities. We should all be using our voices to ensure that everyone within our community is heard, while also making sure that we do not make the mistake of speaking for those with whom we do not identify.
Non-binary erasure within and without the trans community exists. A lot of it comes from ignorance and fear. But when non-binary white people erase non-binary people of colour from within the community, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong. The recent Stonewall movie highlights an issue that exists within the whole of our queer community – that white voices often erase black voices, whether intentionally or not (although in the case of the Stonewall movie, this erasure was very much intentional). Furthermore, when non-binary people who present as androgynous, or who have the luxury of young age, or who have the privilege of looking “normal” according to mainstream society (Ruby Rose being a case in point) forget about including in their conversations non-binary people who do not fit into these boxes, we have forgotten the purpose for which our queer community exists.
Racism, ageism, “passing privilege” and being “visibly” non-binary by presenting androgynously are NOT reasons for excluding other voices in our community who have to fight harder and longer in order to be heard. As a white, androgynous-presenting, young-ish, non-binary person, I was made painfully aware of my ignorance of my privileged position this weekend. First, I read Jacq Applebee’s article in BeyondtheBinary. A few days later, I had the pleasure of meeting them in person at a sci fi convention, Octocon, in Dublin.
I personally choose to present and look androgynous. As a thin, pancake-shaped person with relatively small boobs and non-existent hips, this is quite easy for me to do. I’ve often questioned whether I would be more inclined to transition to “fully male” if I had a body that was more easily identifiable as “female”. I’ll never know for sure, but I think that I would struggle more with having other people accept that I am non-binary if I didn’t look quite so androgynous. However, most people do not understand that non-binary gender identity is quite separate from androgynous gender presentation.
Many non-binary identified people do not, cannot or will not present as “androgynous” according to white, hetero-normative, narrow-minded views of what androgyny looks like. If asked what androgyny looks like, many people would say Ruby Rose or Rain Dove or some other thin, white, feminine, western-beauty type. Male and female characteristics would have to be balanced perfectly within this person so that their sex assigned at birth is not immediately identifiable, although ideally it would become recognisable after some time. People like boxes. But if they cannot have boxes, they want an equal balance of the two so that they can say that the androgynous person is truly half and half, while still originating as one or the other.
And herein lies the issue. Being non-binary does not necessarily mean “being half man, half woman”. It can mean a whole host of things, from “70% woman, the rest of the time, something else” (a quote from Jacq Applebee during the genderqueer panel at Octacon 2015) to “neither male nor female, but something else entirely” (this is how I identify). I think that what society feels it is missing is an ‘essence of non-binary being’, similar to that essence of maleness or essence of femaleness. Each a falacy in itself, but a falacy perpetuated by society in order to keep the world in boxes that can be easily defined and thus easily separated into compartments.
I know that many people are happy with the status quo – those who fit into it and feel safe in it – and there are others who work hard to be accepted and to fit into the status quo. But for those of us who do not fit in, who cannot fit in, who will not fit in, the status quo is a straitjacket that society tries to force us into. Once you escape the straitjacket, you are outcast, rejected, ridiculed and invisible. I have been overlooked and ignored because of how I look, and because of choices that I have made in relation to how I live my life. Yet I am relatively privileged in this society that I live on the edges of. I am white. I am thin. I have a family who love and support me. I have a degree. I work as a freelancer. I am supported in my choice to pursue medical transition by the Gender Identity Clinic in Belfast.
But what if I looked different? What if I didn’t have white skin? What if I wasn’t thin? What if my family did not offer me unconditional love and support? What if I were unemployed (actually, I was unemployed until 4 months ago)? What if the Gender Identity Clinic didn’t support me? I have often felt that my support at the Gender Identity Clinic has rested upon my ability to “pass” as society’s ideal image of androgyny: white, thin, young, with masculine and feminine characteristics, while still identifiable as FAAB. I still fit, somehow, into a socially-acceptable vision of a non-binary minority. Which is ironic really, isn’t it? Because while I complain that society doesn’t fit me, I somehow manage to fit into a space that mainstream society is willing to make for ‘people like me’.
And what of my fellow enbies who are not accepted so readily? What of non-binary people of colour? What of non-binary people who don’t look like society’s ideal version of androgyny? What of the enbies who are older, unemployed, fat, hairy, busty, working-class, disabled, homeless, without family support? Why aren’t we hearing their voices?
Jacq opened my eyes to something that I had been only vaguely aware of prior to their article. I am proud to be a member of the queer, trans and non-binary communities, but I’m not proud that my personal experience has blinkered me to the differences between my experience and the experiences of others who also identify as non-binary. The exclusivity of our communities needs to be rectified. The Stonewall riots were started by people with multiple minorities. Let the queer resistance not end with the erasure of diversity within our community. Stand up, speak out, but most importantly, listen. I had forgotten about listening, but I won’t be making this mistake again. Each individual deserves to have a voice that is heard.