Gender Perspectives Vol. 21

download[In the Gender Perspectives series, I aim to highlight diverse kinds of personal narratives and reflections on gender, gender presentation, and identity, to broaden the gender conversation and boost a variety of voices. Check out the rest of the series.]

My gender | Aut of Spoons

I don’t know what gender IS.

How can I know what my gender is, if I don’t know what gender is?

On Coming Out Day this year, I said that I was “less cis than originally advertised.” I don’t know what that means. Perhaps gender is the collection of attributes that are most important to you; your defining characteristics. Your core identity. Why have a word for it, if not your name? Gender Olivia?

Transition, trans becoming | The dancing trans

The process of transition is defined and controlled by cis people in a way that denies transness to many, many trans people. However, we are all still slowly becoming our genders and that, for us trans folks, is our transition, cis-sanctioned or not.

Carve Me Like a Pumpkin | The Junkie Comsonaut

I am preparing my body for surgery, and it is almost there. My brain needs some more time. Anticipating the damage and the aftermath still makes me queasy, but I’ll cope. I want this. I want what it will get me.

Questions from the search terms: “what is your sexuality if you like non-binary people?”

Today’s question:

What is your sexuality if you like non-binary people?

This has become a bit of a theme in my search terms, so much so that “If you’re into me, then you’re not straight: orientations and attractions to non-binary people” is the most-viewed post on this site on most days, and some of my most recent questions from the search terms have been in this vein as well. However, I like this framing of it, so here we go again!

This is an interesting question searcher, and the answer is the incredibly unsatisfying “it depends”.

The way that we currently define sexuality depends both on our own gender and on the gender(s) to which we are attracted – if you know that someone is only attracted to women, that’s not enough information to determine their sexual orientation without knowing their gender also – they could be a straight man, or a lesbian woman, or a non-binary person (in which case, the label would be harder to determine).

It’s also unclear to me from your question whether you’re talking about being exclusively attracted to non-binary people or not, so I’ll try to cover both cases.

If someone is exclusively attracted to non-binary people, what *is* their sexual orientation?

If you’re talking about a man or a woman here, technically they would be heterosexual (only attracted to people of genders different than their own), but not really straight per se. It would be a better bet to identify as queer, really, from my perspective.

A non-binary person who is only attracted to non-binary people might consider themself homosexual or gay, although being non-binary and being attracted to non-binary peopel doesn’t inherently mean being attracted to people with the same gender as you (as there are many different genders that fall under the non-binary umbrella), or heterosexual (sometimes we enbies like to joke that we’re all het, because no one else has the same gender as us), but again, queer might be the best bet.

I don’t actually think that an exclusive attraction to non-binary people is what we’re talking about here, though. Usually people who are into non-binary people are into at least one of the binary genders as well.

People who are attracted to non-binary people plus men and/or women fall pretty clearly under the bisexual umbrella (as they are attracted to more than one gender). There are different ways of identifying within this umbrella, too. If you’re attracted to people of all genders, then pansexual is a good choice, but bisexual still applies if you prefer it. And queer is still on the table here too.

So, yeah, as I’ve pretty much said before, if you’re attracted to non-binary people, there’s a pretty good chance you’re queer, though the precise label you want to use may vary.

Questions from the search terms: “I’m attracted to my biological sex only but I identify as genderqueer. Does that still make me lesbian?”

It’s time for another question from the search terms! Today I bring you:

I’m attracted to my biological sex only, but I identify as genderqueer. Does that still make me lesbian?

Dear searcher,

I’m hoping that you were just being a little sloppy with your words in the relative privacy of your internet search (it’s not like you actually said this to another person, and I know that sometimes using less-than-correct language is the best route to the results you want on the internet, because those are the smae words other people are using!) but before I address your actual question, a quick clarification for other people reading this:

Being a lesbian doesn’t mean being only attracted to ‘biological females’. For the most part, it means being only attracted to women (who may or may not be the same biological sex as you, searcher!) I also realize that lesbian community and culture is in reality messier than that, and I know that there are complicated and delicate questions around trans men and lesbianism – some trans men identify as lesbians, I think? And I know that there are women who date both (cis?) women and trans men, who still identify as lesbians.

I also know that TERFiness and transmisogyny are pretty rampant in many lesbian communities, though, so those community norms may not be things you want to play into or live up to. It is some complicated stuff, and I am not a great authority on the nuances of lesbian communities, but suffice to say that if you actually think that being solely attracted to ‘biological’ females is an unproblematic definition of lesbianism, you have got another thing coming! The group of people who share your biological sex includes a wide variety of genders, from men and women to all kinds of non-binary and genderqueer people, and that’s not what lesbianism is about, as far as I can tell.

But ok, I’m going to pivot to the more generous reading of the question now, so you can get an actual answer!

I’m going to take it that you’re a genderqueer person who was assigned female at birth, and you find yourself exclusively attracted to women. So, are you a lesbian then?


I know there are non-binary people out there who identify as lesbians, and I know there are lesbian communities who are open and welcoming to enbies (afab ones, anyway…) who identify this way.

Ultimately, though, what you’ve actually run into here is a major limitation of the way in which we try to categorize sexual attraction. At its core, the hetero-/homo- binary is very dependent on a binary gender system, both for the people feeling attraction and the objects of that attraction. I’ve written more than once about how these categories aren’t really sufficient to properly contain attraction *to* non-binary people (see here and here), but I’ve somehow missed the aspect where they fail even harder to provide labels for non-binary people’s own experiences of attraction.

This is partially because my bisexuality/queerness does map onto my non-binary identity in the same way that it did onto my birth-assigned gender. I can be attracted to people of any gender, and that remains true regardless of *my* particular gender.

Shit gets complicated when you’re only attracted to one gender, though. If you want to be strict about it, a non-binary person who is only attracted to one gender (other than a non-binary gender) is heterosexual (though possibly not straight).

But that’s not at all helpful. So where do I go from there?

In general, I think it is a terrible idea for non-binary people to define their sexual orientation in terms of their birth-assigned gender. For one thing, doing so would require non-binary people to out themselves about their birth-assigned gender, and how about we just don’t do that?

So, in general, non-binary people who are only attracted to women aren’t lesbians. You still might be, if it’s really what feels right for you? But, since I suspect that you aren’t actually exclusively attracted to women, and that your attractions probably include other non-binary people and possibly trans men as well, I encourage you to consider other identities. Queer is a really good label for people who don’t fit well into the existing models of sexual identity. Is there a reason why you don’t want to use it?

I think the main reason people in your sort of situation sometimes shy away from this, is they don’t like the implication that they’re into men, but if that’s the case, try this: “I’m a queer non-binary person who isn’t attracted to men”. Problem solved, ok?

Gender Perspectives Vol. 20

download[In the Gender Perspectives series, I aim to highlight diverse kinds of personal narratives and reflections on gender, gender presentation, and identity, to broaden the gender conversation and boost a variety of voices. Check out the rest of the series.]

It’s been far too long since our last installation of Gender Perspectives, and I’ve been accidentally sitting on this draft for a while, so let’s get right to what I have for you today:

My Transgender Day of (in)Visibility | Wandering Aloud

Being trans is difficult; being middle-aged and non-binary doesn’t make it any easier. I know that there is ‘no right way to be trans’ and as a rule I’m proud to be out and visible. Still, sometimes I am left with the feeling that perhaps there is a ‘wrong way’



I want to experience the relief and joy and affirmation my binary trans friends experience when they begin to transition and the world starts to read them correctly at last. Confusion is not good enough. Avoiding referring to me is not good enough. Being read half the time one way and half the time the other, and wrong all the time, is not good enough.


Self-Expression After Coming Out | Queerly Texan 

My self-expression changed when I became comfortable with myself [as a lesbian], and I think that’s true for a lot of people. When you spend months, years, or even decades being uncomfortable the second you stop feeling even a tiny percentage of that awkwardness, you never want to go back.


Gender? I Don’t Know A Gender! | Sofhoney

What are you?

I’m me! I’m Sof. I change frequently – that goes for mood, attraction, appearance, & a whole lot of other things, too. It’s something I beat myself up over – a LOT. It’s something I’ve come to realize doesn’t matter. Not to me, anyway – some people identify very strongly with a gender or sexuality & that is great & amazing & I support & uplift those who identify that way…it’s just that I personally don’t!


Question from the search terms: “if i love a nonbinary am i straight?”

Another question from my recent searhc terms:

if i love a nonbinary am i straight?

Mostly my answer to this question is: I don’t know, *are* you straight? Because you’re the only real authority on that!

But that’s not helpful at all, I know. So let me throw some more thoughts at you about this.

I am personally of the belief that people who are attracted to non-binary people in more than a passing way should consider finding a label for hteir sexuality that doesn’t imply they are attracted to only one gender. That is, I am dubious about people who identify as straight, or lesbian, or  otherwise exclusively hetero- or homo-sexual/romantic while also dating, fucking and/or being in love with non-binary people. I think that in doing so, these people are implicitly invalidating their date-mate/fuckbuddy/loved one’s gender identity by rounding it into whichever binary gender they are usually attracted to. I’ve written about this idea more fully before, in fact.

I also understand that this is a complicated thing, and that the real problem with these labels is that the ways in which we currently classify sexual orientations simply can’t reasonably account for non-binary people. Because, realistically, all non-binary people are constantly being perceived as one binary gender or the other, and literally all people who consider themselves exclusively straight or exclusively gay may very well have been attracted to any number of non-binary people without even realizing it, and of course it’s ridiculous (or at least entirely unproductive) to conclude that therefore no one is really straight.

So, person who asked this question, I don’t have a clear answer for you here, other than that you should go with your gut on this – it is possible that regardless of your feelings for this non-binary person, that ‘straight’ really is the best description for the way you experience your sexuality. But if identifying as straight while being in love with a non-binary person seems wrong to you, you can go with your gut on that, too – and there’s plenty of other identities that might feel more comfortable to you, maybe you’re heteroflexible, maybe you’re bi, or maybe you’re most comfortable with queer.

I hope this helps!

Question from the search terms: “do nb people have straight privilege”?

This question popped up in my search terms last month:

do nb people have straight privilege?

The quickest answer to this question is that for the most part, no, non-binary people don’t have straight privilege. The reason for this is that most non-binary people aren’t straight to begin with (I don’t know any non-binary people who identify as straight, but I’m sure some exist!), and you can’t have straight privilege if you aren’t straight!

Non-binary people may, however have access to what’s called straight-passing privilege, which is a much more complicated thing, and I am somewhat dubious about calling it privilege at all.

Straight-passing privilege is concept that’s relevant to any couple that, when out in public, appears to be a straight couple, even though one or both of the people in that couple may not be straight. So straight-passing privilege is highly relevant to bisexual and pansexual people (who are very often in hetero relationships), as well as to some non-binary people (and some of the people who date us!)

The reason straight-passing is sometimes referred to as a privilege is because it does allow some LGBT people to benefit from some aspects of straight privilege. Bi people in hetero relationships can get married to their partners pretty much anywhere, while bi people in relationships with people of the same gender can’t (the situation is more complicated for ‘straight-passing’ couples with at least one non-binary/trans person in them though). Straight-passing couples of all kinds can be pretty sure they’re not going to have to deal with anti-LGBT harassment, while couples or individuals that are visibly LGBT are inherently at risk whenever they are out in public. These sorts of things are the trappings of so-called straight-passing privilege.

But the thing about being straight-passing is it’s a double-edged sword – the flip side of a straight-passing person’s (potential) greater safety and access to legal recognition of their relationship is the fact that, by virtue of being straight-passing at all, that person’s actual identity (and their history of marginalization due to that identity) is erased.

To be straight-passing is to be, in some respects, invisibilized. To be straight-passing is to be invalidated in your actual identity. The fact that bisexual people’s orientation is so often over-written by our current relationship status is, in fact, blatant bisexual erasure. It’s a symptom bisexual people’s oppression, and so to call it ‘privilege’ is extremely questionable.

The same argument applies to non-binary people here – if people think I am straight because they perceive me to be a woman, and because my partner is a cis man, that’s not a privilege; that’s just me being misgendered. ‘Privilege’ that only exists as long as someone is making incorrect assumptions about who I am is not really privilege at all, as far as I’m concerned.

So, again, the TL;DR here is a resounding “No, nb people do not, (in general) have straight privilege“. We are sometimes extended some of the benefits of straight privilege by people who have misread who we are, but this ‘privilege’ is only available to us at the cost of hiding our identities.

Words, identity politics, and a case of the blahs

Over the last year and a half or so, I’ve been steadily moving away from describing myself as genderqueer and toward just using non-binary. I deliberately avoided the word ‘genderqueer’ entirely in my coming out message at work, just because ‘non-binary’ seems less intimidating somehow? I’m not even sure.

Genderqueerness definitely feels more inherently political, more inherently “fuck you and your entire gender system” than non-binary does, to me at least. Because queerness itself is kind of inherently political, about rejecting existing systems either by struggling to get by outside them, or by trying to build your own.

And, a few years ago, that was why I preferred to call myself genderqueer. Because I was still in the process of figuring myself out (I mean, to some extent I always will be, in all kinds of ways, but when I was first coming into my non-binary/genderqueer self, there was a lot of things all happening at once in a way that no longer applies. At least for now.) Because that shit was hard, and scary, and it seems pretty clear that leaning into that fear was part of how I coped with it. Because my defensive instincts often take the form of a strong offense, really.

But I haven’t really been feeling that way lately.

I kind of just want to be able to exist as my gender (or lack thereof, or whatever) and have that be ok. Or rather, I suspect that the fact that I have carved out some pretty significnat spaces in my life where I d ofeel that way is very seductive. It’s nice to feel that I can just be me and that the people around me aren’t going to interpret that as a political move. I am so lucky, and so privileged, to be in that position so much of the time now. I want other people to have that, and I know that means I need to keep fighting, and keep making this a political issue so that one day it won’t have to be for anyone, but also, maybe I am just falling into a gentler version of that fight?

I don’t really think it’s because I have de-radicalized in any particular ways, although I think the last year or so has softened my distrust of the average person, and I definitely have more emotional resources for dealing with people who actually mean well, but just don’t quite get it (whether ‘it’ is related to trans/non-binary issues, or whether it is about other social justice values, either specific or general). To some extent this just means that my approach to advocacy has shifted from ‘angry queer’ to ‘nice, friendly, forgiving queer’. Which, I think both approaches are valid and valuable, so maybe I should just stop worrying so much about which one I happen to have the resources for at any given moment?

At the same time though, I am worried that’s a cop oiut. Because I think I have definitely been tired of it all, for quite some time. Even my writing here lately has quite had the direction it used to have (though I don’t know if that’s something that’s coming through, or if it’s just how I’ve been feeling about it. I am pleased with the Shit Cis People Say alphabet either way.)

I hope that being tired is all it is, anyway. My regular seasonal-changeover depression has settled in (though mildly, thankfully), and I haven’t been taking as good care of myself as I should be, so the compounded impact of not quie enough sleep and kinda crappy eating habits definitely aren’t helping.

I am also thinking that I may be a little bored of focusing so stringently on gender issues in my writing here. I used to cast a broader net and talk about other feminist/social justice issues more often, so maybe all I need to do is let myself feel freer to write about whatever I find myself drawn to for awhile! I mean, I already started doing this with last Wednesday’s post about coloring sheets, anyway.

Hopefully those of you who read this blog regularly will find my various thoughts interesting!