non-binary erasure

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.

“Like everyone else, people who are LGBT start out as babies”: a book review

Cover of the book Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender IdentityYes, that is an actual quote, from the newly published children’s non-fiction book (copyright 2017!) Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. It’s is just one book in a series from GLSEN under the banner “Living Proud!”

This book is hot mess, y’all. Such a mess that I need to rant about it.

Despite what the title implies, the vast majority of Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity is very specifically focused on the topic of ‘homosexuality’. Which, that’s a perfectly fine topic for a book and all, but it’s not great for one that claims to be about sexual orientation generally, let alone sexual orientation *and* gender identity.

Gender identity is addressed only in the first chapter of the book, “The Origins of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”. Right off the bat, we learn that the definition of gender identity is “A person’s self-image as either a male or a female, no matter what gender they were assigned birth”.

Oh, yes. We are off to a fabulous start, folks.

The book is, unsurprisingly, relentlessly binary in its discussion of both sex and gender, with the exception of a special text box acknowledging that intersex people exist. The paragraph on intersex people concludes that “many intersex people live happy and satisfying lives outside of the ‘normal’ female and male gender identities,” which is the only inkling we get that non-binary genders exist at all.

So much for “understanding gender identity” then. How about sexual orientation?

As I mentioned above, for the most part the book really only talks about homosexuality.

Outside of uses of the LGBT initialism, bisexuality is mentioned a grand total of four times:

  1. in the opening glossary, within the definition of ‘sexual orientation’ (which provides the options of heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and asexual (which, yay ace visibility for once, I guess!?))
  2. in the phrase “gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, transgender or questioning”, shoehorned in suddenly at the end of a paragraph about the importance of the nature versus nurture debate around ‘what causes homosexuality?’
  3. in reference to Freud’s (*sigh*) theory that everyone is bisexual
  4. in the phrase “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month”, in an image caption.

Asexuality’s only mentions are the two mentioned above. It doesn’t even merit an entry in the “Series Glossary” (a list of vocabulary words from the Living Proud! series, many of which do not appear in this particular book), or the index.

In fact, a full three out of the four chapters of the book are explicitly focused on homosexuality/being gay. First we have “Born Gay: Biological Theories of Homosexuality”, which concludes with a quote from Dr. Qazi Rahman, who states “as far as I’m concerned, there is no argument any more – if you are gay, you are born gay.”

Contradictorily, the next chapter (“Becoming Gay: Psychological Theories of Homosexuality”) concludes that “…human behavior is such a complex combination of mind and brain – the psychological and the biological working together – that it is nearly impossible to separate the two”, before segueing into the question for our final chapter: “Why Does It Matter?”

This last chapter provides a broad overview of the ways in which the question of choice with respect to sexual orientation has been rhetorically important to LGBT (or, since transgender people aren’t mentioned at all in this chapter, LGB) civil rights struggles.

I do want to be clear here; much of the content of this book is totally fine, and some is even pretty ground-breaking for a children’s book! But I have no idea how a book primarily focused on the nature/nurture debate about homosexuality wound up with such a misleading title.

Better yet, one of the other titles in the series is Being Transgender, which has the same authors as Understanding Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, because why bring in transgender people to write a book when demonstrably uninformed cis people can do it, I guess? I may need to review that one one I can get my hands on it as well.

If you’re into me, then you’re not straight: Orientations and attractions to non-binary people

Non-binary people are a weird position in the dating world (ok, I mean, we’re in a pretty weird position all the time to be honest. But anyway, today I’m talking about the dating world). This is true in a bunch of ways, and I’ve written about some of them before, but today I’m looking at the ways in which people talk about sexual and romantic orientation is often non-binary exclusionary.

So, for instance, as an enby person who is pretty regularly perceived as a woman, straight-identified dudes are sometimes attracted to me. They usually don’t magically stop being attracted to me when they find out I’m non-binary, either (much as I might love for it to work that way).

To me, it seems pretty clear that these people are not actually straight then, since they are attracted to people of more than one gender, and not just the other binary gender. Attraction to more than one gender falls pretty clearly under the umbrella of bisexuality (which includes plenty of identities that aren’t strictly bisexual).

the_bisexual_umbrella_by_drynwhyl-d4gq9ji

Simultaneously, though, these folks are also technically still heterosexual, because they’re only attracted to genders different from their own. Such is the difference between straightness and heterosexuality, I guess. All we learn from this is that you can be bi without being same-gender attracted, which means bi and hetero aren’t (again, technically) mutually exclusive identities. Cool?

I’m actually not terribly fussed about the idea of straight, gay and/or lesbian people occasionally being attracted to enbies, without questioning their identities around that. Plenty of monosexuals people have one or two exceptions in their lives, I guess? And if you’re not really acting on them, then whatever.

I’ve dated people, though, who have continued to identify as straight even while dating me. And I have… complicated feelings about this. On the one hand, by and large I am actually talking about people who were/are in hetero ‘primary’ relationships who absolutely benefit from straight(-passing) privilege. And I both empathize with and actually appreciate it when folks in this sort of situation feel iffy about identifying as anything other than straight, because they don’t want to appropriate LGBTQ struggles. This is a pretty good instinct, to be honest.

But you don’t actually have to have faced struggles, or even be out, to be LGBTQ. And the thing is, people who date non-binary people and still identify as straight (or gay, or lesbian), even if they are doing so based on a well-meaning, privilege-acknowledging instinct? They’re contributing to non-binary erasure. If you are into me, and still identify as straight, you’re basically saying that my gender isn’t real, or at least isn’t important enough to acknowledge; you’re saying that it doesn’t ‘count’ in the context of your orientation. I am the unstated footnote, the silent asterisk to your identity.

And that’s a shitty fucking position to be in.

So, to all the straight- (or otherwise hetero-*)identifying men and women who are dating, or have dated, or are open to dating non-binary people, I am issuing you a challenge.

Let go of that straight identity for a while. Accept that you are not just attracted to the gender that your identity implies, and really sit with the implications of that. Think about what it would feel like to think see yourself as fitting under the broad LGBTQ umbrella. You can dip into the shallow end of the pool and just admit that you’re heteroflexible. Or you can go whole hog and embrace the idea that you are, after all, kinda bisexual, or even outright queer. I don’t know what works for you.

I want you, particularly, to consider the idea that maybe your discomfort with identifying as anything other than straight might be because you are a victim of bi+ erasure. And I want to let you know that the messaging you’ve received about what is means to be bisexual, or to be queer, are wrong. I want you to know that you do belong under that umbrella; we have room for you here.

And I also want you to ensure you understand that your straight identity invalidates and erases the many other beautiful people of beautiful genders to whom you may be attracted. So, in this weird ourobouros kind of a way, by identifying as non-LGBTQ, you are failing as an LGBTQ ally. Or, less paradoxically, (especially since some of the straight people I’m talking to right now are trans, and already LGBTQ) by not identifying as LGBQ, you are failing pretty terribly as a non-binary ally.

I actually feel weird about asking you to do any of this; I’m not the kind of person who questions how other people identify, and I don’t really think it’s my business. Wherever you land is up to you, obviously. But I also think these are things you need to consider all of these things before you make that call.

And, I guess what I’m really saying is:

Image is of a spherical light brown cat with a devil tail, with taxt "Join usssss we're adorable"


*I’m letting non-binary-attracted gay and lesbian-identifying folks off the hook for now, because of reasons?

Comment-related CW: comments contain references to naked bodies, and draw connections between bio-sex and sexual orientations. I think the ppints made are legit enough to stand, but for sex-repulsed and bodily dysphoric readers, please tread carefully here <3