non-binary

A positive book review for once!

I seem to only write about books on here when they annoy or anger me. (I do write good reviews when my librarian hat is on, for the record!) Today, you get a reprieve from my negativity!

Ever since I read the trainwreck of a book that was Understanding Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, I’ve been lowkey on the lookout for a schoolkid-appropriate book that actually addresses transgender people in a thorough and respectful way.

And today I found one!

Identifying as Transgender, by Sara Woods, is part of Rosen Publishing’s “Transgender Life” series (it being part of a series on trans issues is mostly why the title is a little awkward, I think?), and I’m clearly going to need to check out the rest of the series, because this one kind of knocks it out of the park!

Things this book does that I love include:

  • Talking about being cisgender on the same level as talking about being transgender, so transgender people are not actively othered.

    Everyone, transgender and cisgender alike, has a gender identity. A cisgender person is a person whose gender identity is consistent with their assigned gender… Transgender people, on the other hand, have gender identities that do not match the genders assigned to them at birth. (pg. 7)

  • Actively and consistently acknowledging non-binary genders throughout (non-binary people are included throughout, and not just as a side-note which is thereafter forgotten).
  • Acknowledging the diversity of trans experiences generally.

    Some trans women come to identify as women after many years of life, while others identify as girls when they are toddlers. (pg. 8)

    The painful experience of dysphoria has many sources and impacts many transgender people. But it is not universal. Many find that they are comfortable with their bodies as they are. This fact does make them any less or more trans. (pg. 25)

  • Explicitly identifying the book’s primarily colonial North American perspective (it is the target market for the book), and acknowledging that many contemporary societies actively include more than two genders.

    Some contemporary examples of nonbinary genders include the muxe in Zapotec communities in southern Mexico, the waria in Indonesia, and the mashoga in Swhili-speaking areas of the Kenyan coast – each of these identities carries its own specific attributes and meanings.

    Here in the United States, and Canada as well, many people fall outside of the binary. [Some explanation of different non-binary genders, genderfluid and agender identities.] In addition, many indigenous people are two-spirit, a term rooted in gender identities specific to some of the peoples indigenous to the continent. (pg. 11)

  • Discussing intersex people while also carefully differentiating between being intersex and being transgender (and defining dyadic alongside intersex in the same way that cisgender and transgender are discussed alongside one another).

    Most People are dyadic, but many people are intersex… Like dyadic people, intersex people are usually assigned male or female at birth. Because the concept of binary biological sex is so deeply ingrained in medical practice, many intersex people have been subject to nonconsensual treatments by doctors and surgeons (pg. 23)

    People often wrongly confuse the meanings of intersex and transgender. While some intersex people are transgender, many are not, identifying with the gender they were assigned at birth. Similarly, most transgender people are dyadic and do not have any intersex variations. (pg. 23)

  • Including inclusive definitions of sexual and romantic orientation (in a chapter intended to dispel the myth that all trans people are gay, and that transness and queerness are the same thing).

    Just like cisgender people, transgender people can be gay or straight. They can also be bisexual, pansexual, queer, asexual, greysexual, aromantic, or polyamorous[*] (pp. 29-30).

  • Discussing intersecting experiences of marginalization!

    All transgender people are vulnerable to transphobia and cissexism. But there are groups of trans people who experience additional marginalization and mistreatment. (pg. 43)

    This section goes on to discuss transmisogyny, and some of the ways in which ableism and racism can combine with cissexism and transphobia to make life even more difficult for multiply marginalized trans people.

  • THIS:

    When it comes to nonbinary people, the dominant terms that we have for sexuality tend to not make much sense. Who, for example, would a straight agender person date? Would a genderqueer person only be homosexual if they dated other genderqueer people? What if they dated a gender fluid person? (pg. 31)

I am so pleased with this book, y’all. Check it out if you can!


*I mean, ok, you may object to this being included among orientations (I am extremely iffy about this myself), but in general the idea here is that trans people’s ways of forming relationships are just as diverse as cis people’s, so I’m giving it a pass.

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’

 

What I Want | THEMAGICSPACESHIP

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!

The ‘Shit Cis People Say’ Alphabet: O is for “Only two genders”

Welcome to another episode of the Shit Cis People Say Alphabet! Today:

O is for “only two genders”

 

Can it be that I’ve gotten so far into this alphabet without covering this one? Yes, but only because I planned the alphabet out in advance to avoid being forced into repeating myself for some of the more difficult letters :P.

As with last week’s post, there is some overlap here with F is for “fake genders”, but calling some genders fake isn’t necessarily the same thing as claiming there are only two genders (even though most people taking the former stance are doing so because they believe the latter).

To be honest, the claim that there are only two genders is honestly just massively egotistical. In order to make this claim, you need to seriously believe that you know more about how this gender stuff works than every non-binary person who ever has and ever will exist. It’s also a culturally chauvinistic/colonial claim, given the huge number of recognized non-binary gender categories have existed and continue exist in cultures all over the world and throughout history.

Gender is not and has never been stable or static. No gender classification scheme is ever or ever will be definitive or objective. If you think it makes any sense at all to insist that there are only two genders, you’re just plain incorrect. Seriously.

 


Check out the rest of the “Shit Cis People Say” alphabet!

I came out as non-binary at work! Part 3: In-person interactions

Did you miss the start of this story?
Part 1: How did I do it?
Part 2: Email reactions

In all honesty, this is the point at which I must admit that at some point in the last couple of years I may have slipped into a bizarro alternate wonderland universe of warm fuzzies, because I have no other explanation for just how easy this whole coming out thing has been for me.

Though this is partially because I front-loaded a bunch of affirmations and assurances into my coming out message itself, the thing that I am most amazed by is that since coming out I have not been asked to do a single iota of emotional labour around it.

I mean, when I decided I really did feel comfortable coming out at my work, it was because I figured that the level of potential push-back/invasive questions/insecurities about messing up that I’d have to deal with would be totally manageable. But I never imagined there would be none at all!

So, what did happen then?

The moment I walked into work on the Monday, now three days after coming out, the first person who saw me said: “Kasey! Thanks so much for the cookies! They were so great! I was going to bring in rainbow bagels [apparently this is a thing? But also, relevant context is that the cookies I brought in were rainbow-y] today, but I didn’t have time.”

Which, to me, this is just the sweetest way of making it clear that I belong and am loved? Just adorable, basically. I don’t even care that I didn’t get to experience rainbow bagels.

On top of this, when I eventually got around to checking my work mailbox, I also found a little hand-written note from the same (non-email-having) co-worker, which for the most part echoed many of the sentiments I had gotten in emails – she said she was glad that I felt comfortable enoguh to be open with them, let me know that she had previous knowledge/awareness of non-binary people via her daughter (who also works in our library system), and let me know she would do her best to watch her language, basically. It was a very nice thing to find!

Other than that, most people have just been business-as-usual with me (which is exactly what I would have asked for, to be honest.) One colleague who had offered a hug (that I accepted) in her email response literally jumped up the moment she saw me to deliver on it. Another person who hadn’t sent an email response thanked me in person for the email, basically said that she appreciated the reminder to continue working on the ways in which she uses gendered language, asked me if it had been hard for me to do, and said she’d appreciate recommendations to read more about non-binary people.

Because I have a pretty good sense of her literary tastes, I recommended she read Ivan Coyote’s most recent two books (Gender Failure (written with Rae Spoon) and Tomboy Survival Guide). She actually recognized the name, and we determined she’d seen Coyote perform in a storytelling festival at some point.

But I really want to get back to the italicized bit above! So, not only has no one asked anything of me (beyond accepting my explicit offer to provide resources), this one co-worker made herself available for me to emotionally process with her if necessary (which wasn’t needed, because holy wow this whole process has been so easy I can’t even, but was very much appreciated!) Another example of real allyship.

So, that’s my coming-out-at-work story! Somehow ‘changing’ my gender at work was less work than changing my name (both times I have done this in a workplace it was exhausting). I mean, different work contexts is a big part of that, but also who would have ever guessed it could work that way?

And this will be the end of the story for now! I may revisit to let you all know how pronouns go moving forward – most people do seem pretty interested in putting the effort to use ‘they’, even though I gave them an out. We’ll see how it goes!