questions from the search terms

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.

Questions from the search terms: “genderfuckery meaning”

For some reason, I’ve been feeling more of an urge to respond to these lately. I think I am just not coming up with ideas elsewhere, and I still want to write *something*?
Anyway, from my search terms: genderfuckery meaning

So, what is genderfuckery?

Wiktionary‘s actually a good definition of what it means to genderfuck:

“To subvert traditional notions of gender identity and gender roles”

‘Genderfuckery’ can be used to describe any act of genderfucking, or in other words, fucking with (or messing with) gender.

Genderfucking is similar in concept to gender bending, though it is more likely to be used in more extreme contexts. People who genderfuck are probably less interested in bending the limits and meanings of gender, and more interested in straight up breaking them, and putting the pieces back together in different ways.

In practice, genderfuckery might look like:

– Someone doing things or wearing things that seem at odds with their gender (or with the gender they are perceived to have)
– Someone presenting in a way that makes it difficult or impossible for strangers to identify their gender

Or sometimes it can be more personal. For me, learning to re-embrace feminine clothing styles sometimes has been an important personal journey; though it actually often has the impact of making my gender seem less complicated to some observers (it seems to match more with what their perception of my body implies my gender should be, or something), for me it a personal act of resistance against the pressure I feel to constantly perform my genderqueerness in a safe and (relatively) understandable way. People are more willing to accept androgynous presentations from non-binary people, and more likely to consider my gender to be fake or something I am making up if the things I do don’t fit into this androgynous idea of what it means to be non-binary.

But, in fact, that is exactly what makes my refusal to adhere to the nascent norms of non-binary gender a form of genderfuckery. I refuse to be boxed in by what other people want my gender to mean, or to look like.

So, um, yeah. That’s what genderfuckery means to me :P

Questions from the search terms: “everyone has a marginalized identity”

This was an interesting search string that brought someone to my little corner of the internet: everyone has a marginalized identity

I don’t know if it was meant as a question or a statement, but it wormed its way into my brain nevertheless. Because the thing is, when you get right down to it, the *vast* majority of people do experience some sort of systemic marginalization in their lives (though I would argue that there are many cases in which the axes of marginalization in question are not particularly axes of the people’s active identities).

To look at it another way, let me ask: what people in this world have faced no forms of systemic marginalization? For simplicity’s sake, I’ll actually limit myself to people in the US and Canada.

That would be white, anglophone, cisgender, heterosexual, allosexual, monotheist (really, Christian specifically), thin, conventionally attractive, non-disabled, neurotypical men from at middle-class backgrounds or higher. I am sure I’m even forgetting some things here. But the point is, its far and away a small sliver of the population.

This is, of course, part of why intersectionality is an important aspect of social justice discourse. Because once you’ve missed one of the privilege boxes, every additional hit doesn’t just add on to that, it multiplies and interacts with it. So, for instance, if you’re a rich white straight dude, you can usually get away with being publicly atheist without facing too much scrutiny (depending of course on specifically where you are, but nevertheless), whereas if you’re a rich white gay dude, it’s probably safer to at least pretend to be into the kinder parts of the bible (y’know, one of the ‘good’ gays or whatever). You don’t want to question the hegemony too much, after all.

Not to mention that when you have intersecting marginalized identities, you’re more likely to find yourself not just excluded from mainstream stuff, but also from groups dedicated to individual aspects of your marginalization – LGBT people might not want atheists visible in their groups, and atheists sadly aren’t free from heterosexism).

And I actually think this is one of the places where relatively privileged people often get stuck in social justice discourse. Because most of us actually have experienced some sort of marginalization, but those who only experience this marginalization on one or two fronts, or on the ones that are less relevant to day-to-day living, often make the mistake of thinking they know what it’s like to be marginalized. Because they kind of do. And I think most of us (myself included) are sometimes guilty of forgetting that the impacts of different marginalized identities aren’t directly comparable, that the effects of marginal identities aren’t simply additive, and that the intersections between privileged and marginalized identities within any given individual have complex and hard-to-parse consequences.

None of us can seperate out the parts of our lives that result from our privilege and the parts that result from our marginalization, because everything flows out of all of these things.

I want to be able to say that remembering we have all suffered should help us all be a little more compassionate, but unfortunately in practice it is those who have suffered the most, or those who are currently trying to end their own most immediate suffering, who are put upon to be kind and quiet and gracious and compassionate toward those who are contributing to their suffering. We are always playing a game of “no, you be civil first!” and this is a game that the most marginalized people will always lose, because the most marginalized people will inevitably have fewer emotional resources available to do the work we are constantly demanding of them.

So yes, I guess almost everyone does have some sort of marginalized identity. But we all need to learn to see past our own marginalization and recognize the experiences of those different from us, their suffering, and the ways in which we may have been complicit in, or complacent about, their marginalization. And none of us is absolved of doing so.

Questions from the search terms: “I changed my name but people still call me by my old name”

From my search terms this month: “I changed my name but people still call me by my old name”

Dear searcher,

I am so sorry that is happening to you. I want to be very clear, in case you don’t know, that this is a problem with other people and not with you. But, since they aren’t doing the work to fix it, you’re going to have to take up some of the slack. There are some simple things you can do to (hopefully) help these folks start calling you by the right name.

First, get in touch with the people who are calling you by your old name, and directly remind them of the change. Keep it as simple and direct as possible:

“Hey, you may have forgotten, but I changed my name [x days/weeks/months] ago. As a reminder, my new name is [your new name]. It is important to me that you do not call me by my old name any more.”

Optionally, you might want to add a statement like “I’ll try to remind you right away if you forget again.” This will do a couple of important things: it warns them of your intent not to just let it slide from now on (I don’t know if you’ve already been correcting people every time or not, but even if you have it may be helpful to reiterate that you are going to keep doing so); it sets up your reminders as something you are doing as favour to them, to help them out with this transition; and hopefully it will make them less defensive when you do correct them, because you’ve established that you mean it in a friendly(ish) way.

Step two is to do your best to actively correct people, immediately, when they mess up. If you’re already doing this, great! It’s actually something I am terrible at, so you are doing better than me on this front. If you haven’t been actively correcting people, then they may push back when you start (though this is why I recommend sending a direct message first, since it clarifies your position and sets the stage for the idea that you expect them to be taking your name change seriously, and makes it harder for them fall back on an excuse about how they didn’t realize it was important).

You may get some people (parents are especially prone to this, since they will likely have the strongest attachment to your old name, having chosen it themselves) who will ask for special dispensation not to have to change to your new name. For them, just reiterate that it is important to you that people call you by your new name – if there are specific reasons for this that you are comfortable sharing with them, do so. If it’s relevant, you may also want to point out that it would be confusing for other people to hear them still calling you by your old name, and might send the message that it’s ok for them to do so too. You can even tell them that because they are important in your life, it’s especially important that they call you by the correct name.

If people really are being stubborn about it, you may want to pull out somewhat more overt or aggressive methods. Start wearing a name tag around them. Flat-out ignore them when they call you by the wrong name (this tactic may also go over better if you state your intention explicitly: “Because it is important that you call me [new name], I will no longer be answering to [old name].”)

You can continue to escalate your insistence on people using the correct name as far as you need to, up to and including deciding to start cutting people out of your life if they refuse to respect you by using your new name.

This is really a boundary-setting exercise, and I encourage you to seek out general advice on setting boundaries to get other ideas about how to make this boundary stick. The “boundaries” category on Captain Awkward is a good place to start.

I wish you the best of luck!

Questions from the search terms: “what does it mean when someone uses they when they are referring to one person?”

Someone recently asked a search engine the following: what does it mean when someone uses they when they are referring to one person?

That’s a good question! When someone refers to as single person as “they”, it could be for one of five different reasons:

  1. That person’s pronoun might be the singular ‘they’.
    Lots of non-binary people (that’s people who aren’t men or women) prefer to be referred to as ‘they’ because it is a gender neutral pronoun, and options like ‘he’ or ‘she’ misgender them, by suggesting that they are a gender they aren’t.

    Some non-binary people also use other gender neutral singular pronouns, like ‘zie’ or ‘fae’, but you should always use whichever one they have chosen.

  2. The person speaking may not know the gender of the person they’re talking about.
    Sometimes people will say ‘they’ to avoid misgendering someone when they don’t know the person’s gender. This happens in conversations like this:

    Person 1: I went to see my doctor today
    Person 2: Oh yeah? What did they say?

    In this case, Person 2 may just not know the gender of Person 1’s doctor, and doesn’t want to assume the doctor is a he or a she, so they used ‘they’ as a placeholder. Because ‘they’ doesn’t indicate a gender at all, it is not misgendering to use it in this way.

  3. People often also use the singular ‘they’ when talking about hypothetical people.
    I did this a whole bunch of times in the point above. I referred to Person 1 and Person 2 as ‘they’, because they could be men or women or non-binary people. In fact, you did this in your own question (“someone” became “they”), so you are at least implicitly already aware of this usage. This comes up in sentences like:

    “If a student needs to go to the bathroom, they should ask for a hall pass.”

    Unless you area at an all boys school, it would be weird to say “If a student needs to go to the bathroom, he should ask for a hall pass”, because the hypothetical student isn’t necessarily a ‘he’. ‘They’ is also a better option than ‘he or she’ here, because ‘he or she’ still assumes that the hypothetical student is either a boy or a girl, and they may not be either. ‘They’ is just the most inclusive option.

  4. The singular ‘they’ can be used to help obscure the identity of the person they are talking about, in situations where anonymity is important.
    So if I were to say, “someone reported that they were harassed at our last meeting,” I may be deliberately avoiding identifying that person’s gender in order to make it harder for people to narrow it down and figure out who reported the harassment.

    This can be important, because there is often backlash against people who report bad behaviour in groups.

  5. Finally, the singular ‘they’ still occasionally gets used by closeted queers playing ‘the pronoun game’.
    Sometimes when someone in a same-gender relationship is afraid to ‘out’ themself as not straight. So, for instance, a lesbian who is about to refer to her partner but doesn’t want the person she’s talking to to know she’s a lesbian may use the pronoun ‘they’ instead of ‘she’. It is often possible to do this without the other person really noticing, thus avoiding potentially awkward conversations. Although she could also avoid this by simply saying ‘he’, this feels far more dishonest than the neutral ‘they’ (actually lying rather than simply avoiding the full truth), and it also misgenders the person’s partner to call her ‘he’, and many people do not find it acceptable to do that.

I think that about covers it! The singular ‘they’ has a bunch of different uses. (Readers: please also let me know if I missed any!)

Questions from the search terms: a non sequitur

I am working on a really tough post, about gender and self-doubt, and it’s refusing to stop being a total amorphous unstructured blob of half-thoughts, so this week I’m just gonna throw you a quick rant inspired by the search terms, that’s outside of my usual purview.

I wrote one time about the movie Killer Joe, in the context of depictions of sexual assault in movies and tv, and I guess this is how this questioner got to me. [TW: indirect discussion of rape and conspiring to rape]

why does dottie shoot her brother and dad in movie killer joe?

I don’t know, maybe you missed that part of the movie where Dottie’s brother and father treat her like their property, and are constantly making decisions on her behalf, without so much as consulting her? Or, y’know, that time they used her as a bargaining chip (literally, as a “retainer”) when hiring Joe? Dottie literally didn’t have any choice in the matter of her “relationship” with Joe, did you miss that too? None of the men in this movie see or treat Dottie like a person at all, they are all just trying to get her to do whatever will make them happy, or make their lives easier.

And, I don’t know, maybe she decided she’d had enough of that? Not that I actually condone murder, or violence of any kind, but seriously, the fact that Dottie might be angry or feel hate for the men in her life, who either raped her (Joe) or orchestrated and supported her repeated rape because it helped them meet their other goal (which, by the way, was the murder of a another woman, so not a great track record these men have) makes her desire to be free of these fuckers pretty understandable. But I guess you missed all that, yeah?