You can care about social justice and care about your own happiness, too.

It feels strange to write a headline like this.

On the one hand, maybe it should be obvious — we all deserve to have joy, pursue meaningful connections and experiences, and invest in our own mental health. But somewhere along the way, I think I forgot what it meant to be happy just for the sake of it. And based on the burnout I’ve seen, I don’t think I’m the only one.

I was talking to my online therapist recently about how (yet again) a post about sexual assault on my Facebook feed had triggered my obsessive-compulsive disorder. When he gently suggested I take a deeper look at my social media usage, the conversation that ensued drudged up a lot of intense realizations about how I view happiness and self-care.

Namely, that I wasn’t giving myself permission to unplug, because I viewed that as betraying my values.

I realized through this process that very rarely do I do much of anything just for my own happiness. Blogging was an opportunity to support folks in my community. Self-care was a chance to “fix” my mental health so I could do more work. Most of my correspondences online had become me trying to support folks through crises or trauma. My social media was an endless stream of injustice and calls to action.

Every single thing that I did — what I read, what I watched, what I said, what I wrote — became an endless pursuit of doing better, doing more. 

If it wasn’t in service of other people, it simply didn’t have much value, and I didn’t prioritize it.

Last year, I noticed a number of things about myself. For one, I was lonely and burnt out. When I wasn’t working my day job at Everyday Feminism (which involved deep dives into the trauma of marginalized folks), I was either consumed by the news cycle, writing about social issues, opening my own wounds to educate others, or working really f*cking hard to support other folks in the community who were burning out for all the same reasons.

For a while, it was a running joke that I didn’t know how to have fun. “What’s fun?” I used to laugh.

Because when you understand the full extent of injustice in a system like this, fun can feel selfish, trivial, useless. It never seemed important enough. Meanwhile, I bounced in and out of intensive psychiatric programs, with my clinicians shouting after me, “Wait! Slow down? Maybe take more time?”

Even as I write this, I’m riddled with guilt. How many folks get the privilege of uplifting folks in their community on this kind of scale? How many folks get the chance to devote themselves to world-changing work? And most importantly, as an editor, I’ve had the privilege of holding space for so many experiences, stories, traumas… how could I take that for granted?

To be clear, I’ve found so much joy, meaning, and fulfillment in the work. But I have to wonder: When did I decide that my own happiness and wholeness — just for the sake of it, and just for myself — was too self-involved? When did I decide that taking care of myself was not just selfish, but unnecessary?

I’ve shared the “self-care isn’t selfish” memes countless times, and yet here I am, struggling to give myself permission to be happy.

After my second psychiatric hospitalization in the beginning of 2017, it became clear that my time working at Everyday Feminism was done. Walking away from that work was gut-wrenching. I had a lot of late night conversations with my partner, wondering how I could’ve “ruined” an opportunity like that.

Rather than listening to my body — which had been telling me for months, unequivocally, that the work wasn’t sustainable — I spiraled. I began questioning my dedication, questioning my investment, questioning my values. What kind of person has an opportunity to do such important work and, instead, loses their mind, drinks to excess, winds up institutionalized, and then walks away?

For a long time, I thought that my breakdown was my own fault, some kind of indication that I was ungrateful or selfish or incompetent, or that I wasn’t committed enough to my activism.

Here I had an opportunity to make an impact and I’d come undone. It was a dedication issue, I thought, I’m just not trying hard enough.

There’s a larger conversation to be had about the ways in which we fail to support folks doing this work. Structurally, so much social justice activism in underfunded, underpaid. And things like call-out culture can skirt the line, at times, between being necessary vehicles for accountability and being outright dehumanizing. This is all made worse with harassment and doxxing for those of us who primarily do this work online.

All of that makes it challenging to do this work and remain whole, to say the least.

But it also comes down to a very prevalent idea: that we must dedicate ourselves to this work at all times, and that joy is an afterthought, certainly not a priority.

There’s a level of perfectionism in the work that can be toxic. The reality is, there will always be more to do. There will always be more to read. There will always be more pain, more work, more need. And caring deeply about everything and everyone, you can get caught up in this unhealthy cycle of prioritizing everyone else at the expense of yourself.

This year it finally reached a point where I felt like digital activism was the only thing I really knew how to do. It eclipsed my entire identity, my entire self.

And when you determine that your only value is in what you can provide other people, you lose yourself.

After my hospitalization, I had to begin rebuilding my life. I started to wonder who I was in the absence of the work. What did I like? What did I enjoy? What interested me, excited me, energized me?

I have to wonder, how many of us working towards social justice don’t actually have answers to those questions outside of activism? Because my answers before would’ve all circled back to one thing: helping people. But if everything I do is for someone else, it can only be sustained for so long.

So I changed careers and found an unexpected joy in telling a different kind of story. I blogged when I felt called to, about what felt meaningful in the moment, instead of repeatedly opening my own wounds every week. I let myself blog about things that made me happy, too. I enlisted some help in managing my growing Facebook community, and gave myself permission to unplug.

And I started doing a heck of a lot of therapy. Because when we confuse total self-sacrifice for social justice, that’s a wound we immediately need to tend to.

I’ve started going outside. Drinking coffee. Laughing. Reading books. Letting myself get lost in articles about interior design and street style. I got a cat (he’s perfect). I meditate sometimes. I’ve started picking up the phone and calling friends. I completely overhauled my social media (I’ll write about how next week, if you’re wondering) to be a lot less triggering.

Through this process, I’ve realized that by abandoning my own happiness, I had also destroyed my capacity to meaningfully support others.

The reality is, social justice isn’t an all-or-nothing equation of either being committed or complicit, informed or uninformed. It’s all a process, and one that we can invest in while also investing in ourselves.

And if there’s no room for joy? It simply isn’t just. We all deserve to be well, to be whole. And if we don’t protect our own heart when we do this work, we deny ourselves the very thing we’re fighting for.

There are very good reasons to be angry. There are very good reasons to be furious, devastated, even unhinged in light of the world that we live in. But that makes it all the more pertinent, I think, to take care of ourselves, and to ensure that we’re prioritizing joy.

We can’t let injustice consume us to the point where we’ve lost everything that makes life meaningful and worth living.

Being joyful in the face of injustice is not a betrayal to the movement or to those who are struggling. It’s a loyalty to yourself, affirming your right — and by extension, everyone’s right — to wholeness.

Human beings need connection, fulfillment, and joy. So I ask you very sincerely: When’s the last time you gave that to yourself?

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5 Reasons Why We Need to Stop Saying That ‘Women Are Half the World’s Population’

Feminists, I have a pet peeve that I really want to talk about. Namely, this business about women being half the population.

Have you heard this before? An activist is explaining why focusing on women’s rights is so necessary, and as they passionately make their case, they tack onto the end of their speech, “After all, women make up half the world’s population!”

And of course, there’s agreement all around – we can’t perpetuate an injustice against half of the world. That simply won’t do!

I’m not a woman, but I understand the impulse to advocate for women by pointing out just how many women there are. No doubt, it’s compelling to talk about the sheer number of people being denied their autonomy and human rights.

The more people suffering, the greater the injustice, right?

Here’s the thing: I don’t see this “women are half the world” thing as being intersectional, nor do I see it as being correct.

And perhaps most importantly, I don’t see it as a step in the right direction: It marginalizes other people in a heck of a lot of ways, trying to uplift women at the expense of others – specifically people of marginalized gender and sex.

Not cool.

When I was a wee baby feminist – name-dropping bell hooks in conversation and proudly displaying my new nose ring – I didn’t realize how ineffective and harmful it was to hinge my arguments about women’s rights on a percentage.

It didn’t occur to me until I began my gender transition, identifying now as genderqueer, that the phrase started to rub me the wrong way – because it erased transgender people like me, for starters.

That’s why I’m writing this article.

If we want to make a case for women’s equality around the world, we need to do it in a way that doesn’t erase or harm people of other genders and identities. We need to be bringing in a more intersectional approach.

It’s time we did away with this talking point once and for all. Because as you’ll see, it’s not doing women – or anyone else, for that matter – any favors.

Here are five things to consider the next time you’re thinking of spouting off the “women are half the world” argument.

1. It’s Ridiculously Cisnormative

Let’s be real: This phrase isn’t logically correct. When we’re saying that women are half the world, what we’re actually saying is that roughly half the world is assigned female at birth.

We aren’t talking about gender (and therefore, women) at all. We’re talking about sex, and assuming that everyone assigned female at birth must identify as a woman.

This is totally cisnormative – reinforcing the assumption that being cisgender is the default, and centering the experiences of cisgender people, effectively erasing transgender people – and makes this phrase really problematic.

Think about it: This “statistic,” focusing on birth assignment, technically includes me – someone who doesn’t identify as a woman, but was assigned female at birth.

And more importantly, it doesn’t include trans women. Since this is a percentage that relies on assignment at birth, we’re inherently excluding transgender women – who have a different birth assignment – in favor of propping up cisgender women.

In doing so, we are replicating the kind of cisnormativity that not only assumes everyone is cisgender, but actually privileges cisgender people over transgender people – with transfeminine people in particular getting the worst of it, as per usual.

Why are cisgender women the only women that count in this statistic?

This phrase ultimately fails us as feminists because when it confuses sex and gender, it’s only really speaking to and about cisgender people. And while trans women may not be a huge percentage of the population, your movement is not for women if it doesn’t explicitly and intentionally include all women.

Which leads me to my next point…

2. It Upholds the Gender Binary and Erases Non-Binary People

Let’s see here. Women are half the world. So men must make up the other half of the world. That’s 100%. So presumably, this includes everyone! Right?

No, it really doesn’t.

Gender exists on a spectrum, and thus, there’s no concrete way to measure just how many genders there really are. What we do know for sure is that there are more than two – but this so-called “statistic” relies on the idea that this isn’t true, and that everyone fits into this binary of men and women.

Anytime we normalize a phrase that says there are only two genders, we’re erasing anyone and everyone who identifies differently.

As non-binary myself, when I hear the saying “women are half the world’s population,” I not only feel erased, but I feel misgendered. The saying upholds a binary that has never quite fit. And I know it’s really talking about sex assignment – so by extension, I’m being labeled a cis woman.

Honestly, when I identified as a cisgender woman, I didn’t notice these issues, and the phrase felt empowering – it felt radical to claim our collective power as women!

But when I started my gender transition, I immediately saw the ways in which it reinforced my own oppression as a non-binary trans person and pushed me further to the margins – just because I didn’t fit the binary, and because I didn’t identify with the gender I was assigned.

Cis privilege can make us oblivious to the harm present in the things we may otherwise find empowering. And that’s why it’s important for cis folks to tune in when transgender and non-binary people are naming their pain.

I’m naming mine now.

There are better ways for women to advocate for their rights – ways that do not further oppress people outside of the gender binary.

3. It Erases Intersex People, Too

Yes, the phrase “women are half the population” focuses on sex. And so what, right? Sex is a 50/50 deal, so it’s not totally inaccurate.

Nope.

This mentality – that we are born female or male and there’s no in-between – is actually the source of a great deal of oppression and pain for intersex people.

The reality is that biological sex also exists on a spectrum. But those who don’t “acceptably” fit the binary we’ve created are violently forced to conform through invasive and non-consensual surgery.

We need to stop buying into this man/woman, male/female binary. Just like it hurts transgender and non-binary people, it harms intersex people, too. It doesn’t allow for any human diversity. And when we create these rigid rules, we’re harming everyone who doesn’t conform.

When we divide the world into halves, what we’re saying is that there are only two ways to be. Two ways to do gender, two ways to do sex.

If this “women are half the world” thing is meant to advocate for gender equality, why is it upholding both the gendered and sex-based oppression of entire marginalized populations?

Intersex folks are some of the most badass people that I know. They may not be half the world, but they count. Their lives are important. Their struggles matter.

And any kind of “empowerment” mantra that further erases them is not pursuing social justice – it is selfishly pursuing its own interests at the expense of others.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in throwing intersex people under the bus under the banner of “women’s rights.”

4. It Assumes That Women Are a Monolith

When I talked to women about this article, a complaint that we talked about most often was that the phrase “women are half the world’s population” was problematic simply because it lumped all women together – as if their issues were universal, and their experiences largely the same.

This is where intersectionality comes into play again.

Even if it were true that half the world identified as women, that doesn’t even scratch the surface when it comes to advocating for their rights.

Factors like race, disability, size, class, sexuality, gender identity, citizenship, nationality, and more all intersect to shape a woman’s experience of power, privilege, and oppression.

While the sentiment behind the phrase is powerful – look how many women there are, you can’t deny our power and our dignity! – it may, in fact, be oversimplified. A universal experience of womanhood, many would argue, just doesn’t exist.

And when we advocate for gender justice, the conversation needs nuance and intention so that those most marginalized are empowered.

Motherhood, for example, is often assumed to be a universal desire among women – but we actually know that many women choose not to have children, cannot have children, or do not consider parenting to be a significant part of their identity.

Menstruation is often held up as a rite of passage for women, and yet transgender women do not have this experience, numerous transgender men and non-binary people do, and plenty of cisgender women do not have a menstrual cycle (or have an atypical cycle) for various reasons.

You could easily argue that women are more diverse than they are similar – but that doesn’t mean they can’t unite to fight patriarchy together.

Womanhood – and a/gender as a whole – is so much more than a singular identity that everyone understands and relates to in the same way. Different aspects of our identities will shape how we move through the world as a/gendered people.

One shared category is not a guarantee that our experiences are uniform or even similar, and awareness of these differences is important.

When we talk about advocating for women (or any marginalized group), we definitely have to acknowledge everyone’s unique situations – because if the movement isn’t intersectional, it’s bullshit.

And if the language we use to uplift women isn’t intersectional, I suspect it’s bullshit, too.

5. Because Equality Shouldn’t Be a Numbers Game in the First Place

Here’s one of the reasons I hate this phrase the most: The dignity, autonomy, and rights of a marginalized group should have nothing to do with how large or how small that group is.

Social justice is not a popularity contest, and shouldn’t be treated like one.

Women don’t deserve their rights because they are a large percentage of the population. They deserve their rights because they are human beings. Full stop.

As far as transgender people go, I recognize that we make up a much smaller percentage of the population. I recognize that there are many people in this country that have never met someone like me. I recognize that my own parents still struggle to understand me. I recognize that when I move through the world, I am an oddity to most.

I am not half of the world’s population. In many places, I am barely a small sliver of a big pie. But that doesn’t make me less worthy or less entitled to my rights. That doesn’t make me less important. That doesn’t make my struggle less real.

I really despise the underlying message of “women are half the population” because it implicitly communicates to me that because my community isn’t as large, the fight for transgender rights is somehow less of a priority or less significant.

Every marginalized community is important, no matter how many people occupy those spaces.

And I think if we are using language that suggests otherwise, we need to reevaluate our concepts of “justice” and our own sense of entitlement. We can do better than this. And we need to.

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Here’s the thing: It’s important that when we build our movements, we create language that reflects our values. And if you take anything away from this article, it’s that we must be intentional about our words – because our words mean something.

As genderqueer, people like me are not “half” of this world. But I’d like to think that, however small a percentage we occupy, our experiences are still important.

So many women in my life are my fiercest advocates, and I try to show up just the same – when our movements work together, I know that we’re stronger.

But our language has to reflect this kind of commitment to each other, to being anti-oppression across the board.

If we want to tackle systemic oppression, we can’t uphold one kind of harm while trying to address another.

That’s why I think examining our language is so important – it says something about who we are and what justice means to us. And in my opinion, “women are half the world’s population” reflects a kind of movement that I don’t think feminists want to be a part of.

We can do better than a lousy 50/50 percentage that lacks nuance. We can do better than a so-called “statistic” that erases people of marginalized gender and sex. And we can definitely do better than a phrase that upholds oppressive binaries.

It not only hurts women, but it hurts people of many genders – and this kind of harm is not what feminism is about.

If we’re going to make a case for women’s rights, let’s start with dignity. Not with erasure.

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This piece that I wrote originally appeared at Everyday Feminism.

ETA: I no longer identify as a trans guy — this piece was mistakenly published by an editor before the correction was made.

Debates About My Gender Have Convinced Me Of One Thing: It’s Time To Get Louder

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I’ve gone down the Laci Green rabbit hole. Green, a popular feminist YouTuber and sex educator, gained quite a bit of popularity — and now, incredible notoriety — in social justice circles, positioning herself as an advocate for comprehensive sex education and gender equality.

I’ve been subtweeting about Laci for a hot minute, especially recently. She’s gotten cozy with anti-feminist YouTubers, whose vitriol have fueled a great deal of harassment targeting feminist and marginalized content creators. Lately, she’s been tweeting and creating videos that perpetuate transmisogyny (which I talked about quite a bit in this Twitter thread), even going so far as to call Kat Blaque, a Black trans woman and fellow YouTuber, a “sociopath.”

She has described herself as being a proponent of open and respectful dialogue, yet has responded to feminists calling her in in dismissive, hurtful, and arrogant ways. Most recently, she hosted a live debate around gender and the existence of non-binary identity, suggesting that invalidating and policing our identities should now become a spectator sport. This kind of “dialogue” has relied upon the assumption that the opinions of cisgender people are somehow of equal importance and validity to those of trans people when discussing our own lived experiences.

And while I believe that there’s a lot of worthwhile education that can happen with an open dialogue, this is not the dialogue I think any of us had in mind. I find it highly suspect that this “debate” is being dominated by cisgender folks (many of whom are openly hostile and even violent towards trans people), and led and organized by a cis woman who is not trusted or even respected by the community to begin with.

However sympathetic Laci claims to be, her insistence on positioning herself at the center of this conversation — the “rational,” moderate authority — legitimizes a ciswashed account of gender, sex, and identity.

She encourages a kind of cultural voyeurism in which transgender and non-binary people must repeatedly defend themselves for sport, while a white cis woman plays referee.

Sigh.

As a non-binary writer, I’ve personally felt the cultural backlash against non-binary people as we’ve made real strides in visibility. As someone who has published a lot of written work around gender and non-binary identity, I’ve been the recipient of harassment and abuse from total strangers who take issue with how I define my own experiences. I’ve also watched as other non-binary folks in my community have had to endure the near-constant pain of erasure, invalidation, and even violence.

But these aren’t the conversations that cis people want to have. They want to have the “is he or isn’t he lying about his identity” conversation, the “let’s turn your lived experience into a fun intellectual exercise” conversation, or my personal favorite, the “I see no problem with suggesting you don’t exist” conversation. And Laci has no problem capitalizing on it, either, even if she self-identifies as an “ally.”

But there is one thing I have to give her credit for: I’m pissed. I have never tweeted so furiously, for one. And I’ve never felt more fiercely protective and invested in my non-binary community. I started to ask myself, “When was the last time I donated to a non-binary YouTuber’s Patreon?” “Have I messaged any non-binary activists to thank them lately?” “Am I subscribing to, supporting, and boosting the signal on other non-binary content creators?

And I wondered, when so many of our battlegrounds are digital… maybe more of us should be taking up space as loudly and defiantly as possible.

So quietly, I pulled up my bucket list, and crossed “Start a YouTube Channel” off of my list. Because I figured, if you’re going to tell me that I don’t exist, you’re going to have to say it to my face. And because I hoped that, by building community with other non-binary folks on YouTube in particular, I could help to reclaim a dialogue that continues to be derailed by the folks who have the least at stake, with little consideration of those who could lose the most.

I’m annoyed that I have to give Laci, or any binary person with feelings about how I identify, the time of day. But that’s exactly why I want to see more non-binary folks connecting with one another, networking, signal-boosting, donating, and showing up for each other — because so long as our existence is relegated to the status of “debatable,” making noise and taking up space is one important way that we can resist.

Fat and disabled enbies, non-binary folks of color, agender elders, all of us — every one of us is a necessary part of this conversation. Start a blog. Become a YouTuber. Write a letter to the editor. Become a patron, send a supportive tweet, or share a video — if nothing else, let the folks doing this work know that you affirm and appreciate them. (And hey, tweet me and let me know what you’re up to and how I can support you. I’ve got you.)

My hope is that if non-binary folks take anything away from the Laci Green nightmare, it’s that we need to take ownership of this conversation. Hike up your leg and take a long piss on this “debate.” It’s ours.

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Who is Sam Dylan Finch?

(GUEST POST) This piece is brought to you by the lovely guest author and writing/publishing/feminist extraordinaire, Alaina Leary, who interviewed me for this piece. If you’ve ever wondered who the heck I am or where I came from, these (super thoughtful!) questions are a great introduction. I cried a lot while answering. Which will surprise absolutely no one.

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 9.06.01 PMAs a disabled and transgender writer, Sam Dylan Finch is passionate about amplifying the voices of marginalized people, as well as drawing from his lived experience to educate and empower.

Currently, Sam is an editor at RESIST and Social Justice U, and the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, a blog exploring the intersections of queerness, feminism, and mental illness. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Huffington Post, Everyday Feminism, The Establishment, Rewire, and many more.

I’ve been following Sam’s work since around 2015, and have watched him talk about mental illness, trauma, recovery, transitioning, gender identity, and feminism on multiple public platforms. I’ve been fortunate to work with Sam in a few professional capacities and have had the pleasure of getting to him know on a personal level, which is an absolute joy, because he radiates the same love and light in his everyday life that he does in his work.

I had a chance to ask Sam some questions about writing, activism, and being radically vulnerable in his work.

AL: How did you get your start in writing and activist work?

SDF: I’ve always been writing, but I actually have been blogging since I was 13 years old! Back in the day, we had Freewebs and shitty graphics and used the font “terminal” a little too much.

I’ve loved blogging for all these years. As a mentally ill and queer youth, being “seen” was extremely powerful, and was critical in my survival. It was the ultimate way to take up space in a society that didn’t otherwise offer me that visibility or validation.

As for my activism, it really began when I was participating in a walk to raise awareness about mental health with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). I think I was 18 years old at that point?

I was so excited to be visible as a mentally ill person for the first time. But I quickly noticed that the stigma persisted, even there. People signed into the walk with fake names. When cameras flashed, they ducked out of the way or hid behind posters. When the news crews came, many people scattered or ran away.

It was my first real political action of any kind. These were my people, my community. And even in that space, people were afraid. Terrified. Afraid of losing their jobs, afraid of being recognized by family and friends and colleagues, afraid of being seen. And I thought, “This isn’t right. This isn’t the kind of world that I want for mentally ill people.”

Not everyone can be visible. But whatever the personal cost, I promised myself that day that I would be. I haven’t looked back.

AL: A lot of your work has followed your journey—transitioning, being diagnosed with mental illnesses, dealing with your recovery. What has it been like to share yourself so vulnerably and honestly in your writing?

SDF: Recently someone messaged me and told me that, because I’d written so openly about my psychiatric hospitalizations, they had found the courage to admit themselves and get help.

So whenever the trolls try to tell me that no one cares about what I have to say, I remember how it felt to get that message – to know that this person was safe that night and that I played a part in that. Even if this one person was the only one that cared about my words, their survival is worth it to me. Their life is worth that much.

Being so honest in your writing can be scary. It opens you up to criticism and hostility that can wound the most tender parts of you. But it’s also an incredible process, because I get to remind folks that they aren’t alone in their struggles, and in return they remind me that I’m not alone, either. We build community. We build connection. We build strength. We build safety.

Society wants marginalized people to believe that sharing their stories is playing a card, playing the victim, or telling lies. But I believe that being visible as mentally ill and transgender has helped illuminate some important truths. And I hope that it’s made folks in my community feel held and affirmed along the way. I honestly can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.

AL: What has your journey with intersectional feminism been like? Tell me a little about how you came to find feminism and embrace it.

imageSDF: I found feminism in college. Cue all the groaning about those damn “liberal arts” schools. I double-majored in Anthropology and Women’s & Gender Studies, and that radicalized me. When I realized that my personal struggles were deeply political ones, I started to connect the dots. A lot of folks resent “identity politics” (boohoo for them), but understanding that our lived experiences are shaped by a larger system was mind-blowing and important to me.

My studies taught me the ways in which identity, power, and privilege affect us personally, systematically, culturally. I never looked at anything the same way after that – I never looked at myself the same way again.

In particular – and it’s really important for me to mention her – I wouldn’t be the writer or activist that I am today without Dr. Suzanne Bergeron, who taught my first gender studies course in undergrad and was there every step of the way as I navigated university. As mentally ill and queer, academia was not always a safe place for me, and having a fierce mentor like her is why I was able to succeed despite so many obstacles.

Institutions like universities are not always built with marginalized folks in mind. In fact, when I was a student, we didn’t even have an LGBTQIA+ center on our campus. That’s why mentors are so critically important for the survival of marginalized folks in spaces like universities. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to drop out, or how many times I showed up for Dr. B’s office hours and had to be talked down. She was so patient.

And that’s what feminism has come to mean for me. It’s not just a philosophical worldview that remains abstract, but a daily practice and a commitment we make to one another. It’s a commitment that we make so that we can resist these systems together and allow marginalized folks to come into their own and truly thrive, especially when these systems aren’t by and for us.

I learned that from her. And I’ve tried to be that person now, like, showing up for folks in my life but also through the public work that I do. I’m trying to carve out space where people like me can show up as themselves, like my mentors did for me.

AL: Has anyone ever reached out to you to tell you how your work has impacted them? What does that feel like?

SDF: Every day. I cry about it. It’s especially intense when it comes from a queer and/or mentally ill youth, because that’s such a difficult and powerless place to be. You know, I was there.

And back in my day… I know, I sound old when I say that, but the world has changed a lot in the last decade. I was never able to find people like me with stories like mine. I genuinely believed that I would never see 18, because I’d never seen an adult like me surviving.

When I started writing publicly in these spaces, the most important thing to me was making sure that young folks who weren’t sure if they could make it would see what might be possible for them. That they could reclaim their power. That they could get older. That there was a future with them in it, maybe even a bright future at that. That you could grow up – like me, severely mentally ill and transgender and traumatized – but still be soft, be brilliant, be alive.

I want that for everyone. That when you reach the end of your rope, you can see other possibilities. You can see them, because you’ve seen someone living them. Someone like you, someone who knows how you feel. I didn’t see those possibilities once upon a time, because I couldn’t find them, and I almost ended my life because of that. So I’m trying to create a world where those possibilities are known, never out of reach, never hard to find.

So when someone tells me that I’ve done that, there’s no way to describe how it feels. There just aren’t words… I’ll never have words to explain what that means to me.

AL: How do you come up with topics for your blog posts and writing you pitch? Where do you draw that inspiration, especially for deeply personal writing?

SDF: My writing just comes from my very messy life! When I started my blog, I wasn’t sure if I’d have a lot to say or how long I could keep it up. But that was a few years ago now, and I haven’t run out of ideas yet.

Being mentally ill, gay, non-binary, and transgender – considering where we are situated historically and culturally, you know, the “transgender tipping point” and the new administration and all that – means that there’s an important place for marginalized communities in the narrative we’re writing about this moment.

And with online media at the center of it all, marginalized folks like me have more power than ever to write that story instead of allowing others to write it for them. That’s the inspiration: making history through our words, to ensure that our lives and our struggles aren’t erased.

AL: What’s the hardest piece you’ve ever written?

Screen Shot 2016-03-05 at 9.51.16 PMSDF: Anything that I’ve written about suicide, to be honest, is the most difficult for me. It’s the most difficult because I know suicidal folks are going to find it, read it, and weigh their options. That feels like an enormous and important responsibility, and I take it very seriously.

Suicide as a topic makes me deeply emotional. I mean, I look at everything I’ve been able to do – and I imagine the other scenario where I never lived to see 18, and everything that might be different otherwise. “Sam Dylan Finch” as a person would’ve never existed. That’s not even a name I had claimed until, I don’t know, four years ago.

My whole body of work, and all the good that it did… you know, there’s an alternative timeline where none of that happened. I can’t even wrap my mind around what that timeline looks like, how many people are affected.

Honestly, I didn’t know I had any potential. Most of my life, I haven’t even had very great self-esteem, because depression can rob you of that. And how many people out there are like me, not even aware of what they’re capable of? So I imagine the collective potential of ALL survivors – everything we could do together, the ways we could shape the world – and the weight of that feels so heavy.

I’ll be honest: I don’t want to lose anyone else to suicide. I understand better than anyone why people end their own lives, but that doesn’t make it any easier to let folks go. Because that’s not just an individual loss, but a collective loss for us all. We’ll never know what you had to offer. We’ll never know what you could’ve done, the life you could’ve led. And whether it was just for you or for all of us, you deserve to know what you were capable of in this life. That matters to me. Survivors matter to me.

When I write about suicide, it’s the hardest thing of all, because I just want to reach through the screen and say, “We need you. You need you.” It’s gut-wrenching. It’s life and death, for real. It will never get easier to write those words, but I also know they’re the most important words that I write.

AL: What do you like about being on the editorial side of the writer/editor relationship, in your past work at Everyday Feminism and your current role at Resist? Is it more satisfying to you to be an editor or a writer?

SDF: I’m always asking myself, “What needs to be said?” And of course, “Do I need to be the one to say it?” If not (as is often the case, because I have my own privileges), I’m doing everything I can to support the folks who are saying it.

That’s why I pursued editing in addition to being a writer – my voice isn’t the only voice that matters, and I want to do everything I can to get diverse voices out into the world. I learn so much through the process. I don’t think I could ever just write or just edit. I see both as critically important work to be doing.

AL: What are some of the things you’d like to accomplish in the next ten years? How do you want to make your mark?

SDF: This interview is making me super emotional. So many feelings.

Because I’m imagining that like, I’ll be 35 in ten years. That sounds young to a lot of people, but when you aren’t used to imagining yourself getting older, it feels immense. I never thought about getting there. And more queer, trans, and mentally ill kiddos are coming up in the world, and they’re going to need folks to show them that they can make it, too. Now more than ever.

This might sound a little dramatic, but in those moments when I can’t live for myself, I live for them. Every time my heart beats, it’s like a signal – it’s like morse code or something – just making sure they know they aren’t the only ones out there.

That’s how I want to make my mark. I want to survive, for all of us. In ten years, twenty years, fifty years. With every beat, telling them: “I’m here, I’m here, I’m here.”

We need you. You need you. If you ever need support, please consider the following crisis resources:

The National Suicide Prevention Helpline: 1-800-273-8255
The Trevor Lifeline for LGBTQIA+ youth: 1-866-488-7386
Trans Lifeline: 1-877-565-8860

Or check out Sam’s favorite mental health apps at this resource list.

Alaina Leary is an intersectional feminist activist, editor, and publishing professional based in Boston, MA. She is currently a social media assistant for We Need Diverse Books, and is completing her MA in Publishing at Emerson College. Her career focus is on how to increase inclusive, authentic, intersectional representation in the publishing industry. She also edits for several online magazines, including Her Campus, Luna Luna Magazine, Germ Magazine, and Doll Hospital Journal. When she isn’t busy reading, you can find her at the beach or curled up with her girlfriend and their two adopted literary cats. Read her articles here.

 

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How Can We Include Non-Binary People in Gendered Spaces?

nbmeme

This meme is basically my life.

I think it’s interesting to be writing about my gender transition so publicly. I am not always given the luxury of uncertainty or ambiguity.

But truthfully, I am still getting to know who I am and, by extension, how my gender manifests in the world.

I’ve used a lot of words to describe myself: Genderqueer, non-binary, transmasculine, genderfluid, genderweird, androgynous, agender, even bigender to name a handful. I’ve used ze/hir pronouns, e/em pronouns, they/them pronouns, he/him pronouns.

I think of these labels as hats that I’ve tried on at different points in my life, searching for what fits, what suits me.

I’ve made no effort to hide the fact that I’m a gender explorer. I haven’t settled anywhere just yet – and I am comfortable in that fluid space. I dabble in femininity, masculinity, androgyny, and agender expressions and I’ve found happiness in liberating myself from prescribed boxes and letting myself roam.

I’m still figuring it out. This is why I most often refer to myself as “non-binary” – I am holding that space as I learn more and more about myself.

Recently, though, I realized that not everyone is willing to hold that space for non-binary people.

Last week, I was banned from an online group of femme and non-binary writers. A cisgender moderator determined that because I’d used the word “transmasculine” in the past and used he/him pronouns, I was not, in fact, “non-binary.”

I was booted without discussion or question, labelled a “misogynist” for taking up space as a “trans man,” and slandered in writing circles that I had previously held in high respect.

I debated if I would talk publicly about what happened. But I think this is a prime example of the many fundamental misunderstandings of non-binary people and their experiences, and raises two really important questions:

What is the place of non-binary and genderfluid people in explicitly gendered spaces? And how can we be inclusive of non-binary people in spaces like these?

So I’m going to talk about this.

First, I think we should pinpoint what it means to be non-binary. Non-binary refers to experiences of gender that are not exclusively masculine or feminine. It’s an umbrella of experiences.

I have identified as non-binary for five years. This is because my experience of gender is fluid – I have a fluid expression that I am still exploring, and I don’t identify as a man or a woman.

I use he/him pronouns not because I am a trans man or because I’m exclusively masculine. I actually respond to both “they” AND “him” (and if you’ll notice, many interviews and talks I’ve given have used these interchangeably).

However, “he” is easiest and my preference is not particularly strong, so I have defaulted to “he” overtime.

It’s also worth noting here that pronouns are also not necessarily linked to one’s gender. Pronouns are words first and foremost, and they can have deeply personal meanings to each individual.

Some of us use binary pronouns to keep us safe, to adapt in the face of trauma, or because the pronouns we desire are simply not accepted in a binary world.

This is why it’s really best not to assume someone’s identity on the basis of pronouns – it could be much more complicated than you realize.

This particular group, though, consisting almost exclusively of cisgender people made the assumption that “he” meant I could not be non-binary and consequently misgendered me as a “trans man.”

No questions asked, I was banned because I did not use the language that cisgender people wanted me to.

But here’s the thing: At the end of the day, it’s not up to cisgender people to decide the language non-binary people should use to describe themselves. It is not your experience nor your place.

It’s arrogant to assume that, as a binary person, you could possibly advise or understand. And if you are trying to build a space that is inclusive of non-binary people, it is your place to listen – not to assume, impose, or erase.

This kind of smug, violent assumption – that cisgender people somehow know what it means to be non-binary better than we do – is why many non-binary people do not feel welcome in these spaces in the first place.

It’s this bullshit that makes non-binary people feel silenced and excluded. Even when we try to articulate our experiences, so many cisgender people reject them and instead, take their binary framework of the world and impose it onto us.

I’ve said I am not a man. I’ve never called myself a man. So why call me one? Because you don’t believe me or because you are unwilling to hear me out on my experiences?

Transphobia. This is transphobia, plain and simple.

And this is erasure: Being so unwilling to tune in when we are talking about our experiences that you simply deny our identities altogether.

I think another fundamental misunderstanding of gender that came up during this situation was the idea that gender is somehow static.

When we create gendered spaces – spaces that are exclusively for folks of a certain expression or experience – it immediately assumes that all people have a fixed understanding of their gender.

This is patently untrue.

As non-binary, I fluidly move between expressions. There are countless bi/trigender and genderfluid people who do not occupy a fixed point on the spectrum.

And if we do not hold space for folks who are more fluid, how can we claim to be inclusive?

This group could not imagine a scenario in which a non-binary person might dabble in masculinity and still call themselves non-binary. They couldn’t imagine a scenario in which a non-binary person’s identity was not fixed like theirs.

Not only that, but they didn’t feel it was relevant or important to actually ask me how I experience my gender or believe me when I said I didn’t identify as a man or woman.

If you are looking to hold space for “non-binary people” without qualification, that means all non-binary people – even those who are questioning, even those who are fluid, even those who occupy multiple spaces simultaneously.

I think this comes back to the idea that many spaces that claim to be inclusive of non-binary people are actually just offering lip service.

They don’t bother to educate themselves, they don’t consult NB people when creating these spaces, and they don’t care to know about our lived experiences.

As a non-binary person who writes for femme-centric magazines and holds space in communities that are femme-centric, my rule of thumb is to always ask who the spaces are intended for, and only enter into these spaces when I am invited.

It’s something that I hope all non-binary people do when weighing whether or not to be part of a particular community.

But I take serious issue with spaces that applaud themselves for being inclusive of non-binary people, but make no intentional effort to ensure that we are not erased.

NB folks often feel so grateful to be included and do not want to derail the focus of these groups that we feel helpless to advocate for ourselves. These spaces receive no pushback or accountability because NB people feel disempowered in spaces that are not designed with them in mind.

We are invited in word only, but never engaged with on a meaningful level. We’re not asked if we feel included; we are there as tokens and tokens only.

So as a non-binary person who is ridiculously fed up with spaces exploiting my community – by using us as props to hold up as proof of their “inclusiveness” – I want to offer some advice to communities, online and off, who are genuinely committed to holding space for non-binary people:

  1. Realize that not all non-binary people are cut from the same cloth. Some of us are mostly masculine with a femme edge; some of us are utterly androgynous or void of gender; some of us are demiboys or demigirls; some of us are genderfluid or gender-questioning or gender nonconforming. We are not a monolith. Don’t treat us like one.
  2. Be specific about who your space is for. If you want a group for feminine-of-center people, say so. If you want a group for masculine-of-center people, say so. NB people have varied experiences of power and privilege, so it’s important to qualify where needed. Don’t lump us all together and expect us to understand who your space is for.
  3. Believe us. Do not call into question what our gender is. Do not assume what our gender is. It is transphobic to disregard someone’s stated identity because they do not express themselves or articulate their experiences the way that you would prefer. Non-binary people don’t exist for your comfort and our genders are for us, and us alone, to declare.
  4. Let us speak for ourselves. Do not impose your narratives onto us. Do not try to place us within a binary framework to make it “easier” for you. We can discuss our experiences for ourselves. We are not men unless we say so. We are not women unless we say so. We are only what we say we are – so ask us if you’re unclear on what that means.
  5. Hold space for non-binary people to be uncertain. Recognize that because there are so few visible narratives or scripts for us to follow, we may still be in the process of questioning or trying to articulate our experiences. We may still be sorting this out. Keep this in mind if you are inviting us into your space.
  6. Do not make judgments on whether or not we belong based on our appearance. Non-binary people can express themselves in varied ways and may be expressing themselves a particular way for our own safety. This does not mean we are “faking” being non-binary.
  7. Do not use gendered language to refer to everyone in the space. This is a no-brainer – don’t invite non-binary people into your space and then refer to everyone as women or men.
  8. Don’t include us if you don’t plan on doing the work. If you aren’t committed to listening, educating yourself, and creating policies that ensure we are safe in your space, don’t bother. We do not want to be props in your social justice credibility game.

 

The conversation around non-binary inclusion is an important one. What happened to me is not uncommon – NB people are routinely erased or even banned from spaces by cis and trans folks alike who do not understand their experiences.

I write this not because being banned from this group was the end of the world (there are plenty of spaces that are designed with me in mind, spaces that I am infinitely grateful for), but because there are bigger questions at play here.

I write this because what happened to me exposes a serious systemic issue that exists in many social justice spaces – how non-binary people are “invited” to the table, but are driven away through erasure and transphobia the second they arrive.

If you are more interested in applauding yourself for inviting us instead of doing the work to include us, you are not socially just – you are simply the oppressors under another name.

If you claim to be a space that is inclusive of non-binary people, deliver on what you promise. Because we are done being your footnotes or afterthoughts.

signature

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It’s Not a Race!

123 4567Justin’s note: As I’ve stated in previous comics it’s important not to forget that when it comes to wellness, personal safety is at the top of the list.  Not everyone falling under the LGBTQIA umbrella is protected by that umbrella.  So while it’s important to love yourself, express who you are, and take as much time as you need? it’s more important to survive so that you can do all of those things.

For some that might mean turning 18 and leaving home.  For others that might mean immigration!  Let’s also not forget that expressing your gender identity could get you fired in some states!

If any of the above describes your situation, then apply the “baby steps” principles to your escape plan.  Take the time to cover your bases, find a safe space (or better yet, safe spaces), and get out when the time is right!

The image features Justin wearing dark-rimmed glasses and a blue sweater.Justin Hubbell is a cartoonist and freelance artist from upstate New York. In an attempt to serve the greater good, he aims to create volumes of work revolving around the social politics that govern our daily lives. He posts his cartoons weekly at justinhubbell.com.  He has also been featured on The Good Men Project, UpWorthy, Digital America, Kabooooom, and submits comics regularly to local publications.  He has no preferred pronouns, she is a unapologetic nerd.

Editor’s Note: Transcript for this comic is pending and will be posted soon. Thanks for your patience!

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Guest Post: The Softer Side of Catcalling

The image features a person with long blonde hair walking toward a grassy field.

Instead she leaned forward and whispered, “Pull up your shirt, honey. You’re showing.”

The first time I was catcalled I was 11 years old. But the first time I was looked at sexually without my consent was well before that. It wasn’t some creepy dude in a white van either – it was my kindergarten art teacher.

I remember thinking she had called me to her desk to compliment my work on last week’s art assignment. Instead she leaned forward and whispered, “Pull up your shirt, honey. You’re showing.” I yanked on my neckline and awkwardly made my way back to my seat, cheeks burning.

I spent the rest of the day feeling watched and peaking down inconspicuously to make sure my shirt was right – even though I wasn’t sure exactly what constituted “right.”

My clothing has continued to be policed throughout school and into adulthood. I don’t mean policed by dudes shouting out their car window, “Hey baby, what’s your number?” Instead it’s often been well-meaning older women who just want to help me be decent and modest.

By 3rd grade I’d been asked to stop wearing skirts to school because I liked to go upside down on the monkey bars. In middle school I was told to dress more feminine to make friends. In high school I was sent to the principal’s office because my tank top straps were too skinny. I’ve been subtly corrected by receptionists, nannies, professors, gas station attendants, relatives of every kind, and even children.

There’s been tons of discussion lately about the way women’s bodies are made public through sexual propositions known as catcalling. Our bodies are open to constant sexual commentary by any random stranger on the street, and that’s finally getting some much-needed attention.

What isn’t being pointed out is the reinforcement for catcalling provided by our mothers, aunts, teachers, bus drivers, bosses, and random ladies on a daily basis. When you single out a person for an assumed wardrobe malfunction, no matter how kind you think you’re being, you’re assigning certain values to their body. You’re imposing a “covered is better than uncovered” hierarchy that they may or may not share.

Most importantly, though, these kinds of adjustments have everything to do with sex. They are about covering up parts of my body that a passing man might view as sexual. Therefore, they are prioritizing that anonymous man’s perception of my body over my own comfort and independent decision-making ability.

Assumptions about sexuality, race, class, body type, and gender play into these social interactions. Young people who defy standards of beauty imposed by our white supremacist, misogynist culture are at an increased risk of surveillance and correction. Our very identities are often considered transgressive and therefore our manner of expressing those identities must be curtailed for the comfort of the viewing public.

We know that these older women are not trying to hurt us. We know they’re simply trying to help or interacting with us based on an outdated model of appropriate behavior. Many of them even identify as feminists. The issue isn’t their intention, it’s the impact. It’s minor interactions such as these that normalize rape culture. They put the pressure for security, modesty, and control on the victim’s body.

It may seem harmless and insignificant to tell a young girl to adjust her clothing. You may think I’m making a big deal out of nothing. The fact is, it’s a short step to the next part of many of our lives – the part where we experience sexualized violence.

When this happens (and it WILL happen, whether it’s catcalling or rape; it’s unavoidable) the “harmless” comments become very harmful. The victim – having been taught for years to change herself so she doesn’t look too sexual – decides not to report the incident, not to tell her friends, not to leave a violent situation because the violence enacted on her is made to be her fault, as if the way she dressed justified the violence.

She’s embarrassed. She’s made to feel embarrassed.

Imagine if our first reaction to sexual violence was not embarrassment but anger. Righteous anger. We can teach the next generation of girls that they have a right to their anger, that they don’t need to change a single thing to deserve respect. In order to do that we first have to stop adjusting them. We have to stop telling them their body has to be covered, or feminine, or uncovered, or any of the thousand conflicting and impossible rules they have to follow in order to earn respect.

Everyone has a different comfort level for their body. Let’s celebrate that diversity instead of criticizing it.

The image features the author, Julia, wearing a yellow-knit hat with a flower on it, smiling toward the camera.Julia Cuneo is an activist and youth organizer from Detroit, Michigan. She is obsessed with her cat and social justice. Although Julia was introduced to political organizing through feminism, she now works closely with the People’s Water Board and on educational justice issues.

 

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