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.

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!

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.

5 Things I Learned When I Blogged Every Week For An Entire Year

My blog turned one year old and I have SO MANY FEELINGS.

When I reflect back on this last year, my heart swells ten sizes and I feel the urge to hug every single one of my readers.

I can still remember being that twentysomething who had just graduated from undergrad with those degrees (you know the ones – the ones that everyone says will not result in any kind of job… haha, joke’s on you). At the time, I had no idea what to do with myself and felt completely unprepared to enter into the world as a college grad.

Not yet ready to be a grownup working 9-5, I did what plenty of people in my situation do – I went to graduate school.

I left everything behind and took a flight from Detroit, MI, all the way to the San Francisco Bay Area to go to my dream school. And realizing I still had a few months to go before classes actually started, I decided to take up blogging as my hobby.

This surprises most people. For some reason, people think that in creating this blog, I had a master plan to become a lucrative, famous blogger. But in reality, I was just anxious to be living in a new place, and had a lot of time on my hands.

Like, so much time on my hands, because I couldn’t figure out how the train system worked (which train will take me downtown? UGH I GIVE UP), so I stayed in my apartment and ate ice cream and watched Netflix.

With an abundance of time and nervous energy, I figured I might as well be writing. After all, my Facebook statuses were turning into novels, and I think my friends will agree that I was in desperate need of a soap box so I could stop preaching to them all the time.

I honestly believed back then that my blog was going to be a space where a couple of dedicated friends (and their creepy mutual friends) decided to read my weird opinions about politics and pop culture.

Almost 6 million views later, all I can really say is, “Whoops.” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I’ve learned a lot in this last year of blogging and it seems fitting, on the birthday of Let’s Queer Things Up!, to share some of those magical lessons with the readers who made this platform possible.

Then afterward, we’re going to hug it out, okay?

Please?

  1. Maybe, just maybe, one person can change the world – or at least shift the conversation.

The image features a student standing on a desk saying,  When I started blogging, I had no idea that writers like myself had the ability to make things happen. I always figured blogging was primarily shouting into the void, especially for newbies who haven’t built an audience yet. But I can tell you, without a doubt, that just one voice is enough to make an impact.

In October of 2014, I wrote an article, “Amanda Bynes, Robin Williams, and the Spectacle of Mental Illness.” I was fed up with the way people with mental illnesses were treated, and it frightened me that this kind of ableism was on display for the whole world to see.

I had seen headline after headline about celebrity breakdowns, and I was tired of the complete and utter lack of compassion for folks who were struggling.

Up until that point, my blog was averaging, at most, 1000 views per week. But I woke up one morning to find that my blog had amassed half a million views before breakfast. I didn’t think it was possible but, lo and behold, a virtually unknown blogger had gone viral.

After that, the headlines did a complete 180. Suddenly every major news outlet was singing a different tune – one of compassion and understanding for Amanda Bynes. The conversation had shifted. Not long after that, Bynes came out and told the world via Twitter that she was grappling with bipolar disorder.

Boom.

I didn’t single-handedly cause this, to be sure. But I was a part of the shift in this international conversation that challenged people to be more compassionate. I was part of a movement to humanize people with mental illness. My voice alone reached millions of people and, yes, it made a difference.

I know now that sometimes all it takes is one courageous person, just one, standing up for what’s right. That person can be me, that person can be you. So why not us?

 

  1. Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.

I’ve had to deal with my fair share of jerks on the internet. I could be saying something so sincere, so earnest… and still get that ugly tweet telling me how I’m apparently the worst human that ever lived. And as a sensitive people-pleaser who writes from a really vulnerable place, it can be difficult to cope with the negativity.

I never want to suggest that we should just roll over and accept online harassment. I also don’t take it as a sign that I’m “doing something right,” as if this is an expected and even desirable outcome of speaking my mind.

But I will say that it’s helped me to keep in mind that some folks on the internet will always have something shitty to say, no matter how brilliant or witty you are (I like to think I’m a little bit of both, but I could be wrong).

I mean, go to any of your favorite public figure’s Twitter mentions. How can someone talk shit to Margaret Cho, for example? How can you tell Lorde or Betty White that they suck? But people do this! Because haters gonna hate.

So I just shake it off, I shake it off.

 

  1. Your struggles can be your strengths.

When people talk about my work, the first thing they usually mention is how open I’ve been about a lot of difficult struggles that I’ve had in my life. Folks wonder why anyone would choose to be so vulnerable on the internet. And I’ll admit, it is a really scary thing. But it’s also been the most empowering decision I’ve ever made.

Taking my scars and using them to teach and empower others has been an amazing way to reclaim my struggles. I took what used to haunt me and I made it into something that can set me free. It feels amazing.

I stood up and said, “Yes, I am trans. Yes, I have bipolar disorder and anxiety. I am not ashamed. And you don’t need to be ashamed, either.”

If you had told me years ago that I would be sharing this journey with millions of people, I’m not sure that I would’ve believed you. But now, in being honest and embracing myself, I’ve found so much strength in being unapologetic about who I am.

And to think – my journey could be affirming for someone else! My words could be a teachable moment to make someone else’s road a little easier to travel! That’s a privilege and an unexpected gift.

Writing a really good article that helps people basically feels like Christmas every damn week. I’m able to give something to the community that has given so much to me.

So no, I don’t regret wearing my heart on my sleeve. It’s scary as hell but it’s so worth it.

 

  1. You are not alone.

The image features Ariana Grande saying,

The thousands of emails I received in this last year have convinced me that we – trans folks, neuroatypical folks, marginalized folks of every sort – are not alone. We often feel alone, because we find ourselves isolated and disconnected from the larger community.

But actually, there are a lot of us. Like, millions of us, waiting to connect with each other.

On the days when I’m feeling particularly despondent, I remind myself that there are countless activists and organizations that are working, day in and day out, to make this world a better place. And if I’m feeling isolated, many of these folks are just a click away.

On a bad day, I’ll let myself fall into this rabbit hole of affirmation, inspiration, and support. I read Jes Baker’s blog and suddenly my body is more marvelous to me than ever before; I read an article by Melissa Fabello and suddenly the gospel of Feminism is as electric as ever; I explore Genderfork and am reminded of the diverse beauty in my own community; I read something at Everyday Feminism and I realize just how many people are fighting for good in this world.

Isn’t the internet a magical fucking place?

Nowadays, I go to bed at night feeling comforted, knowing that these folks exist and that I’m not alone in all this.

There are a lot of jokes about “Tumblr feminism” and “social justice warriors” but, y’all, I’ve seen the life-changing stuff that happens when people use their voice for good in this world. I’m completely sold on internet activism. Changing the world from behind a computer screen is not only possible, but it’s also one of the most accessible ways to reach people when they need us most.

A year ago, I felt so isolated in my struggles; now, I feel connected to an entire web of amazing people doing amazing things, including you, readers, who remind me of why this work is so important and are doing AMAZING work of your own.

We’re in this together!

If you’re ever finding yourself crushed by the weight of the world, poke around the net. Your people are out there. And they’re waiting for you, I promise.

 

  1. You can’t count yourself out just yet.

The image features Amy Poehler exclaiming,

I find it hard to believe that just a few years ago, I had hit rock-bottom with my depression, and was convinced that my life would never be meaningful or worthwhile.

To say I had “had it” is an understatement. I was on my way out.

Sometimes when we’re bogged down by depression and it’s all we’ve ever known, we count ourselves out – we think that we’re destined for a life of failure, desperation, hurt.

I’m not here to tell you that “things get better,” because I really can’t say for sure. But I will tell you that for many folks, we count ourselves out before we ever truly had the chance to shine or even live. We convince ourselves that we already know what the future looks like and that the future is set in stone.

It may be. But it isn’t always.

If I had let that despondent voice dictate what I did with my life, I wouldn’t be here today. And I definitely wouldn’t be doing the work that I’m doing now – writing for magazines, connecting with folks who need support, and educating people on the issues that really matter.

I never saw it coming – not in a million years – but I’m grateful every single day that I survived, that I hung in there, that I gave my future self the chance to experience all of this. I never thought I would make a difference. But against all odds, I have.

You never know what life has in store. I hate to be a bucket of exhausting, useless clichés, but seriously, none of us can see the future and sometimes, that future will surprise us.

So don’t count yourself out just yet.

* * *

This past year has been, far and away, one of the most unexpectedly awesome years of my life. While I entered into this project completely unsure of myself, I stand before you (well, sit before you I guess, behind this computer) a much happier and more self-assured person.

Being able to share my thoughts, however weird and ranty they were, with such a caring and curious audience has been an absolute honor. I have no idea what the future holds for LQTU, but this is a journey that I’m so grateful to have undertaken and thrilled to continue.

So I want to wrap up this entry by saying “thank you.” Thank you to the readers who supported the site, either through donations or with your encouraging comments and critically important feedback. Though most of us have not (yet) met in person, I am glad that I can call so many of you my friends.

The lessons I’ve learned have been invaluable and are lessons I will carry with me for a lifetime. And I’m excited – so, so excited – for everything I have yet to learn as we continue queering things up here on the site and beyond (see what I did there?).

I hope this entry could give you a little inspiration and a little more insight into the story behind the blog. If for nothing else, I hope it’s a reminder of how powerful we are when we work together. Look at this brilliant thing we’ve built together! I’m so proud of us.

The image features two people hugging.

Phew. Now that I’ve gotten all that off of my chest… group hug?

 Sam Dylan Finch is a queer activist and feminist writer, based in the SF Bay. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, his blog and labor of love. With a passion for impacting change through personal narrative, Sam writes about his struggles and triumphs as genderqueer and bipolar with the hopes of teaching others about his identity and community. When he isn’t writing, he’s probably eating takeout and dancing to Taylor Swift.

Connect with SDF: Website ; Facebook ; Twitter ; Tumblr

Join our (rad, amazing) community at LQTU’s official Facebook page!

The Absent I: Marriage Equality and the Continued Erasure of Intersex People

Guest Post! This week’s article at LQTU is written by Celeste Orr.

The image features colorful beads that spell out the words, "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual."

Why is “intersex” an afterthought in our community?

While many queer and allied folks have been celebrating the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, many others rightly question whether this time is indeed a time for celebration.

How can we celebrate as our fellow queers, specifically trans people of colour, face homelessness, un/underemployment, housing discrimination, staggering suicide and murder rates, and police and prison violence?

Recently many articles address this matter and note that trans issues are the “next fight” or the “next step” in fighting for LGBTQ equity, freedom, and liberation. But framing trans issues as “next steps” neglect that fact that, for trans folks and many other queer people, same-sex marriage was never the first step.

For many queer folks same-sex marriage was never the first step because we think that marriage is a fundamentally flawed institution. Marriage has deep sexist, anti-poly, and queerphobic roots. Many queer people are not homonormative and marriage, therefore, does not reflect their lives. For many other queer people same-sex marriage was never the first step because evading being killed was and remains the perpetual, all too often unachievable first step.

For queer and trans people who do not have white privilege, class privilege, homonormative privilege, and/or non-trans privilege, mere survival is always (and already) the first step.

Framing trans issues as “next steps” erases the (continued) activism and work it took for transphobia to be recognized as not just as the “next step” but a “step” at all.

Even if well-intentioned, framing transphobia as the “next step” also inadvertently re-creates a hierarchy of queer lives, identities, acts, and of (life-threatening) queer issues. Many trans activists, queer people of colour, and queer poly people have criticized this very hierarchy. Queer and allied folks should be wary of reproducing this hierarchy with “next step” discourses.

In thinking through the ways in which certain queer folks, even within queer and feminist communities, are marginalized, regulated to the bottom of the hierarchy, or are the proverbial “next step” I am not too surprised that, in the midst of this supposed queer watershed moment of same-sex marriage, the “I” in LGBTQI has been dropped, forgotten.

All of the articles I have come across in mainstream and feminist forums that address marriage “equality” and the “next steps” queer folks are “going to fight for” (or more accurately have been fighting for) exclude the “I.” Why is the “I” not a “next step” in mainstream discourse?

Building from the Organisation Intersex International’s (OII) definition of intersex, “intersex” is a general term “applied to human beings whose biological sex cannot be classified as clearly” or exclusively “male or female. An intersex person may have the biological attributes of both,” typically Western, culturally recognized, legitimized, and institutionalized “sexes or lack some of the biological attributes considered necessary to be defined as one or the other sex.”

Put differently, “intersex” refers to numerous kinds of embodiments that deviate from the (hetero)norm or, what Abby Wilkerson refers to as, “normate sex.” In other words, intersex embodiments illustrate that the cis-trans binary is insufficient.

Intersexism – the structural and systemic oppression of intersex folks – is real and palpable. Despite the fact that intersex embodiments, specifically those with variant genitals, typically pose no health risk, intersex infants and children are often subjected to state-sanctioned, non-consensual, genital mutilation at the hands of medical professionals.

This mutilation is paternalistically done in the name of fixing, curing, or managing the queerly disordered intersex body. In the United States alone, Emi Koyama reminds, “five children are being mutilated everyday.” That means approximately 1,825 children will have their genitals non-consensually cut on and de/reconstructed this year in the US by “benevolent” medical professionals.

In addition to this unspeakable violence with various long- and short-term physical and psychological effects, many intersex folks face systemic shaming, gender policing, queerphobia, and discrimination at school, work, and home.

Historically, many medical professionals have kept intersex folks’ medical records secret even when asked to view them. Some intersex people struggle with fitting into sexed and gendered spaces, like bathrooms. Some intersex folks also struggle with filling out governmental (or otherwise) forms that force one to pick a sex or gender.

In fact, these spaces and institutionalized sexing practices utterly erase the very existence of intersex people.

So I ask, why is the “I” forgotten; why is the “I” not the “next step” in the emerging LGBTQ next step discourse? Answering this question many seem easy, albeit devastating: the “I” is rarely taken into account or represented. In 1999, near the beginning of the Intersex Rights Movement, Robert Crouch referred to this absence as the “structural invisibility” of intersex people and the systemic violence they face. That invisibility still persists today.

It is true to state that the “I” has probably been forgotten because historically, intersex rights – like trans rights, disability rights, and the rights of people of colour – are invisible to the majority of people. But, I want to complicate this narrative because sometimes the “I” (like the “T,” “B,” and POC) is tactfully excluded at the expense of homonormative or (white) women’s rights. Or, if intersex rights are visible or added to the queer feminist conversation, they are added superficially.

That is, the “I” is present in “LGBTQI” but it is never meaningfully addressed. With this in mind I cannot reduce the absent “I” to thoughtless negligence. Even if the absence is thoughtless, it is political.

I suggest that the “I” is forgotten or is being tactfully excluded because intersex embodiments, by definition, illustrate and remind us that the way in which we understand sex as dichotomous is a farce. And, in turn, we are reminded that the institution of marriage, an institution based on the dichotomous understanding of sex, is insufficient. If we remembered the “I” we would have to address the fact that the same-/different-sex marriage model erases intersex bodies, experiences, and people.

At this moment of the same-sex marriage “win,” many people probably do not want to be reminded that the institution excludes a part of our queer community, intersex and genderqueer people alike.

But it is imperative to acknowledge that same-sex marriage is not really a queer “win” or it is not a win for all queer or differently bodied people. Same-sex marriage is not really a “win” because an entire community cannot fit into the sex binary. Same-sex marriage is not really a “win” if we recognize that intersex infants and children are literally being cut on so they can fit into the sex binary the institution of marriage and our culture is based on.

It is true that for some people with intersex embodiments, specifically those who do not identify as intersex and/or identify as exclusively male or female, the legalization of same-sex marriage is a win if they want to marry their partners. For other intersex people it may be non-consequential.

Ultimately, though, it is another instance of erasure and marginalization. It is another law, another moment that further entrenches the idea that sex is binaristic, that intersex bodies are “wrong.”

If we remember the “I” and advocate for intersex rights, as I call all queer and allied people to do, we cannot make the same mistake and narrate the “I” as a “next step.” We cannot continue to reproduce the violent hierarchy of queer lives and issues. Like trans people, particularly trans people of colour, the crises intersex infants, children, adolescents, and adults face is immediate and dangerous.

These issues are not “next” – they are now and always.

 —

Celeste Orr is a Ph.D Candidate at University of Ottawa in the Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies.

Fat by Choice: Happy (And Healthy!) At the Intersections of Size and Mental Health

The illustration features a place setting with breakfast foods, and two hands: one clutching a spoon, the other clutching a bottle of pills.

Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik.

Almost two years ago now, I began taking a medication with the hope that I could finally manage the aggressive symptoms that came with mental illness. I was experiencing despondent, suicidal lows; I felt panicked, paranoid, and inexplicably angry.

But by far the worst part of what was happening was the feeling that I wasn’t a “somebody” and, instead, the host for this parasite known as bipolar.

And it was this feeling – the feeling that I was no longer a person but rather, a shell – that compelled me to try a medication that had not been around for very long.

To the surprise of both my doctor and myself, it worked. It worked astonishingly well. As the months progressed, I began to level out. The loud noise in my head began to dial back. The hopelessness gave way to a hesitant, fledgling optimism. The anger dulled and I was able to problem-solve without coming undone. I began to feel human again.

I remember thinking that it was too good to be true. In every fairytale I’d ever read, miracles like these came with a trade-off. You could have effortless beauty, but give up your first born; you could have strength or immortality or riches, but there was always the fine print.

Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy, but when I noticed my body beginning to change, I was convinced that my day of reckoning had come. I could be mentally healthy, sure, but in return, the universe was going to issue me a new challenge.

I know what you might be thinking. No, gaining weight was not the challenge, though at first I thought it was. Gaining weight is not inherently a bad thing. Bodies themselves are not inherently bad.

The challenge was dealing with the internalized fatphobia I didn’t even know I had.

I was a good little feminist. Wait, wasn’t I? I had no problem with fat. In fact, both my parents were classified as “obese” and I had some idea, as someone who considered themselves very committed to body positive activism, of what it might mean to occupy space as a person of size.

And yet, when I went from being a tiny, petite little queer to being a member of the Chub Club, I reacted in such a strong, visceral way, that it became obvious that this body change had come with a lot of baggage – and I’m not just talking about physical weight, I mean, the weight of internalized oppression.

Because, holy cow, the words that flew out of my mouth? I’d look down at my round and protruding belly and say something like, “This is disgusting. I’m disgusting.”

I’d glance at my stretch marks and say something like, “I failed. I should’ve been dieting. I should’ve been exercising. This is my fault.”

As if the fat on my body made me inherently bad, some kind of failure; as if being fat makes me some kind of disgusting and unlovable human being. These are the ideas I swore I’d never think, let alone say about someone, and yet here I was, taking a shit on myself.

Being thin had allowed me to bury the fatphobia and leave it unchecked. But having highly visible fat, rolls, stretch marks – the whole shebang – finally brought to the surface what was there all along. As thin, I had the privilege of not confronting my fatphobia. But sixty pounds later, I had no choice but to examine my attitudes, because there was nowhere to hide.

I not only could see the fatphobia in myself, but I saw it in others around me.

When I was thin, no one had ever questioned whether or not I was healthy. Now that I was “overweight,” people around me started to ask if I was “okay.” As I received my official classification as “overweight,” and doctors began to suggest taking away the medication that had finally stabilized my life, I was disgusted.

Disgusted because it was as if my mental health counted for nothing. At my heaviest, I was undoubtedly at my healthiest – I was mentally sound, happy, eating well, stretching my legs. I had never been this whole, never felt this human. I was able to live my life without the constant, looming threat of bipolar, putting my life in danger and turning me into something I could not recognize.

And yet, the idea was that it was better for me to be thin and suicidal than it was to be fat and mentally healthy.

At times, horrifying as it is, I found myself thinking this same thing.

Many people around me, doctors included, ignored the psychological aspects of health and the risks associated with a relapse of my disorder and, instead, obsessed over my weight. Everyone around me was more concerned for me when I was heavier than they ever were when I was depressed, empty, and thin.

Thankfully, there were good doctors in my life, too, just as there were good people, who assured me that health was more than just a number on the scale. I began seriously investing in my practice of self-love, challenging the fatphobia when I felt it kicking in.

I became an advocate for myself, and discovered what it meant to put body positivism into action – not just as a way to boost my feminist cred, but when I face myself in the mirror and decide if I will smile back or pick myself apart.

To this day, I am still on that same medication that transformed my body. This is my choice. I will proudly remain a member of the Chub Club, and rock this curvy, chunky, fabulous body with pride.

I refuse to return to the days when the thought of ending my life was as mechanical as brushing my teeth in the morning. I refuse to return to the days when depression was a given, and happiness was a stranger. I refuse to return to the days when I had no hope, no desire, and no purpose.

And moreover, I refuse to buy into the idea that health is not possible at every size. I’m healthy in all the ways that count, and I know better than to equate thinness with wellness; I know better than to equate fatness with bad, with ugly, with less than, with harm.

When I look at the stretch marks, pink and fresh and new on my body, I’m reminded of all that I’ve weathered to get to this place of health, wholeness, and happiness.

Why would I ever apologize for that? And why would I choose any differently?

Sam Dylan Finch is a queer activist and feminist writer, based in the SF Bay. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, his blog and labor of love. With a passion for impacting change through personal narrative, Sam writes about his struggles and triumphs as genderqueer and bipolar with the hopes of teaching others about his identity and community. When he isn’t writing, he’s probably eating takeout and dancing to Taylor Swift.

Connect with SDF: Website ; Facebook ; Twitter ; Tumblr

Editor’s Note: We use the word “fat” in the title to be an alternative to “overweight,” as we believe that “overweight” suggests a normative weight and upholds the privileging of some sizes over others (hence placing it in quotations throughout the piece). We in no way seek to undermine the struggles of folks who actively identify as Fat and are perceived as fat in the world, which Sam only experiences to a very limited extent.

The Elephant in the Room: Your Questions About My Gender and Transition, Answered

cheeeeeese

Photography by dana at the outlaws photo project

[The photo features the author, Sam Dylan Finch, standing near a lake. He is a white, androgynous person with dark-rimmed glasses and a colorful, knitted sweater. He is smiling and looking off toward something in the distance.]
  

IMPORTANT NOTE (2/1/2016): I answered these questions over a year ago now. Time sure does fly! My sense of my own gender is constantly shifting. The answers here may no longer reflect how I describe or perceive my identity. Check out this updated version to read my most recent answers to these questions!

 

I write a lot about my identity as transgender. And thus far, it has created some thoughtful, interesting dialogue around gender and transitioning.

However, there was never much of a “coming out” to my readers. To this day, I receive a lot of questions about how I identify, what it means, and how I arrived where I am now. These are great questions! And leaving them unanswered has, at times, felt like an elephant in the room.

So today I wanted to pause and take a moment to answer some frequently asked questions about my gender and my transition. Hopefully this helps readers better understand my perspective and my journey as I write more about trans issues in the future.

It’s important to know that you aren’t entitled to any information about someone’s transition, body, or gender identity. Remember that other trans people may not be comfortable answering the questions that I have chosen to answer here.

Ready? Let’s go! Here are some of your questions:
    

What is your gender? What pronouns do you use?

I identify as transmasculine and genderqueer (defined below, don’t fret!). You can also describe me as androgynous.

My pronouns are he/him/his.

 

What does genderqueer mean to you?

Genderqueer most commonly refers to a person who does not identify as strictly man or woman, but rather, identifies as both, neither, or some combination.

At my core, I am an androgynous person; I don’t feel that I fit in any kind of gender box. I’m not a man, and I’m not a woman.

I use the word “genderqueer” to describe my gender identity.

   

What does transmasculine mean to you?

If we imagine a spectrum of sorts, I express my gender in a more masculine way than I do a feminine way. Masculinity and femininity are subjective terms that describe the way that we “perform” gender, and can be useful markers in helping us figure out our own sense of gender.

A person of any gender can take on qualities or an appearance that is more closely associated with masculinity or femininity.

While I don’t identify as a man, I still express my gender in a way that is considered more masculine, thus I use the word “transmasculine” instead of “trans man.”

I typically use the word transmasculine to describe my gender expression.

 

What is the difference between gender identity and gender expression?

Gender identity refers to someone’s sense of themselves, their subjective experience of their own gender. Simply put, it’s what’s on the inside. It’s who we know ourselves to be.

Gender expression refers to how someone performs or presents gender. This is what we see on the outside. It’s our costume, our performance, our exterior – and it may or may not reflect something about our identity.

On the inside, at my core, I am an androgynous, genderqueer person. On the outside, I express my gender in a more masculine way through my choice of clothing, haircuts, and body modifications.

 

So how can someone be “non-binary”? I thought there were only two genders.

Actually, the idea that there are only two genders is pretty flawed and outdated.

Many cultures in our world recognize more than two genders. The idea of binary gender, or two genders that are contingent upon anatomy, is a pretty Western phenomenon.

Even anatomy itself is not binary, as is the case with intersex people. Sex characteristics are variant and diverse, and the lines between “male” and “female” are very blurry and arbitrarily assigned.

The point is, there could really be as many genders as there are people, depending on how you look at it. The idea that there are only two is something we as a society uphold, but that doesn’t mean it is an objective fact – just a cultural phenomenon.

As it turns out, many people like myself experience their gender outside of those parameters, which is evidence that perhaps this binary system isn’t so perfect after all. The binary system leaves a lot to be desired.

I love this video over at Sexplanations about gender that I think is helpful if you’re interested in this topic.

 

How did you know you were transgender?

I realized after a while that I dressed and behaved in ways that were “feminine” because I gained social approval that way. People complimented me when I wore a dress. Folks fawned over my stylish makeup and shoes. I performed femininity because everywhere I turned, I was given praise for being “good” at femininity.

When I took a gender studies class in college, this performance began to unravel. I realized how much of what I was doing was because I craved the affirmation I received when I was the woman I was expected to be. I realized how I’d been inundated with so many expectations and ideals – the expectation to be beautiful, to be thin, to be soft, to be curvaceous, to be… a woman, whatever that meant.

I’ve always said that “woman” was a label I was given, but never a label that I chose. When I started to understand the ways that “woman” didn’t fit or make me happy, I learned about what “transgender” meant. And I owed it to myself to explore if that could be true for me.

This was back in 2010.

Around the same time, I saw a character on television that was androgynous, and I fell in love with the idea of “becoming” that. Though I didn’t have the words “transmasculine” or “genderqueer” yet, I started to wonder if I would be happier as an androgynous person. It had never occurred to me to try it until I saw someone else living it.

Over the course of the last five years, I’ve transitioned toward queerness and androgyny. I cut off my hair, began binding my breasts, changed my name, got some tattoos, opted for new pronouns, acquired some prosthetics, and began living full-time as genderqueer.

Most importantly, I stopped allowing gendered expectations and roles to colonize my mind. Instead of seeking the approval of others by conforming to my assigned gender, I carved out my own vision for who I wanted to become. And it has been incredibly rewarding, exciting, and fulfilling.

 

When did you come out, and what were the reactions you received?

I’ve had mixed reactions. Some friends were supportive – a great many of them, in fact – but some were resistant or hesitant.

I came out to my mother only recently, and she seemed unsurprised. I’m fairly sure neither of my parents were surprised for various reasons. I’m still in the process of coming out to most of my family, but I’m taking it at my own pace.

    

Does your family know about your writing?

They do, and they’re supportive. However, I’ve set the boundary that we don’t discuss my articles unless I bring them up. This takes the pressure off of me – I can write honestly without worrying about what they will say.

 

How has your transition been so far?

Beautiful. Heart-wrenching. Confusing. Worthwhile. Painful. Inspiring. And exactly what I needed.

 

Are you taking testosterone? Do you plan to?

I am not sure if I want to transition hormonally. It’s not a decision I feel ready to make. I am comfortable saying that I don’t have all the answers and I don’t know where my transition will take me. I am taking my time. It’s not a race.

 

So what’s in your pants? And will that change?

That’s not really anyone’s business.

    

Have you always known that you were transgender?

I didn’t. I didn’t have any clue until my late teens. Being trans is different for everyone, and we don’t all share the typical narrative of “I was born into the wrong body and I knew it from the time I was a toddler.” There’s nothing wrong with that narrative, but it sometimes overshadows the realities of many other trans folks who don’t figure things out until later in life.

For me, being trans was like… this sounds silly, but kind of like cooking? I tried new gender expressions until I found something that I loved. I tasted femininity, and masculinity, and androgyny, and I mixed things together until I found the perfect recipe for my happiness. I didn’t know what I was missing before, but now, I can’t imagine my life without my transition.

I think it’s possible that I might have gone on living my life as a cisgender woman if I hadn’t gone to college, and maybe I would have been okay. But it would never have compared to the happiness I found when I transitioned. It doesn’t matter if I figured this out at age 4 or age 18 – it’s still who I am, regardless of how soon or in what ways I arrived at that truth.

 

If you aren’t a man or a woman, what is your sexual orientation?

I think “pansexual” is the closest approximation I have. I’m attracted to all sorts of people, and gender is not a deciding factor for whether or not I’ll date someone.

    

What has been the hardest part of being trans?

Being hated by complete and total strangers simply because I don’t conform to their idea of what I should look like. The constant fear that I’ll be attacked or harassed for looking “too queer.” And the constant anxiety that I’ll be rejected by people I love because they don’t understand or don’t approve of who I’ve become.

Maybe even more difficult than that is grappling with internalized transphobia – these really pervasive, negative attitudes about trans folks that really impact the way that I perceive and treat myself. It’s insidious, it’s hard to describe, but it’s present and something that I’m still working to undo, even now.

    

Did I answer all of your questions!?

If you have other questions that aren’t answered here, feel free to [respectfully] ask them in the comments below! I will do my best to answer as many as I can.

 

Sam Dylan Finch is a freelance writer and queer activist, currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the founder of Let’s Queer Things Up!, a queer and feminist perspective on current events and politics. His Twitter can be found, unsurprisingly, at @samdylanfinch.

Visit his official website: www.samdylanfinch.com