Denying the existence of transgender and nonbinary people is not ‘scientific.’

Folks often ask for shareable versions of the threads that I write on social media. In this new series, “Twitter Roundup,” I’ll be compiling threads worth saving! This thread focuses on the ways in which the social sciences are overlooked when talking about the existence of transgender and nonbinary people.

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

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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.

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LQTU! Stands in Solidarity With the Brave Protesters in Ferguson and Beyond

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Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik

I will say this upfront: As someone who will never know the heavy weight of institutionalized racism, the fear and terror of simply existing in a black or brown body, and the trauma endured day after day, watching again and again as members of the community are murdered and never see justice, this is not my moment.

The most important voices right now are the powerful, passionate, and formidable voices found within communities of color, around the country and around the world.

Women and men (both cis and trans*), and of course, queer folks of color, who all have something at stake here, should always be brought to the center of these conversations. Adding my voice here is in no way intended to shift the focus away from these folks.

But I believe that silence is a dangerous choice in light of what is happening in Ferguson. To say nothing and blog per usual is to ignore the gravity of this injustice.

Tonight, a grand jury made the decision not to take Darren Wilson to trial. Despite taking twenty minutes on air just to defend this choice, and warranting a speech from the President of the United States, it is apparently not nuanced or serious enough to warrant a trial.

I’m not here to debate the evidence or the particulars of the case. I’m not here to launch a discussion.

I want to take a moment to offer solidarity to those around the country who fight, tirelessly, for what is right, in spite of the salt thrown on their wounds, and in spite of the real danger they face by standing up and demanding justice.

I’m here, on this platform, to offer love, support, respect, and solidarity to the activists of color who have taken on these immense systems of oppression, and had the courage to share their stories despite how much it hurts, despite how difficult it is, despite how high the stakes are.

When police officers like Wilson supposedly risk their lives in the line of duty, they are hailed as heroes by many, even after they’ve killed a teenager. But when Ferguson residents risk their lives to fight for a more socially just world, they are considered a “riot” and a threat to public safety.

And before folks jump in to talk about how the protests have unfolded, I want to say this: I refuse to ask the residents of Ferguson and elsewhere to be calm. I refuse to ask them to be peaceful. I refuse to ask them to take this sitting down.

If you are more upset about the reaction of justified anger instead of the slain teenager whose body was left in the street for all to gawk at, you are part of the problem.

We should be asking police officers not to shoot unarmed teenagers; we should be demanding that they not abuse their power and be held accountable for their actions.

We should not be asking grieving communities to stop grieving, or policing the behavior of people of color during a tragedy. This kind of visible protest and action would not even be necessary if being black in this country weren’t a death sentence.

When the trauma of racism seeps into your very being, seeking to dehumanize and erase you, being quiet can cost you your life. Being “polite,” being “respectable,” being “calm” — these responses are ridiculous when you consider the outlandish abuse and racism perpetrated on the part of law enforcement, and it is victim-blaming.

To ask for peace when there has been no justice is an outrageous request.

To the folks out there in Ferguson, as well as those participating in the actions happening around the country, who are fighting, quite literally, for your lives, I want you to know that LQTU! stands by you. We see you, and we are listening.

To our readers who have the lived experience of racist oppression, a burden you must carry each and every day, we hope that this platform is always a place where you feel safe to share your voice, and feel validated, recognized, and heard.

To our readers who are not people of color, we remind you that ally is a verb, not a noun. Solidarity requires ongoing action — not empty words and promises.

To every reader, I am here to proclaim without a doubt that black lives matter.

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Both myself and the staff would like to take a moment to refer our readers to various bloggers, advocates, and resources, with content written by people of color.

It is meant to be a place to start, and in no way is complete or perfect (and we welcome more relevant links in the comments, as always, and we’ll add them to the article).

Media:

Colorlines (colorlines.com): Magazine with articles concerning race, culture, and organizing.

Black Girl Dangerous (blackgirldangerous.org): Amplifying the voices of queer and trans people of color.

Hood Feminism (hoodfeminism.com): Life at the Intersection.

Angry Black Lady Chronicles (rhrealitycheck.org/ablc): I am stopthemadness.  I am Angry Black Lady.  And I will figuratively blow your mind.

The Root (theroot.com): Black news, opinion, politics and culture.

This Week in Blackness (thisweekinblackness.com): Real talk. Real Awesome.

Black Agenda Report (blackagendareport.com): News, analysis and commentary from the black left.

Ethiopienne (ethiopienne.com): Immigrant kid. Awkward black girl. Black feminist writer, organizer, artist, editor/etc.

Owning My Truth (owning-my-truth.com): Owning my truth while finding my way.

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Twitter Users:

Cheryl Contee (@ch3ryl)

ShordeeDooWhop (@Nettaaaaaaaa)

Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia)

Imani ABL (@AngryBlackLady)

Petty LaBelle (@d_Sassy1ne)

Zerlina Maxwell (@ZerlinaMaxwell)

Koritha Mitchell (@ProfKori)

Antonio French (@AntonioFrench)

Tahir Duckett (@TahirDuckett)

Franchesca Ramsey (@chescaleigh)

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OTHER IMPORTANT LINKS:

Protesters in Ferguson penned an open letter that you should read.

Additionally, folks in Ferguson have asked for donations to the Ferguson Public Library, which has been an invaluable resource for residents and their children.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, please donate to the Ferguson Defense Fund.

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BEFORE COMMENTING: Please do not debate the particulars of this tragedy in the comments. This is not the time nor place. White folks, I’m especially asking you not to make this about yourselves and instead, tune in.

The comments section will only display comments of respect and solidarity, links to relevant resources by people of color, and otherwise healthy dialogue that is POC-centric. All comments that fail to abide by these guidelines will be deleted by moderators.

Folks who may be triggered by racist garbage should take caution when reading the comments, as moderators may not immediately spot the problematic ones. Please take care of yourself and put your safety and health first. If you’d like to offer feedback but are not comfortable engaging in the comments section, you can always tweet me directly at @samdylanfinch.

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Visibility Matters: Why Sharing Our Stories Will Change the World

Around this time last week, I was a procrastinating graduate student, managing a small blog, with a following of wonderful friends and friends-of-friends who found my writing to be interesting.

As I write to you this week, I’m a writer with a blog that has readers from over 180 countries around the world, and 2.4 million page views this past week alone.

Full-disclosure: I am just a weirdo, living in California, spending too much money at Trader Joe’s, adding too much sugar to my coffee, and hanging out with a pet chinchilla. Sometimes I microwave tortilla chips with shredded cheese and call it nachos. Sometimes I’m too lazy to untie my shoes and I slip them on instead. Sometimes I forget to return my library books.

In other words, I am one person who in so many respects, is very ordinary, and probably a lot like you.

But somehow, I managed to write something that touched people. When I posted the Amanda Bynes piece, your stories came pouring in, and I was set adrift in a sea of voices. Your courage, your strength, and your passion overwhelmed me. It became obvious that struggles with mental health truly reside in every community, in every corner of the world – and that there are so many powerful voices that are waiting to tell their stories, voices that are just as important as mine.

And then I realized: If my voice could be heard around the world, just imagine for a moment what would happen if we ALL used our voices and shared our stories. Imagine the collective power we have when we choose to be vulnerable – when we take this narrative of shame and, standing in contradiction, we use our testimonies to rewrite the story.

The stigma, I believe, cannot survive when so many of us are living proof that there is no shame in mental illness.

I wanted to take the chance to tell you – before the viral hubbub dies down, and we all return to our normal lives – that your voice, and your life, MATTERS. And to all of you who shared your struggle, don’t let the momentum end here. Just like me, you have a story to tell.

If we all use our voices to speak out against this stigma – this attitude that mental illness is a mark of shame, a personal failing, an entertaining spectacle – and instead, use our lived experience to educate and enlighten those around us, it is my sincere conviction that we will change the world.

If for nothing else, we will reach those who suffer alone, and act as reminders that the journey they are on is not one that they take in solitude.

Together, the powerful and imposing sound of our voices, in every community where we reside, will be an undeniable force.

For those who do not understand, our experiences will be a direct contradiction to the media messages that try to strip us of our dignity. Together, by reclaiming our narratives, we will demand compassion and respect. And further, by asserting our humanity, we can advocate for the resources, the awareness, and the assistance necessary, so that no one will suffer needlessly, or die at the hands of these illnesses.

I am just one person. But my voice was heard in Canada, and Malta, and South Africa, and Chile, and China – my voice was heard on nearly every continent. And if my voice could extend so far, and my words could touch so many hearts, just imagine what we can do together.

This is my call to action for you. Do not let your voices end here. Do not let your stories sit in the comments section of this website, or in an email to me, but never be heard anywhere else. Use your words. Assert your dignity. Do not hide. Do not let one more person tell you that you should suffer in silence, because it is silence that takes our lives and the lives of those we love. USE YOUR VOICE! You may not realize the impact it can have on someone else.

And whenever possible, let’s amplify the voices of those who are speaking – continue to share these messages far and wide. Let’s not forget those who are imprisoned, because the system doesn’t know what to do with us other than to lock us up; let’s not forget the black and brown bodies who disproportionately carry the weight of those incarcerations; let’s not forget those who are thrown out of hospitals, because we weren’t sick enough or rich enough for help.

And let’s not forget all the lives that have been lost to these illnesses by suicide – a rate which exceeds the number of lives lost to homicide and war combined – because the options for people with mental illnesses are so limited and restricted, that there may as well be no choices at all.

Do not let this conversation stop here. And do not forget that your voice, and your story, could make all the difference. If the media insists on dehumanizing us, let’s speak louder. Let’s speak so loud that they can no longer deny our presence. Let’s make so much noise that they cannot forget that we are here, and that we aren’t going anywhere.

I commend all my readers for their bravery in the face of such serious struggles. You inspire me to continue doing what I’m doing. And if I was able to inspire you, let me tell you, there is no greater privilege than that.

I believe, sincerely, that your voice matters. I hope that you will make it count.

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.

Visit his official website: www.samdylanfinch.com