In October 2015, South Asian trans performer and activist Alok Vaid-Menon called for more visibility of folx that do not fit the man/woman binary. While various media outlets proclaim that we are at a ‘transgender tipping point’, an unprecedented period of visibility for trans-people, Vaid-Menon argues that those non-conforming don’t necessarily reap the benefits of this time. After all, this tipping point revolves around trans-celebrities such as Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox and Ian Harvie, who visibly fit into the archetypal aesthetics of either manhood, or womanhood.
This should be a time to consider what being either a man or a woman really means
Of course, these individual transfolx are not the problem. The problem is our history, which has not only perpetuated the man/woman gender binary, but even codified into legislation the subordination of women to men. Gender identities beyond the binary need to be acknowledged as legitimate. Especially during Pride Month, awareness becomes more important.
In 2016, the UK government surveyed a group of pupils aged between 13-18 years old on which of 25 gender identities they fitted in. To this, the Telegraph released an opinion poll. Results indicate that only 32% considered that this would raise awareness to trans issues, while a majority of 68% thought that this ‘would leave children confused.’
As Vaid-Menon states, the transgender tipping point should represent a time of stepping back to critically reanalyse how we think about gender identity. Otherwise, the tipping point can be implicitly exclusionary of those who don’t ‘look’ like a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’. In fact, this should be a time to consider what being either a man or a woman really means.
The tipping point can be implicitly exclusionary of those who don’t ‘look’ like a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’
These identities are not considered ‘normative’ and, while it is important to denounce bigotry and discrimination, this should not come at the expense of alienating those who might be willing to listen. To do otherwise would put us at the risk of ideological elitism, of looking down on people simply for not being aware that these categories exist. Within a multicultural and multiclass society, we are in danger of perpetuating a form of cultural superiority rooted in racism and classicism. Education is key. But where to begin?
Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaw is a radical piece of text that chronicles Bornstein’s journey in coming out as trans. Bornstein reveals her experience after surgery, and the transphobia existing within the heterosexual and the lesbian community. Bornstein then elaborates on the various shades of discrimination within the trans-community. Co-authored by Bear Bergman, Bornstein’s follow-up book Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation delves into the activism and works of non-binary and trans radicals, who have helped paved the way for the queer community.
In Gender Trouble, Judith Butler exposes gender as preformative- a construct only existing within societal confines, regulated by a system that has historically expressed solely the masculine/feminine binary. Butler argues that equating gender with sex can be problematic; sex has historically been regulated to fit into a gender, rather than the other way around. In a similar vein, Cordelia Fines’ Delusions of Gender exposes the societal influence on biological determinism – the belief that women and men have inherent traits which belong exclusively to one and not the other.
Beyond books, the internet contains a wealth of information on issues non-binary and genderqueer folx face. These are the myths non-binary folx face.Beyond the Binary is a UK magazine for non-binary folx; they have a resources page that includes articles on opinions and activism. Nonbinary inclusion Project is a grassroots organisation fighting for non-binary folx in the UK. Huffington Post UK has a whole page dedicated to non-binary expressions.
Here are some useful videos on the non-binary experience:
Of course, when it comes to representation, we can never neglect the racial dimensions of being non-binary, especially when racist and xenophobic violence in the West is on the rise. It has become all the more important to simultaneously celebrate their identities as transfolx, but not to primarily locate their identities within their genders.
Existing within the grey area is radical, because it’s inherently destabilising. And it’s beautiful.
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