Nonbinaries: The Secret Punching Bag of Everyone

22Sep09

This post was originally published August 31, 2009 here.

In a discussion that originally was built around Kennedy’s pragmatic (but sucky) dropping of the trans community in the ENDA during the Bush era (on the post about Kennedy on Alas, A Blog), the topic eventually turned to the visibility of nonbinary folk as a part of the trans community (and shifted to the link farm post as it started to get off topic). Well, a few comments in, it became abundantly clear that one of the commenters had some serious bigotry against nonbinaries. Ampersand, always a calmer speaker than me, put it best: “And since you’re not, as far as I know, non-binary, I find it more than a little arrogant of you to lecture non-binary people on what term they ought use to describe themselves and their lives.” (You can scroll up and view most of the comment line, the only stuff relevant to this entry is the nonbinary parts)

It goes beyond just that particular conversation though. A pretty firm bunch of binary TS folk are actually pretty damn bigoted against nonbinaries. I’ve seen it in multiple support sites and even in an IRL support group (the anti binary bs was stamped down quickly in my favorite support group, unfortunately the one who ran it so well is moving on to other things. I’ve already wished her luck in person but I’m gonna miss her skills in keeping that place safe and supportive). On the Site That Shall Not Be Named (because seriously, I think the owner is just crazy enough to sue me over this truth and I can’t afford legal costs even though I’d win. The STSNBN First mentioned here) the section of the forum for androgynes (the most prominent of nonbinary umbrella terms) was actually shut down several times for some seriously bullshit reasons and sometimes no reason at all. Numerous people on the site regularly hassled androgynes, claiming that they were just transsexuals who were on the fence or confused, or calling them “trendy” was regularly let go by the moderators, despite the rules against hate speech.

You would expect this mostly from the fallacy and paranoia driven vehement hate machine of the Neo HBS separatists but it’s not just them doing this. In fact some of the Neo HBS separatists have actually done better than the rest of the TS community and taken a live and let live, just separately, approach with nonbinaries, which is hella better than attacking their very existence. I don’t know whether some binary TS folk see nonbinaries as a threat to their own identity or if it’s just the “omg difference” bullshit that sits at the center of every instance of bigotry in every case. Or if it’s even an attempt to garner more safety by getting cookies from the cis oppression factory by kicking “those freaks” to the curb (which tends to be the Modus Operandi of the Neo HBSers). I do know that a lot of the arguments come down to the concept that we “have two sexes” and ergo can’t have more than two identities. We already know that split between male and female and the exclusion of other variations in body structure is pretty much cissexist bullshit and a massive, even dangerous, oversimplification of bodily development. So right from the beginning, that argument is rife with failure. But there are also arguments that have their basis in the hypothesis that something about the brain creates the identity and the dysphoria. The Neo HBSers go with some kind of neurological intersexed (NI) model (which tends to just impinge on IS folk, but another story for another time) and others, like myself, attribute a bodily integrity instincts (BII) model which isn’t essentialist and doesn’t colonize IS folk. The previous theory’s essentialist aspects are what makes them feel threatened by transitioning nonbinaries with dysphoria (essentially a nonbinary transsexual, although currently the terminology fails to reflect this) because it apparently challenges the concept of a “female/male brain”. Well actually it doesn’t, one only has to add more sexes onto the essentialist theory to accommodate nonbinaries. But that’s not a great solution due to the flaws in essentialist theory to begin with.

And the latter theory is often coupled with a complete lack of realization that hey, if there’s bodily instincts that reflect body structure (or fail to reflect it and create dysphoria in cases of BIID and some instances of GID) then they could reflect multiple types of body structure, even those outside of the male/female dichotomy. Which goes back to the brokenness of male/female binarism as already linked in the oversimplification mention above. So really, pretty much all of the theories (social model, NI model, BII model, psychological model, etc) are nonbinary inclusive, they just require people to get the fuck over their binarism and their binary privilege.

That’s right, there’s binary privilege. It’s the privilege of having the very concept of one’s identity and one’s designation as far as gender goes accepted, unchallenged and validated by society. Binary trans folk, like myself, might get challenged on the basis of our bodies or transphobia, but the word woman and the word man and their connected pronouns are not themselves challenged and attacked. Unlike nonbinaries, who have to defend on two fronts. Specifically whether their pronoun is applicable and whether their identity exists at all.

Binary privilege (or bin privilege as I call it sometimes) is something I have and it is something my partner does not have. I’ve made some stupid statements about nonbinaries before to my partner, who was understandably upset, so like any form of privilege, it can affect (and often does affect) everyone within its zone whether you empathize with or care for a nonbinary. Including binary trans folks too who you would think would know better.

It’s just absolutely enraging when bin trans people use the exact same fucking broken logic that is used against us to attack and marginalize nonbinaries. Hypocritical bullshit like that boggles the mind.

The conversation linked at the beginning was a bit of a first, though. I had yet to meet someone who used the misconstrued rad fem rhetoric to attack just nonbinaries and not transsexuals or individuals of transsexual history (when the twisted rhetoric is easily applied to binary transition and often is by rad fem transphobes). The sheer level of mind boggling hypocrisy and lack of awareness as to how inconsistent that was sort of blew me away. But it does give me an opportunity to address the rad fem twisting arguments as applied to nonbinaries and binary folk.

In the end, no matter how hard we fight, gender will not be stripped from society and removed as a force of harm any time soon. Which means that the people suffering need to do something in the meantime to survive. Marginalized women need to operate feminist discourse (even though it uses gendered language), transsexuals (binary or nonbinary) need to transition in some way to reduce the dysphoria and non TS transgender folk (binary or nonbinary) need to assert their identities and safeguard their self expression. All of this is done in the meantime. None of this means people aren’t fighting the gender system. Any rad fem or person using rad fem rhetoric who tries to justify preventing these mid term survival methods is a fucking idiot transphobe and is also setting up cis women to be harmed (or alternately is inconsistent about the argument, since it can be applied to feminist discourse’s language itself, fuck even the word feminism itself.)

So in the end, I’ve addressed trans binarism, rad fem transphobic bullshit used to skewer nonbinaries, and how the hypotheses of gender dysphoria don’t exclude nonbinaries if you aren’t a binarist asshole.

Because really, I think it’s time we started taking note. Nonbinaries should not be our punching bags.

Go here to read the comments on the original post.



5 Responses to “Nonbinaries: The Secret Punching Bag of Everyone”

  1. 1 Nentuaby

    Some of this sounds very familiar to me as a pansexual… I’m not saying the lived experience is similar in particular, but I do wonder how much of the opposition comes from the same mental roots.

  2. 2 Mellanvärld

    “A pretty firm bunch of binary TS folk are actually pretty damn bigoted against nonbinaries” sounds like they are suffering from interphobia.

  3. I’m not familiar with the term interphobia. I’ve just been using a more specific term, binarism wherein the gender binary is centered above and treated as the only valid option in the face of nonbinary identities.

    It’s really one of the most ultimate ironies. Trans women and men using the same arguments used against them against nonbinaries.

  4. 4 Mellanvärld

    They probably mean the same thing. (whatever it is called: 00111010 00101000)

  5. Thank you! This is so good, it addresses all of the self-doubt that was instilled by reading a hell of a lot of so-called feminist discourse on the matter. It’s all well and good to read a thousand “your gender is valid no matter what” but it feels meaningless to me unless the actual issues are addressed. So thank you for doing that, I’m adding this to my repertoire of “cool things which explain things better than I could”.


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