Imagine a person going to their local restaurant, the one that they have always been to, the one that they feel comfortable at. They don’t claim that is the best restaurant in the world, but they like it there.
Imagine that the restaurant, following the suggestion of many clients, decides to open a buffet service as well. Everyone can still get served what they have always ordered, the way that they have always ordered it, but there is also the option to walk up and get whatever you want from the buffet.
Imagine our imaginary person being angry about people using the buffet. They start policing what they are taking and feeling that it is unfair. They feel angry seeing their plates full while they stick to their usual.
Everyone reassures them that they can get up and enjoy the buffet too if that is what they want. But that is not what they want! They want their usual served their usual way, they like the limited menu, that the food gets brought to their table and they want everyone else sticking to that option too. They hate that there is a buffet, it feels that it has changed everything for them.
It feels weird right? I mean, I hope it does. Sometimes when I am having conversations about gender identities, I feel some of the anger is not far off from that example. There is an uneasiness in change. There is comfort in the rules, in the boxes, in the usual. Even if the usual was never great. And it feels greedy that people are now saying that they are non-binary, it feels unfair that you have worked hard to change something within the system, sucking it up when you didn’t have another option, finding your way around the box and now some people are saying that they are leaving the box altogether.
If being non-binary were just a greedy choice with no trade off, you would choose it too, why wouldn’t you? If it were just an easy out you would have joined it as soon as you heard from it, everyone loves an out! But it’s neither of those. It’s not easy, it’s not greedy and it is not an out.
It is not even new. Non-binary people have existed for as long as gender has. What is new is the visibility, the language, the global community (hi internet!) and their unapologetic demands to be seen and respected. What is new is the change of tide that expects the rest of us to adapt to who they are, instead of them having to compromise their existence for our comfort.
In my workshops, I speak about sexism and stereotypes. The way the stereotypes related to our sex shape who we are, how they are socially constructed characteristics that are part of our gender. I speak about neuroplasticity and compassion. About gender bias and about respect. And I also talk about the differences of sex and gender, how none of them are binary (even if the society is structured and designed as if they were). I talk about how some oppressions are indeed based on your sex (period poverty, FGM, abortion rights) but they also affect non-binary people with female anatomy and a lot of trans men. I talk about how other oppressions are gender based (sexual harassment, likeability bias, gender pay gap…) but they also affect trans women or nonbinary people perceived as feminine.
It seems to be a very dangerous narrative stating that “we have worked so hard to fight for our rights and we won’t let this new thing take dilute our fight in any way”
It is happening within some feminist groups towards trans women. And it is happening from some trans people towards nonbinary people. The fight for the crumbs. The blaming down instead of up. Using our activism to gatekeep the rights that we want for ourselves. Making sure it is very clear who is out and who is in, as if they were ever the problem. As if they hadn’t been fighting for us all this time.
We should be more open to the fact that dismantling the whole system, making gender a buffet and making sure that sex is only relevant where it need to be (medical situations, for example) is what will get all of us where we want to be.
I am a woman. A cis woman. Me fighting for non-binary people’s right to present the way they want to, to feel the way the want to and to blur as many boundaries of the “rules” as they need to, is not only an act of allyship but also for my own benefit.
If you have known me for a while you know that I always come back to changing the way we educate and talk to kids. Changing what we do before we start loading them with a lot of information that they will have to un-learn after. I am all about a childhood unlimited, because that will make us freer adults.
If we assumed that every kid could be non-binary, regardless of how they present to the world, we would be more mindful of not categorising everything into boys and girls. We would not have gendered birthday parties. We will not be speaking to kids so differently. Who knows, we might even have diversity of skills, personalities and attributes on tv and in the media! If we accepted and celebrated that some people are simply non-binary and that they are not trying to erase men and women but just have their space in the world, if we actually catered for that space in the world, we would all be better off. I am serious, non-binary people are definitely not the problem but they might as well be the solution.
January 12, 2023
I found this post extremely interesting, and it made the concept and social construct of gender a bit easier to understand, something I am trying to learn about. Thank you, and I look forward to reading more of your writing.