September 20, 2013

IconNon-binary gender identities: how helpful are they for challenging gender rules?

Meg Barker recently wrote an article for the September issue of Diva about “increasing numbers of people [who] are identifying as something other than male or female.” In a rejection of binary gender identities, some regard themselves as (deep breath): bigender, pangender, genderfluid, genderqueer, genderfuck, non-gendered, gender neutral, and transgender. (The fact that Microsoft Word is telling me I have spelled most of these words incorrectly is testament to their embryonic state in mainstream discourse). The problem with these labels is that they have become ridiculous and provide fruit ripe for satire. As soon as a satirist gets a whiff of something so self-consciously anti-establishment, they will not take you seriously. When you are not taken seriously, your two-fingers-up to society falls flat on its face. It backfires and your challenging traditional gender roles imposed on us by society never gets off the ground.

Gender vs. gender rules

Let us first consider what exactly is being objected to: is it the idea of gender as a concept or gender “rules”? Some would argue that these are inextricably connected, but this is not the case; if gender is binary, it does not follow that gender rules are binary.

For example, let’s imagine for a moment that everyone identifies as either “male” or “female”. If there were no “rules” connected to these genders and the concept of “male” and “female” could be interpreted on an individual basis, there would be no need for the explosion of non-binary labels. If gender itself were the problem, people would not be creating new gender labels; they would not identify as any gender at all.

In other words, rigid gender rules are the problem; they are prescriptive when they needn’t be. The problem is beliefs such as “to be male/female, you need to be/behave/dress like this,” rather than gender being inherently pernicious.

I am all for rejecting these rules and broadening the idea of gender to transform it into a spectrum rather than a dichotomy, where people feel they “fit in” and are accepted for the way they interpret gender. However, I think that a new, incredibly niche and convoluted set of gender labels is not the best way of starting a dialogue about gender rules. If anything, it closes down dialogue by introducing terms that are only used and understood by a tiny sub-section of society.

If non-binary people are rejecting gender stereotypes by creating new gender labels, it is only a matter of time before stereotypes emerge for the new labels. Stereotypes emerge spontaneously and it is naïve to think that we can run from them by constantly dividing ourselves off from “the norm” with new labels.

Further, it is important to remember that the conversation about traditional gender roles is an old (and a current) one: women going out to work, women becoming train drivers, men becoming house husbands etc. Women (and men) have been challenging the rules for centuries without these labels.

Preferred pronouns and social situations

Besides this, it is difficult to know how to negotiate the social minefield of non-binary identities. Are we supposed to have these sorts of conversations in order to accommodate all gender-related identities?

“Hello, nice to meet you. Where do you live? Do you mind if I refer to the gender you were assigned at birth or do you define yourself by one of the multitude of non-binary gender labels? Lovely weather, isn’t it?”

Uh, no. There is so much margin for error. Imagine if we did as Barker suggests and “ask for preferred pronouns,” with everyone we meet. It would be laughable if someone asked for my preferred pronoun (as a cis female); sometimes you want people to assume things about you. I would certainly be offended if someone asked whether I wanted to be referred to as he or she (or anything else) because I would consider my appearance such that there is no question.

So do we then only ask for preferred pronouns when we feel that we can’t confidently assume male or female? This doesn’t seem right either because we don’t want non-binary gendered people to feel that they are only being asked for their preferred pronoun simply because they don’t fit in with our idea of “male” and “female”; this serves to exclude them more.

Should we ever assume?

The question is one of balancing assumption with questioning. Some people actively want people to assume something about their gender, others want nothing to be assumed. You can’t please everyone and be treading on eggshells the whole time. When you include one, you exclude another. It is a balancing act, so let’s not be too extreme (in either direction).

I will refer to anyone by whatever pronoun they wish, but don’t expect me to take you seriously if you decide that your gender is “genderfuck”. Just like the Monster raving loony party is defined wholly by its being a protest party, a gender with no other characteristics other than a rejection of the binary is unlikely to cause much of a shift in public consciousness.

To be clear: challenging traditional gender roles is something I wholeheartedly support, however, I don’t believe that this approach will be effective.

Update 21 September 2013

Lesbilicious articles are written by a diverse team of writers from the LGBT community, and we don’t expect, or ask, that all our writers have the same opinions or outlook. Having said that, at Lesbilicious we do have a committment to promoting the values we believe in, and those values include a consciously pro-trans attitude.

A lot of you felt that we didn’t uphold these values in this article, and you’re right. We encourage our writers to talk about their own views and experiences, even when those might be unpopular, but this article made assumptions and generalisations that disrespected the experiences of other people.

We want to encourage healthy, respectful debate and discussion, because the LGBT community is wide and diverse and there will always be things we see differently from one another. But in this instance we got it wrong, and so we apologise. The article will remain unedited, and we encourage you to read the comments from other people at the end of the article.

Milly Shaw, Editor

46 Responses to Non-binary gender identities: how helpful are they for challenging gender rules?

  1. Ruth Pearce Ruth Pearce says:

    You raise some important questions, but your answer appears to be simply to rubbish people’s identities and experiences. This doesn’t strike me as particularly helpful or respectful.

    • Joey McKillop says:

      I’ll second Ruth on this one. Being genderqueer myself my identity is personal first, interpersonal second and political last of all. Your article is horrendously generalising, as though you’ve read one activist’s manifesto and taken that as descriptive of all non-binary people. I consider this to be very disrespectful.

  2. Hattie Lucas Hattie Lucas says:

    Already a bit of friendly fire…

  3. Sharon Langridge says:

    For me, and for most people I’ve met with non-binary gender identities, the primary purpose of the identity is not to cause a shift in public consciousness; it’s to feel comfortable in one’s own skin. The equation of this with the Monster Raving Loony Party just reads as meanness, to me.

  4. Cassian says:

    I see what you’re saying, but it just doesn’t apply to most nonbinary people. You can’t choose your gender any more than you can choose your sexuality, and most of the time being out and trans/nonbinary is less a political choice and more a necessity for wellbeing.

    Also, it seems you are offended when someone questions your gender (by asking which pronouns you prefer), while simultaneously questioning the genders of thousands of people.

  5. Mary says:

    Do you judge everybody’s gender identity on the basis of whether it’s politically “effective” or “useful”, or just non-binary peoples?

    I also don’t get the impression you’ve actually *asked* many genderqueer/non-binary people whether they find it marginalising to be asked which gender pronoun they prefer, or have you just decided that they’d feel excluded if you did that? It looks like your argument is a lot like, “God, I don’t want anyone treating ME like I’m non-binary, that would be gross. So I’m not going to find out how anyone else would like to be treated, because I’ve already decided that *I* would find it gross.”

    As another cis female person, I’d find it trivially easy to say, “I’m fine with ‘she’” if someone asked me what gender pronouns I preferred. But I also don’t think *my* opinion on what’s easiest and politest is as important as the opinion of someone who is trans, genderqueer and/or non-binary. Why on earth would cis people’s offended feelings be prioritised?

  6. Lucas says:

    Honestly, I had trouble reading your article because the first paragraph in bold put me off. You may have been aiming for a comedic tone but it fell flat. There’s nothing humorous about listing off the myriad of identities that people fall under, just because you yourself (as a cis female) see no merit to them.

    I don’t need you to point out that my identity as non-binary is “ripe for satire” – I know that better than you do, considering I live it every day and it’s rare that I find a place I can be comfortable and surrounded by people who understand.

    The title of this piece is argumentative and is one-sided to begin with. I don’t want nor aim for my gender identity to be a political statement, as you seem to think it is. I am not giving “two fingers up to society,” merely trying to live my life. It is abundantly clear you didn’t speak with anyone who identifies as something other than the binary. Congratulations on making assumptions on an entire group of people based solely on your personal opinion.

    I honestly don’t know what to say to the fact you would feel insulted of someone asking for your preferred pronouns. You assume people should be able to tell you are female solely by your dress and presumably, lack of facial hair. Asking for pronouns doesn’t exclude people, if anything, it’s a sign of respect extended by the party asking. It may feel extremely silly to you but it’s a welcome thing for lots of people – transgender folks, trans men and women (especially those who are unable to afford hormone therapy), dare I say, butch lesbians?

    Gender is inherent. Gender identity is not about the box society puts you into based on your chromosomes, your dress or manner of speech. The fact that a number of people feel safe enough to truly be themselves in today’s world is a sign of safer times, not something to be mocked or questioned with humor simply because you can’t grasp the concept.

    • Mary says:

      >>I honestly don’t know what to say to the fact you would feel insulted of someone asking for your preferred pronouns.

      I wonder how the author would feel about a straight woman being offended by someone asking what gender her partner is, because she thinks it ought to be obvious from looking at her that she’s not a lesbian?

      • Lucas says:

        If by author you are referring to Hattie Lucas, I can’t speak to her ideas on the subject.

        Being asked what gender your significant other is – if you are playing the gender game and using ambiguous reference terms out of respect to their wishes, being coy, what have you – that’s not a wholly rude question, but that is my personal opinion.

        Further, I suggest you look to the experiences of femme lesbians who are constantly doubted and seen as “not enough” in women-only spaces as not fitting in in regards to your question of women to whom it “should be obvious” to tell their sexual orientation. Also, as a gentle reminder, gender identity does not equate sexual orientation.

        • Mary says:

          I am a bi femme in a relationship with a woman, who is *very* frequently assumed to be straight, so that’s not something I need to ask about. :) I was agreeing with you.

          I apologise if comparing sexual orientation and gender identity came off badly. What I meant was that I suspect that Hattie Jacobs would recognise that any straight woman who found it offensive to be asked whether her partner was male or female would come across as extremely anti-lesbian. I think Hattie Jacobs saying that it would be offensive if anyone asked her about her preferred gender pronouns is the same dynamic: what’s she’s basically saying is “ew, don’t confuse me with THOSE people.” I think what she’s said in that paragraph is pretty horrible and transphobic.

          I hope that’s clearer – I apologise for the ambiguous first comment!

  7. XtinaS says:

    You’re supposed to punch up, not down. Shitting all over people who are marginalised is a terrible thing to do.

  8. Hare says:

    I am non-binary because I do not feel either male or female. I’m not non-binary because I like “challenging traditional gender roles”, nor am I “anti-establishment”.

    I’m not trying to radically overhaul society (though that might be nice!) I’m just trying to quietly live my life in a genuine, comfortable manner with terms that I choose.

  9. 13hirteen says:

    Well that’s a slap in the face.
    Thanks for the vote of confidence, un-bylined editorial voice of lesbianism.

    Like other commenters, I’m not genderqueer because I’m trying to make some kind of anti-establishment statement about how shit binary gender essentialism is. I mean, yes, it is, but I could have done that without, as you so kindly point out, opening myself up to ridicule.

    I came out as genderqueer after over two decades of agonising about my gender identity, unable to fit into any of the binary boxes available: stick with the assigned-at-birth gender identity that I’m dysphoric about? Transition to the other binary option and still feel not-right? That was it for years.

    I’m painfully aware that my gender identity is an easy target. Coming out at work was awkward and has involved compromises for the sake of professional convenience.

    Introducing myself to self-proclaimed queer allies who then say that “aren’t comfortable with” non-gendered pronouns? Yeah, fun.

    (Hell, grammar nerd though I am, even I get tired of providing supporting evidence for the use of “they” as a singular pronoun.)

    The git at the pub after an old-school punk gig who, when he twigs my original gender from my voice, starts insistently referring to me by it in the most demeaning way possible? Good times.

    Feeling, and occasionally being made to feel, that I don’t belong in the wider trans* community, or deserve to have my rights campaigned for as part of that community? Hi-fucking-larious.

    Feeling the need to justify my gender identity by bringing up a medical condition which gives me physical, hormonal and neurological attributes that differ to those associated with my reproductive organs? (Note: this shouldn’t matter one way or the other.) Oh, how we laughed.

    So yes, I’m quite aware that people may not “take me seriously”.

    And, upsetting as it is when they – and you – decide I’m not to be taken seriously, that my gender identity is some kind of attention-grabbing phase or social statement, I really couldn’t give a monkey’s whether I’m “effective” when it comes to “challenging traditional gender roles”.

    I personally think that the acceptance of gender as a sliding scale (think of the kind of thing Kinsey did for sexuality) would help when it came to challenging traditional gender roles, but I’ve not the least interest in being a guinea pig for that argument. If this were a choice, I assure you that I’d really rather not have the hassle of it intruding into my already complex personal and professional life.

    I identify as genderqueer because it’s the only gender identity I’ve lived with which hasn’t made me feel as though I’m tearing myself apart or denying an important aspect of myself on some deep level. It’s what fits. It’s what I am.

    And quite frankly, it’s not for you to tell me I’m wrong based on your own fictitious notion of what gender-variant people’s feelings and aims must be.

  10. Might I assume that you identify as lesbian (making an assumption here, but the blog and all…) because it it’s an *effective* way to challenge sexuality norms? And not because it describes you the way you want to be described… I guess adding a *few* labels is okay, especially if they are linguistically and scientifically sound like HOMOSEXUAL and LESBIAN, but ridiculous ones like TRANSGENDER or GENDERQUEER are clearly beyond the pale.

  11. Once again a cisgender lesbian is telling gender variant people who we are, because we’re just too stupid to figure out who we are by ourselves. Thanks once again for invalidating our identities.

  12. Bryce says:

    Did you ever stop to consider that identifying with a non-binarygender might not be political? The tone of this article is ugly, by ridiculing the name of someone’s gender you take away the ability to positively define those terms in the same way that The Second Sex did for women.

  13. makomk says:

    Okay, putting aside just how mean, offensive and dismissive of non-binary people’s experiences this article is for a moment:

    You start off by arguing that rigid gender rules are the problem and that no-one would need non-binary labels if there were no rules connected to the genders “male” and “female”. Except that you then go on to argue that it would be laughable and offensive for anyone to ask you for your preferred pronoun because it’s obvious from your appearance. That, there, is a rigid gender rule: if you appear a particular way, people must assume you’re female (and of course, only people who fit that rule get to automatically be treated as female). In fact, in practice it’s a whole bunch of gender rules covering facial shape and build, clothes, hairstyles, body language…

    If rejecting rigid gender rules was really the solution to non-gender binary people’s problems (which it isn’t), then by your own argument you personally are part of the problem by enforcing those rules. In fact, this in itself a major issue: essentially everyone I’ve seen who’s proposed this as a solution is so deeply reliant on binary gender and all the rules and roles that go with it that they don’t even think about the fact they’re doing so.

  14. XtinaS says:

    Now, show of hands, which is worse?:

    * The author of this piece genuinely believes what she wrote.
    * This post is clickbait.

    Trick question! Both ways involve shitting on marginalised people for no reason at all!

    • kaki says:

      what a rude, presumptuous, condescending, privilege-soaked piece of crap this article is.

      no love,
      a nonbinary person

  15. Nat says:

    Having been unable to access more than the first few paragraphs of the original DIVA article, I felt sure that it must have somehow misrepresented all nonbinary people as personal-as-political protestors choosing to adopt our identities as a challenge to society’s rigid gender roles. So I paid for and downloaded the September issue and read it for myself.

    It turns out that Meg Barker’s article quite clearly and sensitively explains that those of us with nonbinary identities are people who don’t fit into the gender binary, a small but significant minority of trans* and/or intersex people who are unable to feel comfortable with living as either their assigned gender or the other binary alternative. The article discusses several ways that we, as a diverse group, have found language that authentically expresses our genders (or lack of gender) and pronouns that respect them. Talks about the difficulties of doing this and how gender clinics are gradually recognising the validity of our experiences and helping those of us who need it to access treatment for our gender dysphoria.

    I’ve written a longer critical and personal response to Hattie’s article on Practical Androgyny here:

    I hope Hattie will think again about nonbinary gender, and re-read Meg Barker’s excellent DIVA article, this time without the apparent assumption that the people described experience gender in the same way that she does.

  16. Leng says:

    It would seem that bi-gender is the new bisexual.

    If you look back at articles written 10 years ago about bisexuals as well as attitudes about them in lesbian circles I am seeing a lot of cross over. In a non-binary way of course.

    I think what is helpful is to remember that people are feeling more comfortable and confident to express their gender identities in a more fluid way and people should be given the space to do so. In the same way that fluidity with sexuality is finally starting to become more accepted in UK society.

    The younger generation challenges these outdated ways of thinking and as an extended queer community we all need to give one another space to express, love and to be however we choose.

    Some people change and experiment with gender as they might do with sexuality – why should this be an issue when groups of people aren’t harming anyone in the process?

    I feel that gender is perceived as a ‘threat’ to some and I haven’t quite grasped that.

  17. kaki says:

    since my first comment probably won’t get published because i treated this article with the same level of respect its author gave to nonbinary identities…

    when i want to make a political statement about gender or gender roles, i discuss those topics with other people, or i make art about it. what i identify as, on the contrary, is something i have to keep to myself more often than i really want to, and one of the main reasons for that is because of disrespectful, othering, yet still prevailing attitudes such as what is portrayed by the author of this article here.

    i sincerely hope she thinks twice and maybe will actually talk to the people she’s writing about before publishing anything else on identities she does not understand.

  18. nick tung says:

    I’m probably just echoing the other comments, but, since the article seemed more mislead than openly hateful, i’ll respond in earnest,

    > rigid gender rules are the problem; they are prescriptive when they needn’t be … women (and men) have been challenging the rules for centuries without these labels

    Sure. But if you haven’t experienced being perceived as a different gender, expressed identification with a gender other than what was assigned to you at birth, or experienced having people being unsure, confused, or uncomfortable about your gender, don’t speak for those who have. It’s a different thing than being a stay-at-home dad or working mom. Having and using language for different gender experiences and identities it is appropriate.

    > So do we then only ask for preferred pronouns when we feel that we can’t confidently assume male or female? This doesn’t seem right either because we don’t want non-binary gendered people to feel that they are only being asked for their preferred pronoun simply because they don’t fit in with our idea of “male” and “female”; this serves to exclude them more.

    I’ve heard a diversity of experiences in the genderqueer community; some people would like to be asked, others feel uncomfortable (for me, especially if those conversations turn into “are you a man or a woman? no really, which one? but, you look like an X to me …”).

    As a genderqueer-identified person, I agree with you that asking everyone’s pronoun is impractical in our society. For better or worse, I don’t do it. But, I’m aware of how uncomfortable it is to ask, and hope in the future it could be more acceptable to ask, and for queer folks to ask to be referred to differently. I think part of that would be facilitated if cisgender and some binary transgender people (e.g. Julia Serano) wouldn’t be offended when asked, at least if the person asking is trying to be sensitive about the existence of genderqueers.

    > don’t expect me to take you seriously if you decide that your gender is “genderfuck”

    I don’t like the label either — it seems flippant for something that’s personally significant to me, but I don’t pass my judgments onto others’ choice of words. I guess I can see how “fuck”, if
    interpreted as “messing with the system” than sexual or seriously destructive, can describe some experiences.

  19. Sandy Hope says:

    I’m deeply dissappointed by this. My long struggle to come out as genderqueer at the age of 42 had absolutely nothing to do with me being gender non-conforming, or anything to do with “traditional gender roles” this is the classic mistake people make when they judge transgender people, assuming that it relates to non-conformity rather than something innate or physical. Well, as a lesbian I was already living a gender non-conforming life and had been for years, that’s got nothing to do with it. Any more than my deciding to be lesbian had to do with my liking for motorbikes, DIY and cats. It’s impossible for transgender people to explain our experience to non-trans people, but it rests on us being trusted to know ourselves, rather than our descriptions of our identities being dismissed and ridiculed as a feeling, as a rebellion, or whatever other belittlement cis folks choose to throw our way.

  20. E says:

    I am distressed by this article. My long search for some way to find a place I belong in terms of gender isn’t about putting two fingers up to society or about making trouble or indeed about anyone else but myself. I don’t feel comfortable in the sex I was assigned at birth for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that I have an intersex condition. My non-binary identity is in some ways due to my non-binary body.

    I do endeavour, at great stress to myself, to ‘fit in’ with a binary gender – I don’t demand or even ask that others use pronouns other that the one that can be assumed from my appearance outside of certain queer spaces where it is acceptable to do so. I am not even ‘out’ to most people and this article makes it less likely that I ever will be. I don’t think there is a solution or that society will ever accept me for who I really am. All I ask is a small space where I can be myself – a space that you and those who think like you would take away from me. You are not content with nearly the whole world, you would have everything, and would prefer, no doubt, that I simply not exist.

  21. OneMultipleCode says:

    Last I checked social justice activism wasn’t a bad thing, and neither was caring about what’s happening in politics when it affects everyone’s lives whether they are informed and participate or not. It’s nearly 5am. I’ll come back to this when I’m more awake. You won’t shame me away from my identities, political, personal, or other by assuming a superior stance.

  22. CH says:

    >> “If non-binary people are rejecting gender stereotypes by creating new gender labels, it is only a matter of time before stereotypes emerge for the new labels. Stereotypes emerge spontaneously and it is naïve to think that we can run from them by constantly dividing ourselves off from “the norm” with new labels.”

    I’m not sure how you can speak to the dangers of stereotypes emerging for various non-binary labels when within the first few sentences of this article you, indeed, stereotype all non-binary persons as “putting two fingers up to society” and being an inherent political statement. The myriad of experiences in the comments section are proof that’s not true. If those in activist circles cannot be trusted to veer away from creating stereotypes, who can?

    Further, as a cis female, I’d be perfectly fine with someone asking my preferred pronouns. Condemning those who ask is backwards-thinking and puts your personal inconvenience over the acceptance and well-being of an entire spectrum of people.

  23. Evin says:

    The author appears to be trying to make a logical point–it’s a logical point I’ve heard from many lesbians (mostly older ones). The problem is that sex and gender are not at all the same thing. We have a societally constructed set of gender roles that map to assigned sex. 1970′s lesbianism wanted to say it’s enough to remove the gender rules and let everyone be who they are. The problem is that this did not actually create much more gendered space. It enlarged (greatly) the space women could choose, but it did not give female bodied people a choice besides being women. Not all of us are women. I’m female and not really changing that, but I’m not a woman. My identity as genderqueer is similar to other females identity as women.

  24. Roth says:

    As others have said, it isn’t about gender rules, it is about gender. Even if there were no assumptions or roles associated with gendered terms I still wouldn’t identify with them because that’s not what I am. I know there are 1000 ways to be a woman or a man, all of them valid, but that’s not what I am. You mention transforming the current dominant conceptualisation of gender into a spectrum, but all too often that involves placing man on one side, woman on the other, and drawing a line between them. That spectrum doesn’t have room in it for non-gendered people like me, or people who feel both, or most of the other ways to be non binary. It merely sets up a situation where being ‘more woman’ means you are also ‘less man’.

    “Are we supposed to…accommodate all gender-related identities?” Pretty much. It is not an unreasonable thing to ask that your gender be respected in the language they use, such as use of correct pronouns. If a cis woman was cross that people kept calling her ‘he’ and ‘sir’ it would not be considered strange; of course she’s upset about it! Anyone would be! Unless, of course, you’re non binary. Then it’s folly to ask that people don’t misgender you, because you’re just too weird to be given the same courtesy that others take for granted.

    “I would certainly be offended if someone asked whether I wanted to be referred to as he or she…because I would consider my appearance such that there is no question.” People consider my appearance such that there is no question, but that doesn’t make them right. You mention people who may appear ambiguously gendered, but in reality that is a standard most nonbinary people can’t wholly meet, whether because of lack of funds for desired surgery, or just not fitting the ‘standard model’ for androgyny: white, thin, short hair and masculine dress.

    I am very disappointed (but not surprised, alas) that yet another person appears to have completely misunderstood nonbinary genders.

  25. Alex says:

    Gender is really complicated, but I think the idea that there are two genders – male and female – and they’re very fixed and different from each other is a very narrow cultural story that we’ve created for ourselves, rather than something that fits the reality of the historical, cultural, and biological evidence.

    Firstly, biologically, it’s hard to insist there are two very distinct sexes with no in-between, when depending on how you define it around 0.1 to 1.7% of children are born intersex. (to be clear I know this isn’t the same thing as a non-binary identity).

    Secondly, while specific identities don’t map well to other cultures, there are a huge variety of both historic and current examples of societies and cultures around the world which have systems other than the two binary fixed genders that are prevalent in our society. Terms such as bissu (Indonesian), Fa’afafine (Samoan), nádleehí (Najavo), Ashtime (Maale) (I could list about 100….) all describe a variety of genders that probably wouldn’t fit a Western binary system. We could talk about ancient Metsopotamian creation myths referencing people who are not men or women, or look at the various complicated ways eunuchs were thought of in Roman society. All this evidence suggests our way of understanding gender is only one of many options.

    Thirdly, gender roles and associations are hardly fixed and have changed drastically over time – for example the association of pink as a girls colour is relatively recent. The huge advances that feminism has made in changing attitudes mean that things that would once have been considered outrageous wouldn’t even be considered a political statement today. When was the last time you heard someone say “oh you’re a woman going to university, you must be making a political statement ”, for example. Yet the women of the 1880′s who wanted to attend university primarily to get an education had to make a political statement in order to do so because the understanding of gender roles in their society was so messed up.

    In a similar way, I primarily want to live my life and contribute to my society, as a person who happens to be genderqueer, but because my culture believes such an unhelpful narrative about gender that I can’t, for example, apply for a bank account with my correct title, be referred to by the pronouns I feel comfortable with at work, or describe my gender accurately on my passport, I have to make a political statement to do so.
    I’ll be delighted when I no longer have to. I’ll also STILL be genderqueer – my gender identity is based on what I feel in my heart and my head. I’m genderqueer because that’s who I am.

  26. Some Chick Who's Offended says:

    Gender and gender roles are not the same thing; I’m appalled at how many people think that they are. This article indicates that you are one of those people.
    Secondly, sex and gender aren’t the same thing either. Nobody is claiming this, but I figure I should clarify that I don’t think this myself.
    Thirdly, as a cis female, I can’t delve much more into it without stepping on some toes.

    But just because I wear a lot of male clothes and essentially have taken over the “male role” in my own (straight, mind you) relationship does not make me any less of a woman, and I’d really appreciate it if this whole gender=gender roles thing bit the dust already.

  27. Scott says:

    OK…*jumping off the band wagon*……
    She hasn’t offended you, you have CHOSEN offended. If you actually take off your ‘easily offended hat’ for a moment and read it through objective eyes, you will see that actually, Hattie Lucas, is NOT attacking trans or those who are non-binary! She is also NOT talking about those who are NOT making a political statement….those who are saying ‘I’m not doing it to be political’ then she’s not talking to you!! She’s making a point to those who are! (Of which non have commented by the way!)

    Also what happened to free speech? Can we not have a healthy debate about this? This is Not a ‘hate’ article! It merely poses some important questions that can be debated! I get that not binary people, and that includes myself,feel they are an easy target and clearly a minority, but can we drop the ‘poor me attitude’ and be allowed to ‘debate’ this!?

    and the fact that Milly Shaw is not professional enough to back her writers who are expressing a valid opinion, in a constructive article…..don’t get me started!

    • XtinaS says:

      …you must be joking. Or trolling really badly, or something? I mean, if nothing else (and there is so much else), free speech is generally related to the first amendment, which is uh an American thing, lest I Incur Your Wrath by pointing out the URL TLD, there.

      Never have I had a bingo card fill up so quickly! “Choosing to be offended” (as though one cannot be offensive), “objectively” (as though emotions invalidates arguments; as though you yourself are not being emotional), “freeze peach” (as though we are in any way legally censoring this person; as though we’re in the US), and misuse of “then it’s not about you” (as though the bulk of non-binary folk are political-only and we’re just statistical outliers). Well done! *golf clap*

    • Mary says:

      How is this not a healthy debate? Hattie Lucas wrote something that a lot of people disagreed with, and so a lot of people commented disagreeing with her. Nobody’s called for her to be put in jail or anything.

      What do you think people are supposed to do in a healthy debate when they disagree with something if not … say that they disagree?

      Not sure where you’re getting the idea that she’s only talking to non-binary people who are “sticking two fingers up at society” – it reads to me like she thinks all non-binary people are doing that? Could you quote the bit where you think she’s distinguishing between people who are just minding their own business identifying as non-binary and people who are doing it to be oppositional?

    • nick tung says:

      Sometimes people write things that are insensitive even if they are not openly attacking. I think XtinaS and Mary below make some good points about why your argument isn’t sound: the author doesn’t discriminate between subversive genderqueers and non-political ones, and saying people “choose to be offended” is often misrepresentative.

      Further, while political identities are usually less personal than the multifaceted “gender identity” concept (which sometimes involves the body more than social roles, depending on who you talk to), I think they are also part of a person which should be respected. For example, you might say I’m a vegetarian partly for political reasons (saving the environment), but I would consider it disrespectful if you created an argument that my vegetarianism is not “useful” (perhaps, not effective at saving the environment — which here is mostly wrong, but you can pretend it isn’t so) and that I should change.

      Where I agree with you is that people (mostly the commentators here) may be overstepping it in responding in a political, attacking manner to an argument that wasn’t so bellicose. We all have misconceptions, and if someone is clearly willing to be respectful (as the author mentioned, willing to respect others’ preferred pronouns), I think it’s unproductive to try and score political points on where they were wrong. Calling someone out is good, but not to the point where they are discouraged from speaking at all … if us genderqueers want more of the public to understand, or even acknowledge us more, I think we have to accept them talking about us, and sometimes not “getting it”.

  28. Elliott says:

    “I will refer to anyone by whatever pronoun they wish, but don’t expect me to take you seriously if you decide that your gender is “genderfuck”. Just like the Monster raving loony party is defined wholly by its being a protest party, a gender with no other characteristics other than a rejection of the binary is unlikely to cause much of a shift in public consciousness.”

    Um. Excuse me? If someone identifies as “genderfuck”, that is just like identifying as “genderqueer”. However anyone identifies is their own self-actualization in this world that trains us to be one or another. To self-actualize in any other non-binary way is vulnerable, scary and courageous. There is only one way to properly respond to this: RESPECT. And that includes upholding one’s preferred pronouns, whatever they may be.

    I find your opinions on this important matter greatly uninformed and disrespectful.

    • Who Knew? says:

      I think people are overreacting, which isn’t a surprise with the glbt community. I can see where the author is coming from, even if maybe she’s shooting from the hip, which is refreshing in my opinion.

      Basically what she’s saying, if I understand it, is that once ‘anything goes’ in regards to ‘labels’. It gets over the top, confusing, and impossible for others to take the person and their cause seriously.

      As an example is the GLBT acronym, which is getting out of hand since they keep adding more letters to it. Or they are reversing which letters go where(LGBT vs GLBT) and people in the community get up in arms over the ‘right’ order to use the acronym. I’ve always looked at the LBT part as similar to BLT, thus reminding me of a hamburger. “Would you like a BLT?”. It flows well and is easy to remember in that case.

      Meanwhile LGBT takes away the LBT part and sounds awkward and their are no words that go together with GBT that I can think of that would flow well, compared to BLT/LBT. Anyway that’s my humorous way of looking at the GLBT order vs LGBT.

      The added letters to the acronym are IQA, and their may be more by now. But those stand for Intersex, Queer, Ally, and Q also stands for Questioning, so sometimes QQ is added, or one Q stands for both words. Either way the acronym now looks like this LBTGAQQIU(U=undecided/unknown). It’s becoming absurd by this point, and the general public is not going to care about this stuff, since it’s more complicated than it needs to be.

      Likewise, gender pronouns are becoming absurd as well with this ‘anything goes’ approach. Some people now want to be referred to as “Zi”, “Hir” and other strange made up words to be ‘gender neutral’. But outside of a college campus living in a bubble of like minded people waxing philosophical about gender ‘norms’ and ‘terms’. No one in the real word cares, and these terms will never take off, and everyone will be confused and laugh it off, rather than take it seriously.

      So do these new made up words and phrases help or hurt the cause? That’s a good question, and something that should be discussed. But most people in the community would prefer to play victim and ‘whoa is me’ and expect everyone to not question new terms/phrases, and get offended when everyday people aren’t aware of the terms, and or very confused by them, and can’t grasp the vernacular. So in other words, it’s alienating which is never good.

      I’m still a bit wary of the term ‘cis-gender’, since again the majority of people don’t know the term, and I hadn’t heard of it until a couple years ago. I’d just simply say ‘non-tg’ or ‘non-trangender’ if referring to a person that was not transgender. Most people could understand that, it’s simple. But ‘cis’ still sounds strange to me. Though I admit, I am getting used to people using the phrase now in my trans support and individual therapy sessions. However, it’s still not in my regular vocabulary(though who knows if one day it’ll slip into my daily language when discussing these things?).

      So again, look at the list of endless gender terms the author posted. And you can see what a minefield it is and why it may do more harm than good. It’s just as exhausting as trying to read ‘PC’ versions describing trans-issues/information and they keep writing “if you would like more information about your Transgender, and non-gender binary, non-gender conforming, queer, questioning, intersex, androgynous, ambiguous,gender queer, gender fuck, gender variant,gender fluid, bi-gender, self identifying male to female, or self identifying female to male, transsexual,cross-dresser, transvestite, drag queen, un-cis-gender child/family member/significant other/partner,husband,wife,girlfriend,boyfriend then this pamphlet is for you, or if you are “Transgender, and non-gender binary, non-gender conforming, queer, questioning, intersex, androgynous, ambiguous,gender queer, gender fuck, gender variant,gender fluid, bi-gender, self identifying male to female, or self identifying female to male, transsexual,cross-dresser, transvestite, drag queen, un-cis-gender, then you will also love this pamphlet.

      That’s a mouthful and I’ve seem some trans info websites and family ‘info’ packets starting to write in such a manner be to ‘inclusive’, and it’s just a huge confusing mouthful that’s tough to take in, especially for ‘regular’ people wanting simple information on this material.

      I tried to have my mom read a tg info pamphlet found online that my therapist recommended, and it had a similar phrasing of every ‘gender-whatever’, and I had to tell my mom to just skip over every time they write ‘gender…(every term known to man). She was able to then find the non-excessively alienating wordy ‘inclusive’ paragraphs informative and easier to understand. But if she tried reading the above long winded phrases. She’d easily stop reading and caring for the material, since it’s not approachable in the least.

      Thankfully, just me being myself is making her more accepting of myself than excessively wordy all ‘inclusive’ attempts to explain every gender variant term/aspect known to man. And when she tells someone about myself, she keeps it simple(and I never told her to phrase it this way, but it’s perfect)…”So in so is more comfortable being a woman” and people ‘get it’. It’s made coming out much simpler than the long winded wordy responses and endless terms and phrases people keep spewing with no end in sight.

      So, while not everyone will like what I wrote. It’s always best to look at things from another perspective, in this case a person who is not-tg(etc, etc). Since far to often, we, the glbt community at large never consider how others view us and how to explain things to them, and instead act in offense and defensively at every little thing.

      Just being down to earth, approachable is the best way to win people over. That’s what I’ve experienced so far in my life. Though I’m aware some people will never change, but oh well, that’s life.

      • nick tung says:

        I think language evolves in a twisted path: sometimes things get seemingly-complex before they get slotted into a framework, and then there are always people who don’t fit in that framework.

        As an example, terms like “crossdresser” and “drag queen” have different sexuality implications (heterosexual, and homosexual), though those norms often don’t hold up in practice. As people begin to understand gender is not sexuality, I imagine it’ll be less necessary to create new language, for, say, a gay crossdresser, a bisexual drag queen, whatever. When people understand gender is not gender presentation, the existence of trans-man drag queens won’t be “strange” or “complex” or “hard to understand”.

        If no one pushed those boundaries, I doubt “LGBT” would be a term people would understand. One of my older friends said “dyke” in her youth pretty much meant non-human. Sometimes new words are necessary for understanding to evolve.

        I hear you on some fronts. I “appropriate myself” by using language I don’t identify with, so others can understand. But, I disagree with your premise that people need to choose language that the mainstream “can understand”. Using one’s own language [so long as in good faith -- not calling yourself something you're not] for one’s gender/sexuality/romantic self is everyone’s prerogative.

        As far as “LGBTQQIA2″ (plus-or-minus poly, kink, fetish) being a mouthful, there’s the term GRSMs — gender, romatic, and sexual minorities. It’s inclusive. I highly recommend it :D . From another angle, your characterization of including more minorities than LGBT as “absurd” sounds small-minded to me.

        As far as gender-neutral pronouns never “taking off” … I hope you’re wrong. I’m going to try it, someday.

Hattie Lucas


Can animals be gay?

Lesbilicious were at the Paws with Pride Pet Show at Newcastle Leazes Park in July 2012. We asked pet owners, can animals be gay? The people we interviewed had some interesting anecdotes about their own pets.

August 1, 2012