One of the really interesting things about being a nonbinary feminist, aside from sometimes feeling excluded by feminism, is that I often have difficulty fitting in. I navigate a betweenspace. There are a lot of people out there navigating betweenspaces and no one really seems to know what to do with any of us, whether those spaces are gender, race, class, or disability-based. For the most part, we’re part of the movement…until we’re not. We are convenient to have around…until we are not.
I am not a woman. But I care about women’s rights. Not just because women are a marginalised group and I think that everyone deserves equal rights, but because some aspects of the battle for women’s rights concern me and my body. The concrete victories which feminists have won have made a personal difference to me and my life, just as the women’s rights issues which remain unresolved (and there are many) have an immediate impact on my life, my safety, my health.
But I’m not a woman. So I don’t belong in women-only spaces. Yet, I am freely welcomed into them. I am repeatedly mistaken for a woman; people refer to FWD as ‘a group of women’ or talk about ‘the women of FWD’ all the time and I know they include me in that, even though I am not a woman. I am included under the banner of ‘women’ even though I am not one, even though I am in the betweenspace, because people don’t know what else to do with me. In part, this is because my own language about my gender identity is fluid and has been rapidly evolving, but it’s also because most people operate under the assumption that there are only two genders and everyone fits into one or the other.
Some people seem to believe that only women can be feminists. Or, rather, they think that men can’t be feminists and they subscribe to a binary view of gender so nonbinary people and nongendered people don’t occur to them, ergo, only women can be feminists. Those people don’t contest my feminist label, though. They think I’m a woman. Or they think that my nonbinary gender identity is subordinate to my anatomy and endocrinology; when things get down to brass tacks, I’m a woman, right?
Where do people in the betweenspaces fit in?
Nowhere. Which means that when things come down to the wire, we get left out. Our identities are subordinated to the greater whole. We are, as I said above, convenient until we are not; we are more voices in the movement but if we question the movement, if we attempt to assert our identities, we would be thrown out. We masquerade inside the movement until we can’t take it anymore.
One of the reasons I identified as a woman for so long was because I was afraid of being ejected from feminist spaces. But I forgot that a lot of feminist spaces are rife with gender essentialism, and that I would always be identified as a woman by gender essentialists, no matter what my gender identity actually is, just as some ‘feminist’ spaces identify trans men as women. Whether or not I am genderqueer, in short, doesn’t matter unless I want to kick up a fuss about it. Then it matters because I’m making a fuss, and we don’t want that.
There is a lot of talk about intersectionality in social justice movements; it’s a philosophy which I myself subscribe to, the belief that we must fight for rights for all and recognise that different groups have different needs, which sometimes intersect and sometimes conflict. That we cannot talk, for example, about women’s rights without recognising the connected racial issues. That we cannot fight for disability rights without examining the class issues bound up in disability. And so forth.
But betweenspaces are rarely addressed with intersectionality. Intersectionality is a word which is used like every person is a piece of a puzzle, and that we just need to snap the puzzle pieces together to form a complete whole. This ignores the people who fall between the puzzle pieces, or the people who are pieces of an entirely different puzzle. What to do with the betweenspaces? For now, plop us back into the puzzle box and hope no one shakes it and notices we are still inside, waiting our turn.
Some feminists believe, as I do, that a critical part of feminism involves breaking down social attitudes about gender. And fighting for freedom for all genders. Yet, some people who ascribe to this view still fall into the trap of gender essentialism and rigid ideas about gender identities. For those people, the supposed battle for gender freedom is really specifically about tearing down stereotypes about women. And this is indeed an important thing to do. But when it is accompanied with the erasure of trans* people and people without gender, it contributes directly to harms experienced by others.
And this is the problem with the betweenspaces. We are part of movements which hurt us. We hope to change the movement from within, to make positive changes, to carve out a space for us, but even as we do this, people in our own movements are harming us. And when we try to address this, to get people to think not just about intersectionality, a concept which is already not universally accepted in feminist movements, but to think about betweenspaces, people lash out. And we are reminded, once again, that we are allowed as long as we are convenient, and we will be thrown out when we are not.