One of the frustrating things for me about spending a lot of time with women, writing about women’s issues, and interacting with women is that I’m usually read as a woman and have that identity forced on me even though I’m very open about the fact that I’m genderqueer. This isn’t just because of how I look, although obviously that’s a factor; with a lot of images of me circulating on the web, often accompanying my work, it’s inevitable that people are going to make a snap assumption about my gender on the basis of my appearance. Nor is it because of the way I write; writing analysis tools tend to skew masculine when I run my work through them.
It’s because of what I write about. The assumption is that anyone who writes both passionately and sometimes personally about issues that primarily affect women must be a woman, because who else would care, right? And who else would share those experiences (rather than pontificating on them as an outside observer)? Consequently, I end up in this strange doublebind where I am welcomed into ‘women’s spaces’ and forcibly labeled as a woman—as long as it’s convenient, and then suddenly I’m shut out.
I don’t resent having doors slammed in my face, but I do resent the attitudes that lead people to assign genders to each other in the first place, especially when the people they’re forcibly gendering are extremely outspoken about their actual gender. This is a problem common to many nonbinary people; cis people quietly stick us in a binary gender slot because they don’t know what else to do with us and they have difficulty conceptualising of us as something other than male or female. Unless it’s suddenly convenient to use our gender for political leverage; I’ve been told, for example, that since I’m not a woman, I shouldn’t write about reproductive rights because the battle doesn’t affect me, even though is obviously does because I have a uterus and the works; even though I’m sterilised, I have skin in the game, so to speak.
Or I’ve been told that I don’t have a right to criticise problems with the feminist movement, or shouldn’t be advocating for women’s health issues, or any number of things. There’s a failure to recognise, here, that these experiences are bigger than women, and that not being a woman doesn’t make me a man, doesn’t mean that I don’t have actual, real-world, immediate connections to these issues, and doesn’t mean that I don’t belong in this conversation.
The resistance to the inclusion of nonbinary people is in fact an illustration of precisely why we do belong, because these are conversations that needed to be expanded. These issues affect us personally, not abstractly. We are directly harmed by a lot of the social attitudes that affect binary people of both genders, in addition to the prejudices aimed at nonbinary people and other gender-variant folks. We belong in this conversation. This is not a case of ‘but what about the people who are not actually affected by this problem but seem to think they should dominate the conversation or position themselves as authorities?’
The very concept of gender is shifting and evolving, in part because of these very public conversations we are having, because people like me live out loud and talk about our lives, because the world is slowly but steadily changing to become more inclusive. And that means that it’s time for people to adjust their attitudes about who belongs where. Some cis women and radical feminists can’t even get it together enough to welcome trans women to ‘women-only’ spaces, so it seems like an uphill battle to get them to admit that people who look like me belong in this fight too, but we do, and we’re not going away. The more we’re excluded, the more we’re forcibly cut out of conversations that ultimately affect us, conversations that lead to policy changes, conversations that have an impact on social attitudes, the more we’re going to kick and scream, because this is our fight, and these are our bodies.
We all play the hand we’re dealt. Not everyone gets a straight flush. I was dealt a gender that’s very much in conflict with the body I live in, but I have to make that body work for me, and over time, I’m working towards a state of acceptance and peace with it, rather than abject misery and hatred. Every time I’m reminded that I’m ‘really’ a woman because of my body and then told thirty seconds later to shut up because I’m not a woman, the whiplash reminds me that people desperately want to stick me in a box somewhere and make me shut up.
Because I say things that make people uncomfortable. I say things that people dislike. I say things that, ultimately, challenge notions of gender, bodies, identity, and society. And many of those things cut to the core of the stability of cis identities, challenging what cis women have believed their whole lives. I am forcing new ways of knowing on them. I don’t mean to erode their sense of self and their security in their gender, but that’s how I’m perceived, for existing in this body but not identifying with it, and thus I must be silenced at all costs, because the consequences of listening to me are too terrifying.
I am forced to ask this: If you think genderqueer people don’t have a stake in gender politics, what the hell are you smoking?