[CW: Extreme Transphobia, Genderqueer Erasure, Suicide, Dysphoria, Misgendering]
Societal progress in terms of LGBTQ+ issues still has a long way to go. This is especially true when it comes to non-binary and genderqueer individuals – those whose gender identity is neither strictly male nor strictly female. We still face huge hurdles in a world of people who grew up thinking there were only two genders. And a lot of those people still think so to this day. With increased focus on transgender issues and politics, it might be time to talk more about what specifically it is that has to change in society for genderqueer people.
10. Ending Online Harassment and Invalidation of Genderqueer People
The comparison of our identities to attack helicopters or other absurdities is something I’ve reluctantly gotten used to. Being told that our gender is “made-up” and “not real” and that we’re not really allowed to label ourselves as trans (by prominant binary trans people, as well) is almost an inherent part of online discourse for non-binary people. Which is sad enough. What I didn’t expect, however, is to see memes about why I and others like me belong in gas chambers. The disdain for trans people in general often revolves about them allegedly being “mentally ill ” “ugly,” and deserving of death. For instance, take a look at this reddit screenshot taken from r/genderqueer:
More specifically, the invalidation of genderqueer people online focusses on the perceived absurdity of their identitites. The most prominent example for this wide-spread meme is this copypasta:
“I sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter. Ever since I was a boy I dreamed of soaring over the oilfields dropping hot sticky loads on disgusting foreigners. People say to me that a person being a helicopter is Impossible and I’m fucking retarded but I don’t care, I’m beautiful. I’m having a plastic surgeon install rotary blades, 30 mm cannons and AMG-114 Hellfire missiles on my body. From now on I want you guys to call me “Apache” and respect my right to kill from above and kill needlessly. If you can’t accept me you’re a heliphobe and need to check your vehicle privilege. Thank you for being so understanding.”
That genderqueer identities sound absurd to others, however, is not our fault. The notion that these identities therefore deserve less respect is just an arbitrary and discriminatory value judgement. And, for many individuals, it makes accepting themselves, living as themselves, and sometimes not killing themselves much more difficult.
9. Dismantling Stereotypes about Genderqueer People
Gendered stereotypes hurt genderqueer individuals in several ways. First, many of us, me included, appear to others as gender non-conforming cis people. A lot of the discrimination non-binary individuals face works on the basis of this wrong assumption. The disdain for, for instance, effeminite men, of course has its origins in homophobia and toxic ideas about masculinity.
Second, stereotypes about people with non-binary gender identities are currently emerging and already rampant in certain online circles. The idea is that non-binary people are just white, tomboyish teenage girls on Tumblr “making up” new genders. Along with that goes a preconceived notion of what genderqueer people usually look like: AFAB (assigned-female-at-birth), thin, androgynous. That this is far from accurate for the entirety of the genderqueer community. It’s important to keep in mind that there is not “the one” way non-binary people can look like and that a lot of us “pass as cis”.
8. Ending Workplace/Social/Police Discrimination of Genderqueer People
Not only are genderqueer individuals less likely to be promoted due to their identity, but also reportedly 19% of them have already lost a job on that basis and they are more likely to be out of work than other trans people. Bias seems to exist among employers towards both the genders and the gender expressions in question. Steps are already being taken to combat workplace discrimination. However, the current situation is in no way acceptable for non-binary people.
The same thing can be said in regards to other societal sectors. Genderqueer individuals, even compared to other trans individuals, are more likely to be affected by police brutality. As part of the LGBTQ+ community, they are often more likely than members of other minority groups to be victims of hate crimes. Some possible solutions are stricter nondiscrimination laws and guidelines for employers, as well as education, sensibility training and other methods to ensure awareness and prevent assaults.
7. Gender Neutral Bathrooms
On their official website, the LGBTQ Center at Vassar College states:
“There are many students (trans students, gender-nonconforming students, etc.) who feel safer and are better represented by gender-neutral bathrooms. In addition to psychological affects such as anxiety and fear of harassment, students who feel unsafe in single-gender bathrooms can risk UTIs and other medical problems. All students are at their best academically and socially when they can access safe spaces on campus, and increasing the number of gender neutral bathrooms is a way to provide more safety. Further, Vassar’s non-discrimination policy includes gender identity and expression as a protected class, and gender neutral bathrooms are one way we live up to that policy.”
An alternative to this could be to do away with gender seperation in bathrooms completely. A feminist or queer activist argument against this could be to point out that important safe spaces for women and genderqueer people would then disappear. On the other hand, though, unisex bathrooms could, on the long term, normalize the idea of challenging gender roles and arbitrary divisions.
6. Medical Transition Options for Genderqueer People
Medical professionals, legislators and health insurance providers still tend to think in very binary patterns when it comes to transitioning. Requirements for insurance coverage of, for instance, surgery, might include having lived as the “opposite” gender for a certain amount of time. Needless to say, these standards are often hard or impossible to meet for non-binary people. In various countries, enbies (non-binary people) are forced to pay for surgeries or hormone replacement therapy from their own pockets. This is despite these procedures being a medical necessity to alleviate their dsyphoria.
And that precisely is why they should be available to anyone who needs them, regardless of gender and class. While generally the situation is improving for binary trans people, it remains hard for genderqueer individuals to be seen as “qualified.” With rigid guidelines on what “real trans people” look and act like, oriented on a cliché binary narrative, they often fall through the cracks. There are AFAB genderqueer people who only want or need top surgery. For others, it helps to get on low does of testosterone. The gender spectrum allows for a wide variety of different experiences of body dysphoria. Society at large, but most importantly legislators and professionals, should take this into account.
5. Diverse Gender Education in Schools
One of the reasons it often takes us years or decades to uncover our identities is that we grow up with the gender binary in mind. Without knowledge about identities beyond male and female, I never had an idea I could end up as genderqueer. Enbies are often criticized for having the internet, especially Tumblr, be their teacher. However, young genderqueer people educating themselves and each other is the logical consequence of a society in which neither your parents, nor your teachers will be able to tell you anything about non-binary genders.
When psychologists agree that gender is a nonbinary construct, it’s long past time this knowledge is passed on to the next generation through the educational system – but not just for the sake of accuracy. Helping queer youth come to terms with who they are is essential. So is teaching cis youth about the gender spectrum so they can help create an affirmative environment. Non-binary medical and social needs deserve awareness. Awareness will mostly come from education. This has nothing to do with indoctrination, just like sex ed addressing the existence of homosexuality doesn’t.
4. Positive Representation of Genderqueer People
Another way of creating public awareness and visiblity is to provide adequate representation in media. Discourse and representation often constricts what we take for granted as “common sense” about groups of people. Accordingly, the way genderqueer and non-binary people appear in TV shows, video games and even comic books is crucial for queer politics.
According to transmediawatch.org, 74% of the genderqueer individuals interviewed feel that the media “knows nothing” about what it is to be genderqueer. And 92% said genderqueer role models in media would have helped them when growing up. But non-binary representation is mostly nonexistent in the media. And some non-binary characters in fictions are just absurd caricatures, like All in Zoolander 2. There are rays of hope, however. I personally really enjoyed the approach that the Amazon show “Transparent” took, although others can disagree.
One of the genderqueer people polled by transmediawatch.org puts it best when they say:
“I think non-binary gender is a collection of identities that much of the public would be able to understand, and perhaps even identify with, if positive and accurate dialogue surrounding these identities was present in the media.”
3. Gender Neutral Pronouns and Language in Mainstream Usage
Just as with binary trans people, misuse of pronouns will often cause social dysphoria and minority stress for non-binary trans people. The normalization of pronouns like “they/them” is therefore essential. The traditionally used set of pronouns works pretty well with the assumed gender binary. But it fails to describe many individuals outside of it.
In some languages that can’t resort to gender-neutral singular pronouns that aren’t dehumanizing, this will take creativity. Or, more accurately, the willingness of mainstream society to use pronouns like “ze” and “hir” that trans communities have already come up with. But it doesn’t stop with pronouns. We need to rethink the way we use language, on a day to day basis, in general. It might not seem like a big deal to those not affected. But phrases like “Ladies and Gentlemen” appear incredibly alienating to people who are neither. Gender neutral language is a good way to try and do away with these alienating effects. It can also help reduce biases about gender we might have unwillingly perpetuated by use of gendered language.
2. Legal Recognition of Genderqueer People
German courts recently ruled that lawmakers are required to introduce a third gender option on birth certificate and other official documents. This is a huge step forward, especially for intersex people. Historically, legal recognition of their sex has been an indredibly urgent struggle, especially when taking into account gender and sex assignation at birth. Rarely do doctors or parents consider the possibility of a newborn baby not fitting into the categories of “biologically male” and “biologically female.” This is despite the fact that the frequency of intersex births, depending on the definition, could be as high as 2%.
But legal recognition is also crucial for non-binary people that aren’t intersex. Our identities are just as valid as those of men and women. It follows that they deserve the exact same treatment by the state. Just as with marriage equality, no law can, on it’s own, fix the large amount of societal stigma. But apart from being fundamentally just, it’s a step in the right direction. This type of legislation makes for good headlines and brings attention to the topic of gender and sex. It can pave the way to a society that, more often, recognizes us and our struggles.
1. General Public Awareness about Genderqueer People
Many of the previously mentioned goals rely on a broader understanding of the matter by mainstream society. While many social justice advocates are already doing a great job at spreading the word and western youth is learning immensely about gender, the average person above the age of 40 is still going to scratch their head at the mention of non-binary genders. This awareness, however, is pivotal for the fullfilment of virtually any political and social goal. If it leads to an understanding of our struggles and difficulties, that could have a measurable impact.
General awareness will make coming out easier. It will put pressure off of enbies to constantly have to explain and defend their identitites. It will make uncovering one’s own identity easier as more resources would be available. Additionally, it would drastically reduce minority stress and social dysphoria for countless individuals as affirmative language and attitudes would, at some point, find their way into the mainstream.
What yields hope in achieving this goal is that virtually everyone can take little steps to do so. Talk to your friends and family about the genders beyond “man” and “woman.” Appropriately educate your children. Point out and call out transphobia when you see it. Use correct pronouns and language for genderqueer people in your life. There is a lot to be done – and a lot of ways to help.