International Non-Binary Peoples Day
July 14 – the internet tells me it's time to observe the annual International Non-Binary People’s Day.
What does non-binary mean? It’s a gender identity but also an umbrella term for gender identities and gender expressions that are outside of the binary of two culturally expected and socially enforced genders (read: man/woman (1)).
Some of these gender identities and expressions include genderfluid, genderqueer, genderfucked, agender, androgyne, gender non-conforming, gender variant, bigender, pangender, demigender, two-spirit (2).
Nestled directly between International Women’s Day and International Men’s Day, it started as a suggestion in a blog post by Katje van Loon over a decade ago but was picked up by Human Rights Campaign a few years later to increase visibility and awareness of non-binary genders.
Rather than unpacking the day itself (or the admission that the ‘creator’ now thinks they/them pronouns suck because grammar – WTF?), let’s use the opportunity to discuss some very modern roots of genderfuckery. This isn’t to minimize the pre-colonial histories of gender variance of Indigenous communities or non-Western cultural expressions of Third Genders, but to trace a teeny bit of the immediate lineage of non-binary identity and why in 2023 there is a day where there is more black, purple, yellow, and white on social media.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, especially with postmodern feminist writing, queer communities began deconstructing gender in a manner that started naming variant gender expressions beyond typifying a rigidity of masculine expressions of women and feminine expressions of men. Instead, queering gender challenged the naturalized idea of and either/or binary in new ways.
Riki Wilchins, activist and editor of GenderQueer: Voices Beyond the Sexual Binary, wrote in 1995: “The fight against gender oppression has been joined for centuries, perhaps millennia. What’s new today is that it’s moving into the arena at open political activism. And nope, this is not just one more civil rights struggle for one more narrowly-defined minority. It’s about all of us who are genderqueer: diesel dykes and stone butches, leatherqueens and radical fairies, nelly fags, crossdressers, intersexed, transsexuals, transvestites, transgendered, transgressively gendered, and those of us whose gender expressions are so complex they haven’t even been named yet. Maybe us genderqueers feel it most keenly because it hits us each time we walk out the front door openly and proudly.”
Cultural reinforcements of a strict gender binary function to oppress every-body that does not fit, but also damages cisgender and transgender folks through prescriptions of doing gender ‘right’. This is inextricable from patriarchy but unfortunately, some early feminist adopters of non-binary and genderqueer did so at the expense of transwomen.
Beyond the binary is a political mode of approaching the world and disrupting the power and oppression of cisgender, heterosexual, patriarchal assumptions about modes of being. It should never discount gender identities and expressions that feel authentic to people.
So, on a not so auspicious day of non-binary visibility and representation, here’s some things you might want to know. A recent study by The Trevor Project found that about 1 in 4 queer youth (ages 13-24) identify as non-binary, so if you aren’t already interacting with non-binary people, you likely will.
Don’t read this a do/don’t guide, but me sharing things in an impersonal way like they are universals when they are just my own experiences with coming out as genderqueer (including times I wished people who love me would do better).
- Gender is complicated and the only thing you need to know about it is believe people when they tell you things about themselves and do what they ask.
- Sometimes gender is also fluid so what feels good changes. This can include gender presentations, pronouns, names, and anything else that expresses gender.
- Under no circumstances should you make other’s disclosures about yourself or your feelings. You might need to process things but do that in a different space. It’s unlikely that the person who has been incredibly vulnerable with you is interested in handholding you through what their gender means for you.
- Respect pronouns. Try. Fuck up occasionally but please no "oops! I'm trying but give me a few months/years/arbitrary amount of time because I can't wrap my head around this thing you are telling me."
- Don’t overemphasize what a great ally you are and say you aren’t going to get it wrong ever. Because that makes it harder for people who care about you to point out when you have.
Happy International Non-Binary People’s Day!
1 Not to be confused with intersex (people who are born with genitals, chromosomes, and/or reproductive organs that don’t fit into the male/female biological sex binary).
2 Two-spirit is a term that was created in 1990 at a pan-Indigenous community gathering on Turtle Island that disrupts colonial understandings of the gender binary and honors histories of gender variance in pre-colonial culture and ceremony.