Why we’re all non-binary…
April 14, 2014 § 23 Comments
…and that doesn’t stop people from being women and men.
A rewind, and a few words of explanation. I’d just finished writing an article on gender plurality for a feminist website, and was browsing my twitter feed, simultaneously talking to a friend about people labelling their genders ‘binary’ and ‘non-binary’. Twitter was full of people debating the differences between ‘binary’ and ‘non-binary’ and that, and the article, and the personal conversation – left me feeling somewhat sad – and also angry and in fear of misrepresentation.
Increasingly, I’m seeing an oppositional standpoint develop between people who call themselves ‘non-binary’ and people who call themselves’ binary’. Sometimes with an awareness of the problems of dichotomy – sometimes nearly indistinguishable from the ‘women are like this/men are like that’ sophistry. And, as I have said before, and will say again – if my gender, my self, has no name in a binary system – if a binary system does not allow for my existence, and the existence of people like me, then either I cannot exist or that system cannot exist. And, as much as any human can be sure of it, I’m fairly sure that I exist.
That is why I would say that all genders are ‘non-binary’ – not in the slightest because that means that all people should or could describe themselves as ‘NB’ in the way it’s used as a gender marker and identity label – but because, to allow for people with genders other than male or female, we cannot have only two options. In this plural model, all genders are ‘non-binary’ in the same way that a rainbow is ‘non-binary’ – because it is more than red and blue, not because red and blue are not valid colours within it.
A non-binary universe means that there is space for everyone – and that everyone is equally valid within that space. When a binary system is set up with ‘allowances’ for people like me, for ‘exceptions’, then I am denied the universality that comes through our common humanity. My gender is not an optional extra. How my body and my mind and my words travel through this world is not something to be tacked on at the side because it couldn’t be slotted neatly into an available system.
And, yet, it is more than this. Because I don’t want to dismantle the binary gender system for my sole benefit, or only for the benefit of those nominally like me – it needs to be dismantled for all of us. I am not more unique in who I am and how I could be described than a woman or a man. I am no more deserving of the freedom to define myself to the world, and back to myself, and explore what I mean. How can a system with only two options capture the infinite variety expressed by the words ‘men’ and ‘women’? Let alone a binary, each of the those words is constantly exploding with new categories, new definitions. I don’t know how to respond when someone calls themselves as ‘binary’ man or woman – because what are they referring to? Which period of human history, which culture, has such a categorical definition of womanhood or manhood – and nothing else – that we could use that term in that way?
My mother is a woman, and I am androgynous – and yet our genders are just as rich and complex, and dynamic, as each others’. We share similarities, we share differences – we are both constantly growing and changing, and the language we use can only ever signpost the richness of who we are. I don’t want to be set in opposition to her, or anyone else I love – I want to exist in a framework that allows us all the space we need for difference and the connections we maintain in sharing, empathy, likeness of spirit.
If we allow for a system in which we are all valid, all equals, then you don’t need to use the word ‘binary’ to defend yourself again me. My refusal of the words ‘men’ and ‘women’ is not an insult directed at your usage of them – but I will not reify your centrality with my supposed outsider status. And I will not take one man’s definition of manhood’s over another’s as ‘more real’, ‘more manly’ – or vice versa. Each person’s usage is precious to them, as mine is to me – and it can genuinely be as simple as that, if we want it to be.
So, I suppose, more accurately – it’s not so much ‘we’re all non-binary’ as ‘we all exist in a non-binary universe’ – the possibilities are endless, increasing exponentially which each new person in the world. I don’t want to deny or police or suppress anyone within that – I want to dismantle our current enforced binary system until we reach the starting point of everything and nothing. And then the rest is up to us.