Back in August, an article was posted on Feminist Current that made me quite angry. The title alone was enough to set me off: Coming out as ‘non-binary’ throws other women under the bus. It shows the reader that what they’re about to read is surely going to be transphobic in nature.
The use of the word “other” is enough to highlight the transphobic tendencies of the author, who clearly has a lack of knowledge of non-binary genders. If the author, Susan Cox, had taken the time to research non-binary genders, she would be aware that AFAB (assigned female at birth) non-binary people aren’t women at all, instead identifying as no gender or a totally different gender.
From the outset, the article suggests that AFAB non-binary people are only coming out as such to try and shake off the patriarchy and oppression that women are forced to endure in society. “The non-binary declaration is a slap in the face to all women, who, if they haven’t come out as “genderqueer,” presumably possess an internal essence perfectly in-line with the misogynistic parody of womanhood created by patriarchy.” Simply coming out as non-binary doesn’t completely eradicate this oppression.
Non-binary people who are seen as female within society still face the oppression that comes with being viewed in such a way. There is also the oppression that being transgender brings. Being viewed as a woman by society but viewed as an outcast when you tell somebody of your transgenderism is by no means an easy way out.
A prime example of the oppression that non-binary transgender people face is that, from 2011-2015, transgender hate crimes rose in the UK by 170%. Compare this to a 10% rise in violent crimes against women in 2015-16 and you quickly realise that people aren’t escaping any harassment or violence by coming out as non-binary. It also needs to be pointed out that there has been a decrease in prosecution rates for hate crimes, leaving the transgender community feeling left behind by the justice system.
I’m by no means attempting to suggest that cisgender women face less oppression than that of non-binary transgender people. What I’m saying is that being a member of the transgender community in no way decreases the amount of oppression faced or experienced.
Non-binary people deal with not having their gender legally recognised. Many deal with not being covered by the 2010 Equality Act. They deal with having to choose between two bathrooms that don’t match their gender. They deal with having to decide between male and female on passports and other official documents when neither are an accurate description of themselves. Non-binary people are totally outcast and erased within our society. It could be argued that these things prove as difficult as oppressions faced by cisgender women.
“The recent trend of declaring oneself ‘non-binary’ seems to be another victory for Butlerian queer politics, wherein social reality has lost definitional shape and blurred into a mass of individuals who are supposedly ‘not men and not women.’” This an another example of Cox’s blind ignorance of the non-binary community.
Being non-binary is certainly not a trend and it is anything but recent. The non-binary community has been documented as existing for thousands of years, including during the time of the Ottoman empire with the third gender kocek being part of society. Sulawesi, Indonesia recognises five genders, while hijra is the third gender in India.
I also take issue with the statement that “social reality has lost definitional shape” which, of course, it hasn’t. The “shape” of society is still very much focused on people being male or female. That it has “blurred into a mass of individuals who are supposedly ‘not men and not women’” is a bold statement to make, given that only an estimated 0.4% of UK society identifies as non-binary. Hardly some large mass, is it?
“I can think of nothing more anti-feminist than an ideology that precludes the possibility of identifying and confronting patriarchal power, and instead individualizes oppression as though it is a ‘personal choice.’” Oppression certainly isn’t a personal choice. If somebody faces oppression – whether that oppression is due to being a woman or identifying as transgender – they can’t simply bow out of that oppression on a whim and choose not to face it. This goes back to my previous point that, if someone is viewed as a woman by society, they will still face the same oppressions that women face daily.
I would also like to say this: identifying as non-binary is by no means “anti-feminist”. I myself, as an AMAB (assigned male at birth) non-binary person, am an ardent feminist. I also know numerous AFAB non-binary people who describe themselves as feminists. Being non-binary doesn’t clash with feminist ideology, and in fact compliments it greatly. We want equal rights for all sexes and genders, just as feminists do! We live in a patriarchal society that disenfranchises anyone who isn’t white, male and cisgender. And it’s certainly about time that we did something to change that!
Non-binary people aren’t attempting to remove themselves from the oppression that women face, and it would be near impossible to remove themselves from such oppression. Oppression exists in our society in many shapes and forms, and if you’re in a minority group and you’re not facing one kind of oppression, you’re likely facing another. Oppression is experienced in very personal and very real ways, and Cox has no right to try and belittle non-binary people and claim that they are escaping female oppression – which, clearly, they are not.
People have a right to identify in whatever way matches them best. That might mean identifying as male or female. Agender or gender queer. Gay or straight. Bisexual or pansexual. However someone identifies, they have a right to do just that and should be left to do it in peace. Also, cisgender females and non-binary people could team up to overthrow the patriarchal system that still exists in society and to end gender oppression full stop. Together we could be quite the unstoppable, feminist, force.