On The Struggle and Visibility of Non-Binary Folks

Trans and Non-binary people on a couch taking a selfie together.
The following was the result of a comment brought to the Sounds Like Trans Edu group. The original post, and my comments, have been edited for anonymity so they can be safely published. The original question was necessary to provide context for my response.

Question:

I want to ask this question as gently and respectfully as I can because I’m really coming from a place of trying to be knowledgeable and learn. Does anyone feel like sometimes non-binary trans ppl can have some of the loudest voices/can occasionally talk over binary trans people? I’m curious because I wonder if sometimes people don’t realize how difficult it can be (especially with medically transitioning) to not feel completely othered? I’m just saying for example a binary trans person (specifically trans woc) who is medically transitioning goes out somewhere and they are automatically a target for violence even if they are trying to quietly blend in, while a non-binary trans person who dresses or looks more like they’re assumed gender they obviously will still get the same level of misgendering which is shitty and sucks but not the same level of violence. I guess for me personally I get really angry or upset that I have a hard time blending with cis men and feel hurt and afraid when I’m pointed out in public or clocked. 🤷🏽‍♂️ please teach me if I’m wrong and what specifically I’m wrong about.

 

My Response on Why Non-Binary Folks Might Seem Loud:

So.. here are my thoughts. Just from one binary trans person to another. I’m gonna do a lot of writing below about non-binary folks from my perspective as a binary trans person. I don’t know if I’m right about these things, all I know is my experience. I hope nothing I’m about to say below reads as harmful, antagonistic, or presumptive.

I think it’s easy for us to forget that there is trans culture, there’s binary trans culture, and there’s non-binary culture and that while these things broadly overlap in many areas (such as with medical concerns, for instance, or the red tape) but sometimes we have separate and distinct concerns, fears, and problems that can lead to us sorta.. talking past each other. And when we’re talking past each other the volume keeps getting louder because we just want to be heard. Right? We all want to be heard.

I don’t want to put words into the mouths of my non-binary friends so I am going to say what I observe here and why it might be that you’ve come to a place that you see that non-binary people seem to be extra loud (I’m not sure I agree that’s true, but let’s say for the moment that the observation has some merit, huh?)

If I were to go out right now and ask 1000 people what they thought a trans person was, the majority of them would describe… well… me. Many of those people might know that trans men exist, a lot of them wouldn’t. Some of them would have heard of non-binary people but they would have written them off as some kind of joke, fad, or fashion. Some of them would actually, genuinely, know about non-binary people and of that group a lot of those people would probably have very simplistic ideas about non-binary identities.

And I think that’s instructive.

Take a moment to think about that, really think about that. There’s me, a trans woman, who just wants to be able to live out my life as a woman and use the bathroom and be with my girls without harassment. And unless I am passing, BOY HOWDY am I visible. Right? It seems kinda like you experience a similar problem right?

But from where I sit, this is one of those areas where our non-binary friends have different problems. They are, largely, invisible and hidden under the cloak of others assumptions. Don’t think for a second that our non-binary friends experience no violence or even significantly less. The same violence that comes for me comes for our non-binary friends. They might think they’re beating up a “gay man” or a “lesbian woman” but that’s just an added insult on top of the invisibility. That’s even WORSE.

There is no spot to fit into for a non-binary person. You have manhood, I have womanhood. Both of us have all of these sorts of paths and concepts in existence for us. And if you’re agender, genderfluid, bigender, genderqueer, demi gender, or any other gender that falls under the non-binary arrangement there is.. nothing… except what you and other people like you carve out for yourselves. I feel like my non-binary friends are having to elbow and kick and push and shout just to even get acknowledged, let alone be SEEN.

Don’t you know how that feels? I’m sure, like me, you spent a LOT of time in the closet. You lived every day with the pain of nobody seeing YOU, right? Tell me that that’s not violent in its own right. But you and I? We had an extra dash of hope. We knew what being seen properly looked like. We had models for our femininity and masculinity. We just needed to move from this place to that one and when that would happen people would see us and we would finally get to LIVE right?

Do our non-binary friends have that same benefit? What’s waiting for them on the other side of visibility? The answer to that is whatever they make, because there’s so precious little of it from before recently that people just don’t have a framework. Wouldn’t you be loud in that case? Wouldn’t you be forceful? Wouldn’t you talk over people because literally every part of your daily social experience is enduring various forms of invalidation, mischaracterization, and abuse? Would you quietly accept that?

I don’t think you would. And so our non-binary friends come to spaces where we also are, right, and it’s not like all of that gets left at the door when they come here. A lot of the times they’re bringing that frustration to these spaces very on purpose. And I’m gonna be straight up, it’s pretty easy for binary trans folks to kinda ignore non-binary folks so even then they come to these spaces trying to find some respite from all of that nonsense /out there/ and I can imagine that it doesn’t take much to trigger that reflex to be loud, to take space because none is on offer, and to demand visibility even in friendly spaces.

And I know that’s true and I know for you and I as binary trans people sometimes we say shit that seems absolutely sort of.. banal.. to us? And then some, not all, of our non-binary friends get kinda upset and we’re sitting there holding this bag of words and looking at them like “ok.. these all seem fine though?” And it’s very easy in that moment to get frustrated and to think as you’re expressing here. But as sensitive as you and I are to being misgendered, I think all of the non-binary folks I’ve met in the communities and had the luxury of talking to at length have also expressed a similar sensitivity for language of invisibility. What I mean by that is language that just… Disregards them?

I recently had an episode of this myself (that I am not looking to rehash here) where I said one thing thinking I was addressing one problem, but the language I used hit on this exact same sore spot. As a result I’m sitting there holding a hand full of what I THOUGHT was me talking about one thing and not realizing how I’d managed to participate in that narrative. The result was that we ended up talking past each other. I ended up doing some really great learning from the situation in private conversations elsewhere and I think I am more aware now of the implications of everyday language.

My point in saying all of this is that I’m hearing that you are frustrated. I’m not sure what prompted this exact moment of frustration for you and also it’s kind of beside the point because you didn’t bring that here, you brought your frustration here. And I think in your frustration you’ve used some language that doesn’t really help have a good conversation. Lots of non-binary folks medically transition in different ways, many will full on transition medically every bit as much as you or I will. Many will not.

There are some non-binary folks I know who are, like you said, loud and presumptive and outright hostile. But you know what? I can name, personally, 6 or 7 binary trans women who are the exact same way. Literally I can name more hostile, aggressive, antagonistic trans women than I can non-binary folks who are the same. I don’t know that this is something that’s necessarily specific to one’s gender identity in the way you’re observing.

I get hurt and afraid about being clocked, too. This is just one of those areas where all trans people have the same concern: “I want to be seen in my gender, appropriately” but the roadblocks to us getting there are very different and require very different solutions and conversations.

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