Over the course of the past few months, there have been a series of unpleasant exchanges regarding the status of nonbinary individuals in the transgender community. There have been claims that the Transgender National Alliance “hates nonbinary people,” and what follows is a response to that claim.
In Whipping Girl, Julia Serano states that the term transgender is useful as a political tool, but is simultaneously problematic in that it is “too vague of a word to imply much commonality between individual people’s identities, life, experiences, or understandings of gender” (2007:26). This loose and vague definition, sometimes experienced as one size fits none, is at the heart of all of these emotional exchanges.
At the intersection of queer, transgender, and feminist theories and politics, there are lively discussions happening about the gender binary. Should trans people strive to shatter the binary? For many, the answer to that question is a solid and resounding yes. This radical position is often valorized (through a practice that Serano refers to as “subversivism”), positioning those who want to exist within the binary as conservative – with all of the negative connotations that term can invoke. Neither of these positions should be valorized over the other. Neither is more or less deserving of protections under the law or access to healthcare, and the Transgender National Alliance is committed to providing aid to any transgender individual who requests services, binary or not. Nonetheless, it still holds that there are vast differences in the lives of various people who fit under the transgender umbrella, and sometimes their goals will be in opposition to one another. We believe there should be a safe and respectful community dialogue around these differences and apologize for not promoting that discussion properly.
Rather than simply focusing on the differences between us, we also recognize the issues all of us face. Binary and non-binary people alike face sexism, gender entitlement, and transphobia. They are the true driving force behind the opponents of HERO, not an individual’s presentation, and we are aware that simply promoting respectability politics will not put a stop to these issues. We are in agreement with the following strategy put forth by Julia Serano:
I argue that, rather than focusing on “shattering the gender binary” – a strategy that invariably pits gender-conforming and non-gender-conforming people against one another – we work to challenge all forms of gender entitlement (i.e. when a person privileges their own perceptions, interpretations, and evaluations of other people’s genders over the way those people understand themselves). After all, the one thing that all forms of sexism share – whether they target females, queers, transsexuals, or others – is that they all begin with placing assumptions and value judgments onto other people’s gendered bodies and behaviors. (2007:9)
We hope that you will also work to challenge all forms of gender entitlement with us.
Yours in Solidarity,