binarism -- myths and reality
April 23, 2013
The pieces of how i conceive of binarism are sort of spread out amongst various posts. But, based on a twitter convo, it is time to make a single post that ties in all of these elements together.
Before I start, I’m going to get these statements out of the way:
- Any white person invoking binarism as something they experience is transmisogynist.
- It is categorically impossible for any trans feminine Indigenous and/or Person of Colour to be ‘binarist’.
- Binarism should be properly understood as a sub-privilege of whiteness, with a focus on gender.
Okay. I once wrote a post about the connection between the gender binary and colonialism. The major takeaway for this post is that the ‘binary’ is best understood as one of the many colonial tools white people used to subjugate, colonize, kill, etc. Indigenous and/or People of Colour the world over.
White non-binary people attempt to make a claim that binarism is primarily about gender, that any and all binary people have privilege over them and, conversely, are participants in a system that oppresses non-binary people. This, of course, is complete and total bullshit. It is especially bullshit because you often see these (often dfab) non-binary white people weaponize this concept against trans women. Which is, of course, transmisogynist. Even the assertion that non-binary dfab trans people experience a similar type of ‘binarism’ to dmab non-binary people is transmisogynist.
But if I’m correct about the binary being an important part of colonialism and gender oppression in general, then the other take away is that all white people benefit from the binary, inasmuch as they benefit from colonialism.
The binary as a construct of whiteness, as needed upon the moment that white settlers and colonizers encountered Indigenous people embodying genders that were largely incoherent to them. The binary became necessary at this point so that they could: first, conceptualize these unknown and incoherent genders, second, that once ‘understood’ they could work to eradicate these genders.
Note: this is the birth of transmisogyny as well. Since, as we know from history, white people at these early stages and for centuries to come and up to now, where entirely and completely focused on the trans feminine. It is our bodies they recorded into their travelogues, our bodies the examined so that they could determine who we were (hint: men wearing women’s clothing!!!), it is our bodies that they began to leverage essentialized notions of what it is to be a man or woman, our bodies that they sought to destroy and erase from history (even as they maintained their lurid curiousity).
White people needed a strictly enforced binary in order to dislocate people with indigenous genders from the roles we held in our communities. And it was absolutely necessary that this occur because, for many of the communities, people embodying these genders often had some spiritual function. The importance of religion both at this point in history and right now should not be misunderstood. Spiritual leaders/participants/practitioners have always held power. Christianity (often catholicism) is and was major component of the colonial enterprise. And it was necessary as a means of control over indigenous populations.
So. We are talking about the birth of the binary and transmisogyny. Important to remember that we are talking about the birth of the institutions established to oppress people. And to privilege some over others. Not talking about the birth of the concepts themselves.
What does all of this mean in terms of today?
Well, white people being what they are, have created a notion of binarism that claims that people embodying ‘binary’ genders have institutional power/privilege over people who do not embody a ‘binary’ gender.
And, of course, this ahistorical notion of binarism ends up positioning the people whom are most impacted by transmisogyny as somehow oppressive to people who are, in many cases, not impacted by transmisogyny at all. This is absurd. And it is also not just transmisogynist in its own right, but racist.
There is literally no conceivable way to frame a Black and/or Latin@ trans woman as somehow wielding privilege over non-binary white people. In fact, framing a IaoPoC trans woman as ‘binary’ or ‘non-binary’ is white supremacist.
Because, the binary as tool of oppression is not about legitimizing binary genders over non-binary genders, in a general sense, but about legitimizing a white notion of manhood and a white notion of womanhood. And, in turn, this is inextricably tied to who is considered ‘human’ and who isn’t.
There are only two kinds of human beings: white men and white women.
The binary serves to centre the white, colonial gender system. It serves to forcibly make it the comprehensive framework in which we view all gender. This is exactly why calling any trans feminine IaoPoC ‘binary’ or ‘non-binary’ is white supremacist. It forcibly places their genders inside a white gender system. It pushes forward the myth that IaoPoC genders are only comprehensible within whiteness. That, otherwise, these genders do not exist.
So. What of ‘binary’ privilege? How can we conceptualize it with this history in mind and with an understanding of what the binary is for?
I mentioned above that I consider ‘binary privilege’ to be a subset of white privilege, as such all white people benefit from it.
Yes. I am including non-binary white people. To be very explicit:
white non-binary people benefit from the binary.
Of course, this also means that binary white people likewise benefit.
If the binary is, in part, what legitimizes the white gender system as being the only valid why to conceptualize and articulate gender, then all white genders achieve legitimacy within this system that is impossible for any trans feminine IaoPoC.
This is why, the womanhood of binary white trans women is more legitimate than the womanhood of a trans woman of colour.
But note: this is also how white non-binary genders obtain greater legitimacy than a putatively ‘binary’ trans woman of colour.
White non-binary genders, being helpfully entrenched within the white gender system, are coherent in ways that IaoPoC gender never is.
The above is exactly how and why non-binary white people have been able to leverage and weaponize ‘binarism’ against trans feminine people of colour. Because while, sure, they can likely make some claim that their identities are not considered legitimate in relation to a binary cis person, but that doesn’t change the fact that their identity is more legitimate than a ‘binary’ trans woman of colour.
So, to answer a question about the notion that only cis genders are legitimate and trans genders are not, yes. Of course this is true. But, when we consider the intersection of race, we must also understand that there are gradations of illegitimacy.
A cis white person’s gender is legitimate.
A white trans woman’s gender is illegitimate.
A white non-binary person’s gender is also illegitimate.
A trans woman of colour’s gender is less legitimate than both the white cis person, the white trans woman, and the white non-binary person.
Which answers another question. A white trans woman has no systemic privilege over a white non-binary person. But both of them do have systemic privilege over a trans woman of colour. And, yes, while we can simply reduce this white privilege – which I’m totally fine with, it should not be forgotten that one of the privileges of whiteness is having a gender that is defacto more legitimate and more coherent because of the binary framework in which it necessarily exists.
To put in another way, binary privilege is that part of white privilege in which allows white people to continuously centre their genders and their voices.
Binarism, thus, is also a white trans woman acting as if her experiences with transmisogyny are equivalent to that of a Black and/or Latin@ trans woman’s, despite the piles of evidence that white trans women are not experiencing the most violent and damaging expressions of transmisogyny.
Binarism, thus, is also a white non-binary person using claims of ‘binarism’ to excuse their transmisogyny.