a quick FAQ for
December 28, 2014
this is meant to be a quick FAQ for #tpocrightsnow. what its about and why it happened.
1. Who started it?
2. Why was it started?
Well… after this point, i can only speak for myself. and so… i”m only speaking for myself.
i caught wind of the #nbrightsnow tag after seeing some of @RayneSilas”s tweets criticising the hashtag for its whiteness1. so bc i wasn”t about to let sym deal with any blowback on syr own, i put in my initial tweets under the rubric of decolonize #nbrightsnow where i tweeted some links to blog posts i”ve written about teh binary and some critiques of the tag.
one of the things i remember in the tag was yt ppl saying how it was a shame that they only learned about the existence of nb genders online…. and, i have to say that i sort of have a similar experience.
except, for me, what i learned online was that all my life the yt trans community (both binary and non) had been thinking it included people like me. except… what i saw was neatly described in “romancing the transgender native”, wherein they write:
This essay offers a critical examination of how “third gender” concepts are used in popular American writing by and about transgendered people. Over the past decade there has been an increase in the popular use of cross-cultural examples to provide legitimacy to transgender movements in the United States…These days, however, anthropological accounts of “third gender” variation are used frequently by popular writers such as Kate Bornstein and Leslie Feinberg…to buttress the argument that Western binary gender systems are neither universal nor innate.2
literally the very first blog post i ever wrote was an exploration of how hegemonic white trans discourse both cannot account for indigenous genders (while claiming to include us AND using our historical existence to legitimize their own discourse and identities) and also participates in the colonization of indigenous gender systems by imposing a conceptual framework that forces us to conceptualize oursleves within it.
so. sure. let”s talk about erasure and invisibility. which beyond policy issues like public accommodations appeared to be the two main complaints of the white nonbinary ppl in the tag.
can we talk about how the current nonbinary movement (which, yes, finds its roots in writers like Leslie Feinberg and Kate Bornstein) has always used indigenous genders and transgender natives as rhetorical props for their super transgressive and edgy gender rebellions?
can we talk about how this encapsulates the settler logic of indigenous genocide by relegating indigenous genders to a distant temporal or geographical past so that white nonbinary genders can thus become ‘native” themselves?
how even the assertion of a white nonbinary gender identity reifies the colonial logic of the gender binary that necessarily depends on the total and complete erasure (death) of indigenous gender systems3?
can we talk about how all of this leads to a situation where i can literally open up a white anthropology textbook that claims that people who embody my gender are all extinct? that we just… idk. succumbed to the violence of white supremacy and no longer exist. how i can read this as a living and breathing human being but a white person with a phd is able to wave their hands and suddenly i”m just a ghost of the past.
this? THIS is erasure. and it isn”t even the worst kind via colonization and the destruction of indigenous gender systems.
i can at least learn about the history of my gender. i still have a name for it. i know lots of iaopoc who don”t. who have to struggle with a colonially imposed language of some kind to articulate the incoherent and the impossible. all the while having to listen to white ppl (trans, cis, binary, nonbinary) tell them/us that we don”t exist. but not just that… that is impossible that we could exist. some of us might have once existed, but this is no longer possible….
and this is just dealing with regular old society.
then we try and engage/interact with trans ppl (again, binary and nonbinary). it is actually worse trying to deal with white nonbinary ppl than it is with binary trans ppl. you know why? bc at least when i”m trying to engage white binary trans ppl i never have to worry about them going “oh, i identify as two spirited!” or “i”m third gender!” or “i”m a ladyboy!”.
one might think that erasure like this, so complete that it precludes my existence to begin with, that i”d also deal with the ~invisibility~ so bemoaned by the yt (mostly afab) nb ppl in the tag. but, alas, this isn”t the case. instead i have to deal with hypervisibility. but maybe just read my post on nonbinary invisibility. the sad thing is, is that my gender does have the sort of state recognized legitimacy that white nb ppl so crave, but what this means in surveillance and a target. a sort of hypervisibility which is reflected in the body count and demographics of tdor.4
but of course… #nbrightsnow doesn”t care about any of this.
instead… as the originator of the tag said over and over again it was about seeking legal, medical, and social recognition/legitimacy. While they were somewhat able to recognize that seeking such legitimacy from a genocidal settler state was a tad problematic, they also strongly felt that in the short term these things were necessary…
which, sure, i guess…
except that this (and the tag in general) doesn”t really account for the ways that nb ‘rights” are actually advancing faster than ‘binary” rights.
as the person who moderates @GirlsLikeUsNews, i read a lot of trans news. I mean… piles of it. and i see even more headlines. and seeing the way that the news and policy is changing lets me know that most of the (white) ppl posting in the #nbrightsnow tag don”t actually know what is happening and why it is happening.
across the us, there are increasingly more school jurisdications which are developing trans policies for washrooms, changerooms, sports, and other single-sex activities/spaces within school. overall, the predominant way to address the ~trans problem~ for most of these places is to create gender neutral/unisex spaces that all trans ppl have to use, including the binary trans kids.
do u know why this is the solution? bc most of these schools are trying to satisfy the legal requirement to not discriminate while ensuring that binary trans girls do not get tot use the girls facilities or play on girls’ sports teams.
in a lot of cases, this is what is happening, which means that a lot of the times the advancement of ‘nb rights” comes from trans bathroom panic about men in dresses in women”s spaces.
this is likewise true (but from a different angle) for some of the countries that have started allowing ‘x”s on passports or birth certificates.
australia was heralded as a big trans win when they allowed an ‘x” marker for passports… except that this was for people with proven intersex conditions and explicitly not for trans ppl. the Intersex lobby in australia is more powerful than the trans one and part of how they achieve their goals is by mobilizing white pathologizing/medical discourse and transmisogyny. this is also true of germany (where they allow ‘x”s on birth certificates for Intersex infants).5
i bring all of this up so that we can better understand what it means to uncritically demand #nbrightsnow. this demand without any critical context and the nature of the demands (we want gender neutral things!) is actually something that is already being pushed forward as a way to further marginalize trans women.
more to the point, the demand for #nbrightsnow without any clear understanding about how or even if the rights desired are substantively unique or distinct enough to make the demand coherent in the first place just ends up relying on the pre-existing (transmisogynist) framework for acheiving those rights.
the thing that always gets me about white nb ppl”s attempts to situate themselves as a marginalized group (ie, oppressed by ‘binary” ppl) is that they utterly fail to describe any experience which is actually unique to being nonbinary. Literally every single claim made in #nbrightsnow is also true of binary trans ppl. moreover, white nonbinary ppl”s attempt at claiming a unique marginalization fails to include any substantive analysis of power (if it did, they would stop saying that binary trans wonen of colour are their oppressors, bc this is a false claim that fails to hold up under any serious scrutiny if one is looking for power imabalances).
of course, saying all of this will get white nonbinary ppl screaming ERASURE at me. which is interesting bc the thrust of what i”m saying is that their experiences are just as legitimate and real as any binary trans persons bc they belong the same general class of ‘how trans ppl experience oppression in a cissexist/cisnormative culture”. according to white nonbinary ppl, it is erasure to deny their claims of exceptionalism.
even though the cost of admitting white nonbinary exceptionalism is the ontological erasure i pointed out earlier of indigenous genders.
if i allow that white nonbinary ppl have a unique experience of trans oppression, then i must admit that i don”t exist. except that i do exist, thus white nonbinary ppl”s experiences aren”t unique or defining. classic modus tollens.
in a different way… this should also answer the question why race should ALWAYS be at the forefront when discussing nonbinary gender. since we know from history that the binary, as normative oppressive force, was constructed as a response to white colonial encounters with indigenous genders (and their systems), discussions about the binary are always already about race. the binary cannot be coherently discussed without understanding its role in white supremacy and colonialism.
white nonbinary exceptionalism depends on an ahistorical and race blind conception of the binary. which also means that white nonbinary exceptionalism is just a different tale of white mythology and an instantiation of white supremacy.
Towle, Evan B., and Lynn Marie Morgan. "Romancing the Transgender Native: Rethinking the Use of the' Third Gender' Concept.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 8, no. 4 (2002): 469–97.↩
And, yes, by referencing the entire system, i do mean to include those genders that white nonbinary ppl identify as ‘binary" in iaopoc cultures, even as the white assertion that there are iaopoc ‘binary" and ‘nonbinary" genders is an act of colonial white supremacy↩
Speaking from my personal context, of course. i"m a settler in canada but in the past four/five years, the two murdered trans ppl here were SE Asians, one Filipina. The PH also has, for Asia, one of the highest murder rates for trans women (Turkey and India as well). In the US it is predominantly Black and/or Latina trans women. Globally, most of the deaths happen in Brazil (usually around half of the women lost every year) where they are, again, Black and/or Latina. ↩
one of the things i find most interesting about the ways that i see white trans ppl (binary or non) discuss pushing forward this sort of putatively nb inclusive policy is that few of them ever seem to mention places like Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Argentina. But whatever. Who cares what the poc are doing, amirite? since we are automatically less civilized whatever happens in poc countries is irrelevant for white trans ppl. ↩</fn></footnotes>