Editorial Letter: Being Somewhere in Between Binaries

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Hooray, it is LGBTQ+ History Month. This is held every year up and down the country to recognise the history and progress that has been made for LGBTQ+ rights since the Stonewall Riots in 1969. It is celebrated around the world, in June in the US (when the Stonewall Riots occurred), and in February in the UK to mark the repeal of Section 28 in 2003 (more on that later).

The Stonewall riots are considered by many to be the foundation of the modern day fight for the rights of queer people. The Stonewall Inn based in Greenwich Village in Manhattan, New York was raided by the police in the early hours of June 28th.

Police raids occurred frequently as a way to antagonise queer people who were open. However this time a group of queer people, led by transgender women-of-colour Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, fought back. Bricks were thrown, police cars turned over. Eventually a crowd of 500-600 people faced off against an armed police force.

The incident, which made the news, made queer people realise that if they refused to hide, the media would have no choice but to cover them. These led to the first pride marches in New York the following year and London in 1972 continuing theme of protest over the years.

Since then, rights have slowly been won from the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in Scotland and Northern Ireland in the 1980s to the right to serve openly in the armed forces, adopt, marry, have civil partnerships, making the age of consent equal and the introduction of LGBT+ inclusive education across the country. 

There were periods of regression, principally the introduction of Section 28 introduced under Margaret Thatcher and Thatcher’s inaction over the AIDS crisis that led to the deaths of thousands of LGBT+ individuals. There is also progress still to be made with fewer than 200 people pardoned for convictions that would now be classed as discriminatory, and the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), groundbreaking for its time under the Blair government, is in dire need of reform.

Speaking of the GRA, our concepts of gender and sexuality are forever changing as we move further into the 21st century. Binaries that once seemed rigid are not becoming ever more blurred as we continue to change the way we think about the roles of men and women. Now some are certainly buckling down and argue there are only two genders.

However there’s a slight crux in trans-exclusionary arguments. By arguing that women and men are polar opposites with no in-betweens, they ignore the reality that the world has shifted over the last century from women in the domestic and men in the workplace. Some women now work, some men now stay at home.

There’s over 7 billion people in the world and it would be odd too if they all fitted into two clear camps. To argue they do ignores the fact that intersex people very much do exist and any procreational arguments to exclude transwomen will also exclude any women who are infertile.

Even arguing chromosomes are an indicator of sex is faulty because genetics tells us only certain genes are activated and some lack a chromosome or have an extra one. As Anne Fausto-Sterling, a leading biology and gender studies professor said in the New York Times: 

“What matters, then, is not the presence or absence of a particular gene but the balance of power among gene networks acting together or in a particular sequence. This undermines the possibility of using a simple genetic test to determine ‘true’ sex.”

Science tells us that there are several stages when it comes to defining sex and therefore things get messy along the way. If sex is messy, then that must also mean gender is messy too.

I’ve been on a personal journey the last few months and it’s definitely one for the better. It’s something I’ve struggled with for years I think but in a similar way to my acceptance of my sexuality, I blocked out any contemplation that I might be somewhere in-between male and female. Struggling to write something for once feels weird. People never talk about coming out as physically hard but it really is. You’ve spent so long keeping it inside you that it’s hard to finally state words that to others might seem so easy to say.

I wasn’t even conscious of it at the time and only now think about it in retrospect. I realise I continued to insist I was just an effeminate man even though the idea of being ‘a man’ was something I never truly felt comfortable with. It’s a weird one to be honest because for all intents and purposes, I appear to be male. If I usually dress in more masculine clothes, then surely by default I must also identify with the masculine.

However whenever I’d be at family events or with family friends and they’d comment on how I am a “handsome man” (I’m not trying to big myself up I promise), I’d always feel a sense of unease even though it is just a harmless compliment. At those social events, I’m not wearing a crop-top, I’m not wearing make-up. I’m not acting effeminate. The side I present there is only one side of me.

It was strangely through studying for my dissertation and analysing the elements of queerness in Janelle Monae and Beyoncé’s music, particularly the queering of genders, that my eyes were open to the fact I may be something other than a man. Here you had two artists who embodied aspects of both the masculine and feminine and advocated for a radical freedom of gender expression.

Just six years ago, it would be inconceivable that I’d be out and proud, accepted by my family and friends. It would have been even more inconceivable that I would no longer identify as a man. Heck I probably hadn’t even heard of the term ‘non-binary’. 

Not much has changed since I started identifying this way except the relationship I have with myself. I came out as gay five years ago and today I publicly announce I’m also non-binary. This is what I am and I’m not ashamed to say it. I’ve probably sunk my dating prospects for the near future (gay guys have a weird thing when it comes to masculinity). 

But you know what, identify however the fuck you want. At the end of the day, it doesn’t do any harm to anyone else and you’ve only got one life to live so you might as well as enjoy the best you can – by being yourself.

Oh and if anyone is wondering what my pronouns are, they’re still he/him – for now at least.

“Some people are born in the mountains, while others are born by the sea. Some people are happy to live in the place they were born, while others must make a journey to reach the climate in which they can flourish and grow. Between the ocean and the mountains is a wild forest. That is where I want to make my home.” – Maia Kobabe, Gender Queer

Background photo created by freepik – www.freepik.com