Transgender liberation doesn’t need inclusion

Guest column by Landyn Pan, senior public relations and advertising major

Landyn Pan, senior public relations and advertising major

Transgender liberation does not mean inclusion into the current binary gender structure. It means breaking it.

Media, neo-liberal politicians and occasional well-intentioned allies love celebrating transgender progress in terms of inclusion: inclusion in gendered bathrooms, inclusion into Greek Life, inclusion on TV of very cis-passing transgender people. While these may affirm certain trans people who identify within the gender binary, much of the politics and advocacy surrounding trans people provide only short solutions that ignore the bigger picture of what continually harms us in the first place: the rigid gender binary. Even when non-binary identities are discussed on TV, the complexity and diverse possible meanings of this label are greatly oversimplified and nothing is said to honor, celebrate or encourage its beautiful process of continual redevelopment.

I’m non-binary and transmasculine, which means while I’m a masculine person who was female-assigned at birth and has undergone the physical transition to masculinize my body, I don’t identify with men and don’t see myself as part of that gender. My gender is its own category. As someone who has lived consciously through at least four gender identities so far, I will never feel truly free in a society where such a violent gender binary exists.

Being non-binary means being an automatic deviant. It means there are not enough words in the English language to fully describe varieties of identities and presentations, making it difficult for people to conceptualize non-binary without referencing the binary. Non-binary to those outside of the trans community is interpreted almost only as either a half female, half male, gender neutral split, or neither male nor female. It means erasure inside and outside the trans community as your identity gets ignored, misinterpreted, and misunderstood daily.

Even when I wanted to buy into the gender binary, the binary bit me back. Prior to discovering my non-binary identity, I lived for three years as a binary trans man. To be able to transition meant escaping from oppressive female gender roles and expectations that didn’t fit me, only to be trapped by yet another set of toxic rules.

The increasing frustration by the new policing of my gender, including by other trans men, made me re-evaluate. Not surprisingly, it was overwhelmingly white trans men who were most visible and vocal to me. They both received and gave praise to those who embodied white, western masculinity. The gap was made clearer by the racialization of my gender. Stereotypes have us believe that Asian men are feminine and Asian people, especially women, are quiet and docile. These too were cast onto me making it so I was often ignored in what was supposed to be my own community.

Several other Asian Pacific Islander trans men had confided in me their struggle to be seen as masculine enough according to the rules of our white dominated society or their fear of fitting into the Asian man’s stereotype too well if they display too much of their feminine interests and tastes. Being non-white, skinny and refusing to sell myself to hypermasculine culture, I did not fit into the mold of what was deemed an ideal trans man. I began to heavily distance myself from not just the community, but the identity itself.

I’ve never related with cisgender men, and now trans men were strangers too. My gender today, an experience generated through a combination of my Asian race, my queerness and my transness, is no one else’s but my own. And it is the most authentic and free I’ve felt in terms of gender in a long time. But, even with this small point of empowerment, I still can’t help but feel boxed in by the world around me.

The existence of the gender binary means that if I am read as a man, no matter what my identity is, I have to adhere to only one acceptable form of masculinity. I’m lumped together with too many kinds of men and masculine people I have no shared experience or thought-process with.

So when cis people ask what trans people need to feel safer and better, get this: I don’t want your validation. I don’t want to be “included” in your already-existing faulty systems that murders trans people and hurts cisgender people. I want you to deconstruct the current model of gender in our society and change it.

18 Comments

  • I was brought here through a friend sharing this and I just want to say thank you, Landyn. As a fellow non-binary transfemme of colour (half asian + mystery), I have felt very trapped by the binary. Your point about “now trans man were strangers too” brought up many emotions for me. After coming out, I found myself having immense difficulty being around trans folks who still believe in the binary and I found within my heart a deep heartache. While I have never been more me and happier, I still struggle to be in spaces that are made and kept binary.

    I live constantly in fear that I would get “called out” not only by cis-women but also binary trans-women. You wrote out everything I want to admit about inclusion of non-binary and the misguided idea that inclusion is good.

    You are right. I stand by your statement that we need to break these harmful standards because I like you, do not want to be “included” in these harmful systems. So from my fragile heart, thank you.

  • Is there a way for me to get in contact with the people who wrote and where written about in this article? I want to really get in touch with people who want to see change in the binary system. The break down and remodeling of it into something better for people.

    I also would love to get in direct contact with you, Fran De La Luna, a fellow (and so far the only other) commenter, well-wisher and nonconforming person.

  • I respect your opinion and honor your lived experiences. I am a trans woman who identifies to the binary–feminine. I just want to pose a provocative question to you as the author of this article: “school districts have told students like Gavin to use the all gender/gender neutral restrooms instead of using the gendered facilities consistent to their gender identity. These students, like Gavin, refused to do so and insist they should use the gendered facility as they are male or female, and should be affirmed that way. What is your position on that? Explain how your article does not take the position similar to those by the school districts?”

    Answer only if you feel comfortable. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • I’m not the author, but I think that anyone should be able to use the restroom that they feel the most comfortable/ best matches their gender. Hopefully schools will be adding more gender neutral options which would be available for anyone, but I don’t think anyone should be forced to use only gender neutral options.

  • My question to the writer and I can appreciate a response even privately if more convenient: “how about us trans men and women who identifies to the binary? Should we use the gender neutral restroom instead of using the gendered facilities appropriate to our gender identity? “Denial of authenticity” is one of the purest form of transphobia and deployed against us violently, including when we use gendered facilities. How is insisting we forgo of our male and female gender identities no amounting to “denial of authenticity”?

    • Use the restroom appropriate to your gender identity. People existing outside the binary is not an attack on you. Some people appreciate non-gendered restrooms. That doesn’t mean you have to use them.

  • Gender is in individual ownership. By advocating to change it by an order to society or advocate for some legislation, freedom aspect of it is erased. It is up to every individual to decide if they want to change or not. Title of your article and the last paragraph don’t match: the title implies to generic and public need while your end statement is your own wish.
    We are diverse community and while there are people like you, there are also people who perceive their liberation in inclusion.

    I find it interesting, that you went through 4 gender identities, and still not happy. Most of population is past experimentation and self search. I hope all will be well for you and you will not fall into one of the two pitfalls: ending up de-transitioning or irreparably disillusioned.

  • I applaud your courage and stamina exploring your gender identity! What a journey you are on! Own it, it’s your’s!

    I gotta say though, expecting 99.7% of the world to breakdown they hetero-normative binary is a big, big ask. We out here struggling to pay the rent and electric, getting the kids off the bus without anybody getting hit in the cross of Family beefin’, and you want me to actively try to breakdown gender roles that even you admit you struggle to define your own damn self?

    Bitch please.

    Be who your are, however you are, and bring your authentic self when you show-up but this article reads like all you are about is your own self-serving, carving your protected special interest niche in this violent, kicked-out, beat-down police state. You sound like just another one percenter basking in privilege and wanting even more. And angry that the majority of the world just won’t with your special situation.

  • ” I want you to deconstruct the current model of gender in our society and change it” So you want everyone else to change because you failed to fit into a system that works for 99% of all people. Maybe you should look at changing yourself instead or graciously accept the tolerance of the rest of society.

    No one owes you anything.

    • I presume that you are white cis heterosexual male! So enjoy yourself in this opressive world because it is made for you and from you and people like you.

  • […] This article I was reading expressed what it means being non-binary very well. I have no trouble understanding it, or understanding what the person is trying to say. But I cannot say I can understand how they feel exactly. I have my own understanding of what is expressed about the existence of other genders and their feelings, and I might be wrong. That is why I leave this to explain to those who know what it truly feels like. All I can do is repeat their words. […]

  • in your article you say: “…….while I’m a masculine person who was female-assigned at birth…….” i am curious to know if you were born 2 sexed and then your parents and the doctor chose what gender they wanted you to be? if so then i want to say that when a child is born with both vagina and penis and the parents choose either or and then the doctor performs surgery, this is wrong and a crime against humanity. it is a crime to perform surgery on babies born with both sexes and i wish more people see that!

  • This article is seriously flawed in that the author is presenting their non-binary identity as the normal transgender experience. Rather, many transpeople, especially those suffering gender dysphoria, do identify as binary, as male or female, but opposite to the sex they were assigned at birth. To discount that, and portray all transpeople as non-binary, is just as bad as discounting the identities and experiences of those who identify as non-binary, and discounting the wish and need of some to “pass”, to fit into society in their correct gender is as bad as saying everyone must conform to binary gendered norms. We have try to include all trans-experiences in a discussion of transgender, not just the one we have experienced. The basic argument is sound, but I would add that not only should transpeople, binary and non-binary, be challenging the binary norm of gender in most societies, including our own, anglo-dominated societies in the UK, Australia, and North America, but we should also be encouraging cis-gendered people to challenge this, in their thinking and viewing of the world, without invalidating their own, binary, experiences.

  • Thank you for this. I very much agree with the view that binary gender is inherently violent. In fact, the insistence that everyone should fit into simple binary gender roles of masculine or feminine is related to the eugenics movement, which sought to categorize everyone into normative groupings. This mania to make people fit into simple categories (including normal and abnormal) became a means of justifying euthanasia or institutionalization of all those who did not fit in. This does not mean that people who want to live as masculine or feminine cannot do as they wish, it means that gender exists well outside of that binary as well, and that the notion that transgender individuals can included smacks of tolerance rather than an understanding of the true nature of gender.

  • Thanks for your article. Personally, seeing how you define your experience of gender, as ” an experience generated through a combination of my Asian race, my queerness and my transness “, was very helpful. I’m non-binary too, and I’ve been questionning myself because maybe I wasn’t like this, maybe the way society treats certain things about me made me like this, but in the end, a thing is here no matter why it is here. I am non-binary even if I could not have been, even if it’s my experiences that changed me, because, well, they did, it’s done, and there it is. So this brought me affirmation, thanks.

  • I respectfully disagree with the author since there are only two genders. Merely because people feel that they are other things does not change science.

    • Well, I respectfully disagree with this comment. While I personally believe yes, there are two specific genders, people can choose to not conform to the gender they were assigned at birth. They can express their identity in anyway they choose. Gender was created by man… we constructed nearly every social aspect here on earth. At the beginning of time, man could’ve seen men who choose to express themselves more femininely and call them Malfems, and boom theres a third gender. But, they didn’t. Early humans decided that genitals determine who you are, so how is that science? As a society we started off with the premise that men were superior to women, that white people were superior to minorities. We decided this. And as history has progressed we have realized that these social constructs are damaging. People don’t want to be “a third gender” they just choose to not subscribe to the norms that society has placed upon genders. Let them live their lives.

  • Hi,

    I enjoyed reading this! What are some suggestions do you have when you state: “I want you to deconstruct the current model of gender in our society and change it.”

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