Guest column by 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.