Endless Gender Binaries

How do we escape the binary while accepting we also have to exist in a world shaped by it and that is constantly enforcing it, pushing us to pick a side and explain the world through it?

I’ve seen in a lot of non binary circles that things get pared down to “femme” and “masculine of center” as a way of including non binary people who lean those ways. Which is valuable.

I also see “women and femmes” a lot, which I feel like is an attempt to explain the social experience of people who experience misogyny and those who experience misogynistic prejudice based on attachments to femininity.

But it’s usually used in place of “women”, to be more inclusive, and still feels like it leaves out a lot of experiences, because how feminine counts as femme? It is a self identification, but when talking about social experience, femme can be presentation or it can be a deep core aspect of your gender and personality, and people experience the world differently based on that (and a million other individual factors).

Also what about people read as women who aren’t?

I used to talk about “women and other non men” to discuss misogyny, that mostly worked I think. But doesn’t address specific issues faced by people associating especially hard with femininity, and still also relies loosely on the binary.

Basically my point is, no matter how we try to talk about this, our realities are split between who we are and how the world treats us. There are few non binary people whose genders are acknowledged and respected at all times. Are there any?

Most of us get shoved in one binary category or the other, either our birth assignment or the one we weren’t assigned, if we’ve transitioned or present in a way that has us cis-read for the not-assigned gender.

[Side topic for another day: Is *that* another way of assigning gender? What is it to be assigned a gender long after birth in a society where that isn’t an intrinsic experience?]

So anyway, we end up making new binaries, still around masculine and feminine, and I can see the frustrations that build in people who identify as agender, neutrois, androgynous, etc, who don’t feel they consistently lean “one way or the other” (or both).

I consider myself femme because of how I dress and the fact that I relate more to woman experiences than to man experiences, “if i had to choose”. And we all get pressured into choosing.

How do we explain these experiences while maintaining that the binaries aren’t who we are?

We still end up dividing ourselves by femme/masc, AFAB or AMAB. These are useful terms, but they get tied up in identity, sometimes even if people aren’t really ok with that. And it all leaves out people who don’t fit into one of two categories, even if the categories shift around a lot. There are assumptions that go into every one of these binaries.

So, what do we do? We keep wanting (maybe needing?) shorthand. We keep wanting to make this simple and it’s never going to be simple. It was almost simple (but incomplete and marginalizing) when no one acknowledged non-binary genders, but, the endless combinations of gender feelings that go into non man/woman identities make completely useful, accurate binaries increasingly impossible…

How do we tackle this? We also want to explain complex social experiences by one or two words, and, I don’t think that’s possible…but we have overlapping experiences, often. These words all have uses but I think sometimes we over rely on them to express what we mean.

Language is difficult and ever-evolving…where do we want it to go? And who gets to decide? And is the best option to accept that there will always be limitations to our language? Is it to abandon shorthand for things that cannot be simplified this far? Is it to use them but with more and more qualifications? Is it to adjust our paradigms to stop assuming common experiences—but then how do we do community?

What do you think? This has been floating around in my head for quite awhile, so, I’d like to hear what other people’s brains come up with.


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