Let me preface by saying that I in no way feel that I deserve a Vanity Fair cover, however, as somebody who identifies as a non-binary gender identity I feel that the #MyVanityFairCover campaign is important to participate in.
To begin with, I want to say that I think it is great that Crystal Frasier and Jenn Dolari, the creators of the hashtag trend, are bringing visibility to the issue of “passing” within the trans community. I’ve long felt that it is a shame that trans people are far too often recognized and celebrated most for their transition as it is framed by cisnormative beauty standards. We don’t all actually “pass” under society’s binary (one of the other) perspective of sex and gender; and many of us die from targeted violence or suicide, in part, because of it.
What’s disappointing is that once again, non-binary individuals are a footnote in yet another mainstream visibility and awareness campaign. Frasier told BuzzFeed: “Originally, we were just hoping other trans women would take it as a sign of solidarity and a reminder that we all have value, but we’re happy that it speaks to trans men and non-binary folks too.” That is to say that this, like the vast majority of campaigns and public dialogues, wasn’t created with non-binary people in mind. It wasn’t even created with trans men in mind either who, aside from Chaz Bono and now Aydian Dowling, only ever seem to receive attention when there is a report of one of them dying by suicide.
So, to all those who deny my existence, and the existence of all other non-binary, genderqueer, genderless, and/or gender nonconforming people: here’s #MyVanityFairCover.
I tweeted this image at approximately 9:52 AM on Friday, June 5 and it didn’t take long before I started getting the same ol’ abusive, invalidating responses that I am used to (and I anticipate that more is to come).
I am a person who is transfeminine. What that means to me is that while I feel far more female than male, and I am far more comfortable in my femininity than any form of masculinity, I do not identify wholly as a “woman” (especially in terms of society’s perception and definition of “women”). One day, within the near future, I will have laser hair removal done on my face and I will begin Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). I’ll grow my own breasts, my body fat will redistribute, and my skin will thin, among other effects. But I will not be undergoing SRS (Sex Reassignment Surgery). The penis stays. And no, that in no way will make me any less trans. In fact, I will FINALLY feel as if my body aligns with my authentic self; which happens to be non-binary transfeminine.
In summation: I’m not a woman. I’m not a man. I am they, them, their; and my non-binary transition shouldn’t come with binary conditions and expectations. Nobody’s should.
Unfortunately, this personal reality places me, as well as many other non-binary trans people with similar experiences, in spaces where we often times feel ostracized even by the trans community, as many believe that we are “not trans enough”. I have been told by various members of the community numerous times over the years that we can’t exist within the trans rights movement because our narratives, somehow, undermine the efforts of trans women and trans women. When it comes down to it, we are a burden.
Furthermore, non-binary trans people are often outright ignored by mainstream media while simultaneously being shushed by much of the trans community in discussion of trans issues; which makes it even harder for the world to understand or accept us (what with being pushed aside). When not being briefly mentioned in whispers, non-binary trans people are often just completely left out of public dialogue on gender identity and expression all together.
Yet, the reality is that for a non-binary trans individual who doesn’t “pass” as a binary gendered person to simply walk out of their house is a feat in and of itself. Like any other person who is trans, there is not a day that goes by where I am not consistently stared down, laughed at, screamed at, confronted, harassed, or questioned by somebody who can’t tell my gender or who takes one look at me and immediately concludes that I am a pervert and/or a freak of nature.
There’s also not a day that goes by where I am not intensely grilled about my pronouns, which are they/them/their. This comes from not only cis people who find it too cumbersome for them to respect neutral pronouns, but it also comes from other trans people who somehow feel that the usage of gender neutral pronouns invalidates their own struggles.
Furthermore, I too experience a great deal of the systematic discrimination and harassment that binary trans people in Canada (and elsewhere) face in regards to everything from not being able to change my gender on identification to facing tremendous amounts of suspicion and avoidance from health care providers. These are issues for ALL trans people, be they binary oriented or not, and it’s frustrating to consistently see so many voices and experiences omitted in public discourse simply because they don’t fit the binary trans mold.
Emma Cueto over at Bustle notes: “As trans people become more visible in society, it’s important that we keep in mind how diverse and varied the trans community is, and not let one image of trans people dominate mainstream perception.” I couldn’t agree more and I feel that it’s time for the community and news media to genuinely explore more narratives from elsewhere on the gender spectrum, incite more discussion of non-binary identities and expressions, focus less on “passing” success and focus more on celebrating gender diversity in all of it’s wonderful, complicated complexity.