The transphobia within…

Hey all,
I hope that you’re all safe and well during this pandemic-y, protest-y moment. Remember that here at Staying on Top Black Lives Matter, masks are essential, and no life is inherently less valuable or valid than another.

Which is why I’m popping back in today after my long hiatus.

I want to talk about transphobia in non-binary spaces, and specifically the transphobia that we bring into spaces ourselves.

I have non-binary loved ones who approach their gender from all sorts of different directions, and it’s not fair to say that we all experience our gender the same way. Intersections of identity, circumstance and privilege complicate our experience of self-hood, even as we come together under the label of “non-binary”. In some ways our shared identity is the most important one, because it allows us to create community across a diversity of experience – when you are a fragile population, community can sometimes be the only thing that keeps individual members of that population held together.

So I’m sad to recognize in myself that I have not always been great at talking back to my own internalized transphobia, and I’m sad to see others acting it out. I’m talking about the way we treat out non-binary amab siblings.

Some statements of belief before I go on:

Non-binary people do not experience “male privilege.” They may experience some artificial privileges because of the incorrect assumption of their gender, but the assumption of gender noes not correlate either to gender or assigned sex.

Non-binary people are not “socialized as male.” Socialization is a complex interaction between self and environment, and when someone is trying to socialize you to a gender not your own, it’s a very different experience to being socialized as the gender that you are. Socialization – and masculinity – is not monolithic.

From these statements, it follows that when non-binary people talk about other non-binary people as having “male privilege” or “male socialization,” what they are really doing is affording someone’s birth sex the ultimate authority over how that person identifies, who they are, and how they should be treated. That presumed authority is the soul and center of transphobia, and we need to root it out of our community.


Now, I do understand that we might see patriarchal patterning in a non-binary person’s behavior, and it’s not wrong to want to address that. But we can do it ways that don’t rely on outing someone or forcing an alien and harmful gendering onto their lived experience.

Example: “This is the third time you’ve interrupted me, and I find it really dismissive. I need you to wait until I’m done speaking before you jump in.”

Example: “You have a confidence in this setting that I don’t. I need you to believe that that confidence isn’t shared by, or available to everyone.”

Do you see how I’ve named a behavior pattern, and addressed it, without linking that pattern to “being male”?

Yes, the patriarchy exists, and yes, toxic masculinity happens, and yes, we do need to fight it. Absolutely. But we have to think about context and harm. We all know what misgendering feels like, and we know what it feels like to have the world trying to tell us we are something we are not. At bare minimum we should create a space for all non-binary people that allows them the validity of their identity.

Because what I see happening right now in the conversation around non-binary identity and community behavior, is that accusations of “masculinity” are being weaponized to control, shame, and gatekeep who gets to belong in our community. I frequently see it used against QIBPOC. Specifically, I see patterns in which afab non-binary people identify amab non-binary people as dangerous or, needing special guidance or support, or needing careful monitoring and control in non-binary spaces because they’re *secretly men*.

Friends… you are doing the TERFs’ work for them.

It might be even more painful when you do it, because you’re supposed to be on the same side as the people you’re choosing to harm.

Imagine, for a moment, if the non-binary community treated you as inherently dangerous or lesser because of an immutable element of your identity? … Some of you probably don’t even have to imagine. Where would you find community then? You would be driven into smaller and smaller spaces, and maybe you’d start to feel like there was no space for you in the world that wasn’t already full of hate. Then what would you do? How much pain would you feel?

So especially in this moment where we are experiencing an extinction burst of hate, we need to start being non-binary as if we really mean it. We need to offer the care to other peoples’ identities that we want for our own. And we especially need to stop acting as if someone’s self and soul and life and behavior can be reduced down to what’s in their pants. It can’t. If we are not prepared to see the intersectionality between someone’s sex and their gender… how on earth will we ever be able to make an equitable community across races, ages, disabilities etc. etc. Etc.?

Yes, systemic oppression exists and absolutely we must fight it every turn. But we cannot dismantle the system with the weapons of our oppressors, and we cannot allow our own lived experiences and fears to become justification for oppressing others. Especially when we all share a gender. Especially when we are all a community.


If you are not willing to do this, of course, you are still non-binary.

One of the fundamental things about gender is that it actually doesn’t have any bearing on your ethical choices, and we are not – despite being fabulous – any more or less susceptible to hateful and biased behavior than any other population.

I cannot revoke your membership in the community of your gender for bad behavior. But I am asking you with all my heart to stop trying to do that to other people.

We all share a gender.

We are all a community.

Let’s act like it.

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