Video: Guys, Gals, and Nonbinary Pals!
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On Wednesday, May 6, Charlotte Pride continued its weekly Facebook Live broadcast series with a special broadcast hosted by Charlotte Pride Programs and Development Director Jerry Yelton (he/him and they/them). As a genderqueer person, Jerry discussed some trans and gender-nonconforming language, dispelled some common myths about nonbinary folks, and gave some historical context and information about the nonbinary community.
Jerry has worked for Charlotte Pride for nearly three years, prior to which Jerry was involved in a variety of queer community work for nearly a decade. Upon joining Charlotte Pride, Jerry was particularly drawn to their work with Charlotte Trans Pride.
In this livestream, Jerry discusses a bit about his identity, along with acknowledging several privileges he holds that inform their conversation, primarily as a white, usually male-passing person from a middle-class background. The outline below covers Jerry’s discussion, but, as always, if there’s anything that is missed or you think should be added, reach out to us! You can reach Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- To give us the best context for our conversation, let’s go over some primary terminology.
- Sex – A person’s assigned sex is related to their body, including biological and physical aspects. Unlike gender, which exists in someone’s mind, sex is a biological component.
- Gender / Gender Identity – An individual’s sense of being a woman, a man, or any other gender. Gender may, but does not have to, coordinate with any physical or physiological aspects of a person’s body. Gender is in the mind, and it is up to an individual to describe how they identify.
- Gender Expression – The way someone dresses, speaks, utilizes makeup, acts, and interacts with the world around that makes up their gender expression. Gender expression may or may not have anything to do with gender identity.
- Transgender – An identity that encompasses anyone whose gender identity does not match their assigned sex at birth. Transgender people exist in a variety of expressions and individualities.
- Cisgender – A term to define a person whose current gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth.
- Gender Binary – An outdated idea that there are only two genders: male and female.
- Nonbinary – An umbrella term used to express any gender identities that are not male or female.
- Genderqueer, Genderfluid, Agender, etc.
- Intersex – A person who is born with biological or physiological traits of male and females sexes, and thus exist in a space in between or outside of the categories of male and female.
- Cisnormativity – similar to heteronormativity (the idea that only heterosexuality is “normal”), cisnormativity outlines how we exist in a word that presents expectations for how men and women must exist and behave and that other genders simply cannot exist
- Pronouns – Pronouns are the third person way in which we refer to someone else. For example, “That is her water bottle,” He is my cousin,” or “That is their bouquet for the wedding.”
- To ensure comfort and respect in LGBTQIA spaces, a good practice is to share pronouns verbally or with nametags to ensure others feel safe expressing their identity. If you are unable to ask someone’s pronouns, use the gender neutral “they, them, and theirs” pronouns until you are able to ask. A good tip is to offer your own pronouns when asking for someone else’s.
- Misgendering – Using the wrong words to describe someone’s gender or incorrectly using their name or pronouns. Can be intentional or unintentional.
- If you do this, correct yourself, move on, and do better. Try and avoid making the error a big deal.
Historical Context of Nonbinary Identities
Many believe that nonbinary is a young, American, white identity. I’d like to share some context that definitively shows why that’s not the case.
A note of clarity, many of these identities have enough context and history in and of themselves to do an individual conversation, so I am only touching on high-level understanding. Some of these identities may seem to paint other spaces as incredibly progressive (those particularly with third gender categories legally), and while we acknowledge the positive elements of these categories, we must also acknowledge that we do not always have the fullest picture as outsiders to understand deeply the cultural context in which these people live.
- As far back as Mesopotamian records, there are examples of people who are referred to as neither male or female.
- One note on the history of gender nonconformity is an outed word: “eunuchs.” As far back as Mesopotamian history (and even some record in a variety of ancient religious texts). Modern scholarship frequently helps us identify this likely was not an “emasculated man,” but a way to label and other those of a third gender.
- Hijra (HIJ-RAH) – South Asian term – identified folks who were assigned male at birth but expressed feminine presentation. Sometimes used as a blanket category for trans and intersex people in modernity. Hijras is an officially recognized third gender on the Indian subcontinent
- India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal have all legal recognition of a third gender in 2020 to include the Hijra community
- Two-Spirit – Native American identity (not something that can be held by folks of other races or ethnicities) that is a person whose gender is as a third-gender within ceremonial components of their culture and expresses someone who fulfills and expresses both masculine and feminine roles and identities.
- One of my favorite POC nonbinary folks is poet and activist, ALOK. You can see more about them online: https://www.instagram.com/alokvmenon/?hl=en
- Nonbinary people are hopping onto a trend – as you can see from these historical examples, we have existed over many years. But also – does it matter if it’s a trend? Regardless, it’s good to respect how people identify. Be kind to yourself and others.
- Stairstep to binary trans identity – nonbinary doesn’t mean you’re exploring transitioning form one identity to another. You are your own identity and that’s valid.
- You have to look a certain way to be nonbinary – I am still nonbinary even when I look masculine and am perceived as male. I am still nonbinary when I’m in full makeup and a femme outfit. Presentation is different from identity. How you identify yourself is the most important thing.
- You must use a “new” name or “pronouns” – you can exist with your given or earlier selected name and pronouns if you want. All of this boils down to allow others to tell you who they are and give them the grace you’d like to be given. If you’re Jeffrey and go by Jeff, think of how annoying it is to be called the wrong thing – this is similar, but heightened.
- You must have gender dysphoria – not true! You can have a realization that you are nonbinary (or binary trans) whenever. You do not inherently need to struggle with your identity or its labels (or lack thereof) to be trans.
- You must medically transition to be trans or nonbinary – again, not true. Your body is your own. You get to make your own decisions.
Tips for Allies
- Make small intentional choices (a trans flag in your office; your pronouns in an email signature; using your pronouns to introduce yourself, particularly in large meetings)
- Speak up against nonbinary exclusive language; correct misgendering even if someone isn’t present
- Don’t make slip-ups about you – if you make a mistake, acknowledge it, correct it, and move on
Conclusion / Final Myth
- Breaking down the binary only helps nonbinary people – breaking down gender binaries helps everyone. So many people believe feminine or masculine actions means their identities must change to align with those actions or qualities. Nope! The more we break down assumptions of maleness/femaleness/gender-lessness, the better we will all be able to exist.