“AW C’MON MAN! What happened to our brothers?!” It only took a second to realize that the possibly drunk driver in the Kroger parking lot was talking to me. I first reacted with amusement and then anger, but I knew better than to yell something back. I kept it moving because I knew that if I turned around or if I raised my voice he may “realize” that I wasn’t an effeminate man, but instead a masculine woman and things would only go downhill from there.
As a Black, genderqueer, androgynous presenting person, this isn’t the first time this has happened to me. On a recent trip to Philly for the Trans-Health Conference, I was catcalled while walking down the street with my friends. I turned around annoyed, and as soon the catcaller saw me as male, he said under his breath, “You f#@kin’ fag.”
I could go on for days telling you all the times this has happened to me and my genderqueer/agender/non-binary siblings. It happens far too often. However, these stories are rarely highlighted in the LGB or even T communities.
November is Transgender Awareness Month. Every year we observe Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20 to draw attention to Transgender people who have lost their lives or faced violence due to anti-trans hatred or prejudice.
This November, I want to bring awareness to the added layer of violence that is committed within and outside of the LGBTQ community when erasing, silencing and limiting the experiences of genderqueer, non-binary and non-op trans people.
We are told:
“We’re talking about women right now.”
“This is a womyn’s only space.”
“You don’t know what it’s like to be a black man in society.”
These statements could not be further from the truth. Being non-binary for many of us means having multiple experiences in society based on what gender we are perceived as. Imagine being sexualized as black women and seen as threatening as black men within the same week or even the within the same day. My friend, Julio Muteithia, talked to me about being harassed by police when perceived as female and then facing further violence once the officer read the gender marker on their driver’s license.
We face additional violence when society can’t determine if “that’s a girl or a boy,” if our relationships are “straight or gay” or whether or not we’re “in the wrong restroom” (Hint: Every restroom is the wrong restroom for us in a binary society).
However, the “solutions” we are often given, from within and outside of the transgender community, is to take hormones, have surgery, “man up,” “be more feminine” or “pick a side.” We are treated as if “we spent our lives practicing how to be targets,” as T. Miller says in her poem The Other Black Man. Instead of our complexities being celebrated and validated, they are seen as ways to mark us as “not really women,” “not really men” and “not really Trans.”
Last year at the Creating Change conference, Laverne Cox made the statement: “To call a transgender woman a man is an act of violence.” I love that quote and want to take it further in saying: “To force non-binary people into a binary system is an act of violence.”
So where do we go from here? How can allies work to reduce violence towards genderqueer and non-binary people? One great step is to listen. Allies need to make sure that they are listening to our experiences rather than making assumptions about how we experience oppression in society. Only from there can allies bridge the gap and work in solidarity with folks like us.