I’m playing catch-up with the posts I’d planned for this LGBT History Month but, hey, at least I’m writing. I’m discussing my gender identity, in the hope that sharing my thoughts, feelings and experiences will help people to see not only beyond the gender binary, but that each gender identity can be split into as many different ‘types’ as there are people who assume that identity to describe themselves.
I mentioned in my introductory LGBT History Month post that identifying as genderqueer should not imply that I am homophobic, transphobic, heterophobic or cisphobic.
Many think it’s peculiar, or inappropriate, that we use the term ‘phobic’ when we refer to those at whose hands we experience abuse, bullying, discrimination or victimisation, for example, due to our genders, sexes and sexualities; indeed, it’s been the subject of some debate as to whether or not these ‘phobic’ terms should continue in common usage, and whether or not we should find terms that better express the essence of these – experiencing another’s hatred. I’m all for keeping the existing terms we use, as this hatred both is the result of, and has at its core, fear.
From where does this fear come? I would argue that it’s because the LGBTQIA+ community represents a very specific threat, and fear is one of our natural responses to threats. But this isn’t, as many would have the World believe, a threat to decency or morality. No – the wider queer community threatens the ideas and ideals of cultures and societies in which there are – and ‘should be’ – only two sexes and two genders; in which ‘male’ and ‘female’ correspond with ‘man’ and ‘woman’, and in which this is the ‘natural order of things’ – part of which involves the latter’s subservience to the former, and governs romantic, sexual and parental relationships, amongst others. I could spend the rest of my life dissecting this, but I’m sure you get the idea by now.
It’s to this that so many react with fear, hatred, mistrust and violence. It is because of this that so many would remove us from ‘their’ communities, because it’s easier to protect what you have than it is to question why you have it, and acknowledge that the world in which you live may be something entirely different than what you’ve been told it is. Protecting the legacy of those who came before, their truth and their vision is one of the many things that gives identity and purpose to a community, and anything and everything that calls these into question cannot be allowed to continue.
So, the queer community is ridiculed, ostracised and demonised. We’re questioned, maligned and criticised. When we make a stand, we’re threatened with violence. When we don’t back down, we become the victims of violence. When we fall, they celebrate. When we rise, it all starts once more. Our power comes from the truth that our world is diverse to a degree none of us will ever be able to comprehend, and that we each have the right to be treated as equals as well as the responsibility to treat others as equals.
You would be forgiven for thinking that this truth permeates every part of the queer community – every letter of our ever longer initialism and every colour of every stripe of every flag. But this isn’t the case. There’s fear and hatred throughout the queer community, with its members turning on one another for the exact same reason they themselves become others’ targets and victims and, often, with the same results. The divisions within the queer community reinforce what we suffer from the outside, but that’s a discussion for another time.
I’ve seen gay men turn on lesbians because they feel threatened by feminism and women’s issues. I’ve seen lesbians turn on trans* women because they don’t consider them to be ‘real women’. I’ve seen bisexual identities erased because people everywhere still seem to think that to identify as bisexual means someone ‘hasn’t yet made up their mind’. I’ve seen butches turn on femmes because they embody too much of ‘the other gender’ – and vice versa. I’ve seen queens deride kings because they’re not ‘performing their gender right’. I’ve seen racist abuse exchanged amongst members of the same communities of sexuality, and seen xenophobic abuse exchanged amongst members of the same communities of gender. And I’ve seen genderqueer and genderfluid people vilify everyone else because they see themselves as allowing themselves to be subjected to the whim of the cis-het community, accepting ‘their binary roles’ without question and helping to perpetuate these.
And it’s that last point that compelled me to write this post.
In my exploration of my own gender identity, I’ve read countless opinion pieces on gender, sex and sexuality on both personal and professional publications; I’ve waded through various pieces of academic writing, and I’ve pootled around the more obscure corners of social media and the blogosphere (Am I showing my age by saying that?). I’m always struck by how diverse any community coming together under a specific identity can be, and how these communities can represent and promote inclusivity – whilst at the same time being amongst the most exclusive groups I’ve ever seen.
I say the above as one of the most surprising ideas across which I’ve come is that some genderqueer people believe themselves to have a ‘better’ or ‘purer’ relationship with their gender, sex and sexuality than others; or we think that binary and fixed-gender people perform their identities in an aggressive or vulgar way, or that to have a gender or sexual identity that’s ‘fixed’ automatically makes you part of a system to oppress and discriminate against those with flexible or fluid gender identities…
Well, in some cases, it’s true. As I’ve come across what might be called ‘radical non-binary’ people online and their writing, I’ve seen that some members of non-binary communities engage in cisphobic and heterophobic behaviour, adopting a moral high ground because their identity places them outside binary and cis-het communities, and this ‘removal’ from these means they’re somehow more in touch with the ideas and ideals of acceptance, equality, diversity, inclusivity and tolerance; or transphobic behaviour, because they see trans* people as trying to navigate spaces within the cis-het communities and fit in on their terms.
In these cases, there’s little or no respect for an individual’s, well, individuality – for their freedom to identify how they feel is most appropriate for them. Now, I would never presume to judge others’ decisions concerning their identity, and find it very difficult to reconcile that some of the queer community who so openly and proudly advocate and campaign for and in the name of those idea and ideals I mentioned previously would fail to uphold these across all communities of genders, sexes and sexualities, and abuse members of the cis-het communities. The horrible irony and the hypocrisy are near incredible, and make me want to distance myself from those to whom I want to feel close.
Whilst I think there’s practically immeasurable value in exploring the relationships between and amongst your gender, sex and sexuality, I would never vilify nor demonise those who choose to not do this. Many feel as though they don’t have to, as they feel comfortable with who they are. Many don’t want to, for whatever reason. And that’s just as OK as it is that some of us explore and interrogate who we are as we navigate flexible and fluid identities.
I acknowledge that part of these ‘phobic’ behaviours comes as retaliation against the attacks suffered by genderqueer people both at the hands of some members of the cis-het communities as well as some of those in the wider LGBTQIA+ communities; and part of it from an antagonistic ‘How do you like it?’ mindset. But, regardless of what precipitates this behaviour, I can neither accept nor understand this, and it cannot be justified. It is damaging. It is damaging to its victims, and it is damaging to the members of the community from which it comes.
If we don’t respect the natural diversity of the communities that surround and permeate us, how can we expect them to have the same relationship with us? If we don’t include them in our lives, how can we expect to be included in theirs? If we don’t acknowledge who they are and accept them for this, how can we expect them to do the same in return?
These ‘phobic’ behaviours are incendiary, and allow us to be perceived as a different kind of threat requiring a different type of response. It doesn’t allow us to break the cycle of (perceived) provocation, violence and retaliation. It divides us from within and separates us from those who would assist and support us. It weakens our resolve to stand defiant and proud in the face of anything – anyone – who would presume to tell us we’re anything other than who we know we are.
And I do stand proud. I stand side-by-side with members of all communities to uphold acceptance, equality, diversity, inclusivity and tolerance; to defend those who would be harmed by the actions of others and to educate those whose ignorance threatens to lead them down a damaging and destructive path. I don’t feel antagonised by cis-het, cis-queer, trans* or any other binary, non-binary or LGBTQIA+ community, nor do I feel threatened by them.
They are my friends and colleagues; they are the people on whom I rely in so many areas of my life and they are part of the same communities to which I belong. They are my equals, and I accept and respect them for who they are. And this is why I’m not homophobic, transphobic, heterophobic or cisphobic – because of the way I was raised, the education I’ve sought and the experiences of others to which I’ve listened… And, well, because I just don’t have it in me.