Artwork: Jos Demme
Identity policing, in any form, is undeniably shitty. There is no sort of magic combination of intersectional identities that makes anybody responsible for someone else’s right to self-define their gender.
On June 15, 2015, an article titled “People Everywhere Are Officially Losing Their Minds Over Ruby Rose,” was published on BuzzFeed. On June 23, 2015, Jasmine Collins was stabbed to death in Kansas City. A few weeks later, Miley Cyrus publicly came out as genderqueer.
In her piece “The Genderqueer Movement, as Seen Through a Transwoman’s Eyes,” Alessa Schmalbach speaks to something I have had several conversations about in the last twelve months. There is a palpable air of trendy transness in contemporary culture. Trans people are all over fashion, music, television and academic circles. This is good; this is visibility; this is discourse; this dialogue is recognition, and unfortunately, that’s huge. That being said, there have been at least 19 documented murders of transgender people in 2015 and countless more acts of hate and violence—most of these people are transwomen of color.
Non-binary identities are not a trend, but when cis white liberal arts students become too aware of their privilege, and adopt the language of marginalized and hugely erased communities to bolster or endorse their opinions, they are embodying the worst parts of “political correctness,” and enacting further erasure in their appropriation of peoples’ lived experiences.
I am non-binary; I am transgender; I am transsexual; I am genderqueer. I don’t know what it means to be a non-binary trans person in this weird moment where there is so much conflation of trans identities with genderqueer ones. Myself, and many other trans people I know identify as trans, non-binary, genderqueer or none of those things. This whole conversation is difficult to have. I feel entitled to my frustration and grateful for a platform to publish my thoughts on; I feel frustrated and invisible every time I get misgendered; I feel a heavy mix of grateful and sick when I think of how much more safe I am walking down the street than any trans femme or any person of color.
I feel invisible when Miley Cyrus is the poster child for non-binary identities. My emphasis on cis-presenting genderqueer people is in no way meant to negate the existence or experience of any non-binary or trans person, who either cannot or does not want to take medical steps toward gender confirmation. I am speaking to the ones who say Rose is evidence of “How Far We’ve Come,” or that Cyrus is breaking down the gender binary—Miley, what’s good?
I don’t see the difference between pop media celebrating beautiful white AFAB people like Cyrus or Rose and calling it “trans” or “non-binary representation,” and the people who strap a genderqueer pin on their chest to cash in on the cultural cache of this cause célèbre. Ultimately, it seems like an #AllLivesMatter approach to transness. When Rose gets commended for “destroying the gender binary,” or “dismantling binaried standards of beauty and sex appeal,” I get confused because I see a topless, thin, able-bodied and conventionally attractive white woman in lipstick. Am I missing something? When trans people are fighting for recognition and respect for their bodies and lives, what are these celebrity figures doing?
Trans bodies are expensive and lethal. Doctors, hormones, therapy and other necessary expenditures come with a massive social and economic toll. When trans people express frustration with what and who represents our identities, it is not Oppression Olympics—it is an articulation of the trials of transness