Friday, April 14, 2017

Does Your Identity Reinforce The Gender Binary?

An ongoing debate seems to be raging about whether people who are attracted to multiple genders should identify as bisexual or pansexual. The argument is that bisexual, because it has the Latin prefix for two, means someone attracted to two genders, and therefore people who identify as bisexual and feel attraction for nonbinary people are invalidating the nonbinary people's identities. Many bisexual people have responded saying that the 'bi' in bisexual refers to being both heterosexual (attracted to people with gender(s) different from your own) and homosexual (attracted to the same gender).

First, I'd like to acknowledge that I'm weighing in as an outsider. As a cisgender aromantic asexual, none of the labels I'm discussing here relate to me personally. The closest I come to identifying as any of these labels is ticking 'bisexual' in surveys that provide only three sexuality options, because my own attraction is equally nonexistent for all genders.

But it's interesting to me that I don't see the same furor over lesbian-identified women dating trans men. (Or the reverse, though I don't see that very often at all.) While some women choose to change their identification because of the realisation that they're also attracted to trans men, others don't, and it seems to be recognized as a personal choice and not necessarily a political one.

And I agree with that stance, by the way. After all, there are women who identify as lesbians despite experiencing some attraction to cis men, too. A woman who is Kinsey 5 may feel that lesbian is the best descriptor for her identity, despite her potential to be attracted to men. Or a woman who is biromantic homosexual or bisexual homoromantic may identify as lesbian because she only feels both attraction types together in relationships with other women, or because her attractions counted together result in a significant preference for women. If a woman can have attraction for cis men and still be lesbian, certainly a woman can have attraction to trans men and still be lesbian.

Personally, I don't think you can judge from someone's label, or their label plus their romantic and sexual choices, whether they support binarism or transphobia. It's the reasoning behind their label choice, and their overall behavior and attitudes towards transgender and nonbinary people, which really determine whether they're binarist and/or transphobic.

For example, there was a straight man I heard of who dated a trans woman, but insisted that she had to allow him to have casual sex with cis women in order to meet his sexual 'needs' because he was 'not gay' and therefore not satisfied by sex with his non-op partner. His labelling himself straight while dating a trans woman superficially sounds accepting, but the fact that he insisted that she couldn't satisfy him sexually because he wasn't attracted to men belies his apparent acceptance of her identity, and suggests that he really did see her as a man on some level.

In contrast, my brother has a male friend who started dating someone he believed was female. His partner then came out first as FtM, and then they came out again as nonbinary. In response, he shifted his own identity from straight to bisexual. Although I haven't asked him about his feelings in depth, from my understanding, he has never been attracted to cis men. His identity as bisexual appears to be based on his potential to be attracted to cis women and transgender/nonbinary individuals, in which case he clearly demonstrates a willingness to acknowledge trans and nonbinary identities using a label commonly stereotyped as binarist.

I have also heard of bisexual-identified people who say "I have never knowingly met a nonbinary person, so how can I tell if I'm attracted to them?" Exposure to cis males and cis females is pretty much universal, so a questioning person can readily collect data on how their sexuality reacts to these people. Transgender and/or nonbinary people are a lot harder to find, and may not be out when you encounter them.

There are also nonbinary and transgender people who identify as bisexual. And there are nonbinary and/or transgender AFAB who identify as lesbians, and AMAB who identify as gay, despite those labels implying a gender they don't identify with. (This seems especially likely for nonbinary people who exist in the spectrum between cis and gender neutral, such as AFAB demigirls, but there are FtMs who consider themselves lesbians despite identifying completely as male.)

In conclusion, don't judge from the label they choose. Judge from their reasoning and attitudes around actual transgender/nonbinary people. And in that respect, it's important to remember that bi/pan/multisexual people, on average, have a better track record for accepting transgender and nonbinary people than gays and lesbians do.


Blogger Bandit Angel said...


The most important lesson of Intersectionality is that you can't have a space that's safe for everyone. And this sucks.

For some people, "queer" is a slur that was used to bully them as kids. It is perfectly reasonable for them to want a safe space where "queer" isn't used, and it's perfectly reasonable for them to say "hey, FYI, I'm in your audience and triggered by that word, could you avoid using it?"

For other people, "queer" is an important part of their identity. It's perfectly reasonable for them to want a safe space where "queer" is a valid, respected identity, and where they can say "no, sorry, this is a queer space, you probably want to leave if that's a problem for you."

You raise a lot of good points, but I think they mostly represent your own local bubble, not a wider consensus. In particular: I'm trans. Most of my friends are trans. None of us would be bothered by any of the language in Ettina's article. It wouldn't even have occurred to me that "MTF" was problematic, until you posted your comments.

I think there might be room for you to say "hey, FYI, MTF is an older term, you might want to update to _____", but I'm honestly not even sure what you're suggesting as a replacement term. I definitely don't think calling Ettina transphobic, homophobic, or a bad ally is at all appropriate here.

Sometimes you're interacting with a different cultural bubble, and you have to accept that it's going to have different norms than you. When there's a wider consensus, and a lot of people are being hurt by the behavior, there's even room for callouts. But here, on a small personal blog, where there isn't really even a consensus within the trans community?

No, not the place for a callout like this.

7:40 PM  
Blogger Ettina said...

Radioactive is an abusive aphobe who has posted on my blog before. I've learnt there is no reasoning with this person, so I delete her comments when I see them. If she ever posts anything that is respectful disagreement, I'll allow it, but she hasn't.

9:25 AM  
Blogger Radioactive said...

I mainly use they/them, by the way. Don't misgender a trans person just because THEY don't think being aroace means you can reclaim a transphobic slur.

7:31 PM  
Blogger Ettina said...

I apologize. On Yes That Too, you described yourself as a woman, so I assumed that you use she/her pronouns. I assure you that it was an honest mistake.

4:46 PM  
Blogger Ettina said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:07 AM  

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