Non-binary people: A helpful guide for TERFs and non-TERFs alike

  1. How do I know if an individual is non-binary?

A common mistake is to think it’s okay simply to ask. Please don’t do this; it’s rude and individuals could find it triggering. Fortunately there are easy ways to tell. Is this individual a human being? If the answer is yes, then this person is inherently non-binary (NB one can be human regardless of whether one is male or female).

Gender is, after all, a hierarchical system of oppression arising from sex difference. People express and identify themselves in ways which overlap with presumed manifestations of sex-based oppression and/or dominance. Why they do so depends on many factors: social conditioning, class, fear of violence, caring responsibilities, economic advantage, innate personality traits. They ought to have every right to do so, but no one can claim to be more “non-binary” than the next.  No one naturally identifies with being oppressed and no one is simply born to be considered inferior.

  1. Hang on, I thought only me, my mates and a few famous arty types, most of whom are male, were allowed to be non-binary?

Then I am guessing you are young-ish, quite possibly a student or a writer, certainly not a post-menopausal woman (urgh! cis!), and your beliefs are based partly on a very sensible critique of gender and partly on a fuckload of privilege.

Listen: you are not the literal embodiment of shitty, restrictive gender stereotypes but nor is anyone else. They’re really not. So you were assigned female at birth but don’t “feel” like a woman? Guess what? Most females don’t! That’s because “being a woman” is aligned with “being a bit shit” in a patriarchal society and not because some women “naturally” align themselves with having long hair and talking in squeaky voices. You have no idea why other women make the compromises they do or fail to be as different as you. You don’t know their inner lives or what they’ve been through. You don’t know their needs. You have no right to co-opt them into a system which positions them as inferior, all the while insisting that they must be privileged to present as so woman-y. Who made you the gender police? You cannot claim an identity which relies on others being dehumanised and excluded. We’re all non-binary, all of us better than this hateful hierarchy.

  1. So if everyone is non-binary, how should I respond to them?

As though they are real flesh-and-blood humans with real fears and real needs. This can be hard if you’re not used to it. If you’ve been very immersed in reinforcing the binary-ness of others, you need to take your time and set yourself easy targets, Why not, say, go at least one hour without stalking women you don’t like on twitter, searching for an opportunity to call them vile, bigot, scum, TERF etc. on the discredited basis that you’re magically non-binary and they’re not? Once that works, set yourself a slightly longer target. You can do it!

It might be more difficult with loved ones. How does one cope, for instance, with the knowledge that one’s own mother isn’t just some off-the-shelf middle-aged cis woman? Does it mean she might stop doing your laundry, cooking your dinner and listening to you whine on about how hard it is when you’re the one being to subjected to all these rigid cis norms? Probably not. That’s gender oppression for you. That’s why half the world is underpaid or not paid at all, at severe risk of violence from the other half and without a voice in countless political systems. It’s not because we love it, silly! We weren’t born thinking we couldn’t be open, rich, complete, non-binary human beings. We get resigned, you see. You could help in small ways, though. If you’re male, for instance, taking a break from twitter activism to do some lowly “women’s work” is a brilliant way to challenge those nasty cis norms. Go on, scrub those dishes for the sake of your non-binary brothers and sisters!

  1. What other ways can I help non-binary people?

There are plenty of simple ways for the blinkered to help the other non-binary people they’ve been shitting on for months on end. Yay! Here are just a few:

  • Educate yourself about intersectionality. Funnily enough, it isn’t about treating women like crap on some flimsy in-your-head basis that has fuck all to do with structural oppression and contextualised solutions. But anyhow, it’s not my job to educate you. Have a goddam read.
  • Listen and learn from older feminists. Yeah, I know: you think older feminists are all useless “cis” bigots who haven’t had enough cock to make them human. Believe it or not, they’re as complex and non-binary as you. Now stop being such a misogynist bigot and try and engage in some actual dialogue (“die, TERF” doesn’t count).
  • Read up a bit on human reproduction and have a long, hard think about how this might tie in with gender as a system of oppression. Sex is not gender; those of us born female are not destined to be categorised in the way that “woman” is categorised now. But it’s a massive fucking coincidence that we are and it’s about time this abusive system stopped being reinforced by those who consider it valid as long as they can grant themselves permission to rise above it. We all have that right so don’t claim an identity which relies on some of us remaining the shitty foil against which you define your own glitteringly complex self.
  • Stop co-opting random people – Morrissey, Eddie Izzard, whoever – into your “yeah, I’ll let them be non-binary” system. You’re worse than my nan. She wouldn’t let me watch Bod on the basis that “you can’t tell if it’s a boy or a girl”. Now you’re sitting there, deciding who’s allowed to be one of you on the basis that he, she or [insert pronoun] “looks a bit funny”. What kind of a conservative bigot are you?
  • Spend time with a diverse range of people (middle-class wannabe journalists in their twenties who live in London and all have self-pitying twitter bios does not count as diverse)
  1. What’s the best thing I can do?

Stop being a total prat. Please. Women’s liberation – and their lives – depend on it.


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