Sunday, May 8, 2016

What Mothering Day Means to Us

Today many of us queer families with parents who are non-binary may struggle with the word "mother" often used to describe us, the heteronormativity of the way this holiday is promoted, the question of what day celebrates us, and the (extra) misgendering we may face if we celebrate this holiday. In my family, we celebrate both myself, a non-binary parent, and my wife, a mom. It started with the tradition of celebrating both of us on Mothers' Day before I came out as non-binary. Am I a mother? Ermm...I am a parent. My parent name happens to be Mama. Do I mother? Very much so. Though Mothers' Day is the day we are sure to spend together and celebrate somehow, our kids tend to wish us a happy Fathers' Day as well, and sometimes give us cards, because we are the parents they have. We do "dad" stuff and "mom" stuff. It's silly, of course, how gendered aspects of parenting are.

Years ago, my wife and our two (the third was not born yet) children went to a Unitarian Universalist service on Mothers' Day. While I was aware that Unitarian Universalists claim to be an accepting and welcoming community, I was happily surprised by the sermon. The sermon was titled “Mothering is a Verb.” The minister told her own story of struggling to understand, and learning to accept that gender is a "spectrum." She spoke about different types of families, “some with two moms, some with two dads, some with a mom and a dad who used to be a mom." She spoke of Mothers' Day being about people (any gender) who are mothering, rather than about cis women who are mothers. Not only did I feel accepted as a queer family, but also I found myself pondering the ways others have been mothering to me, regardless of their gender identity. 

So this goes out to my mama, who has always shown me unconditional love, through all the happy times and all the hard times. This goes out to my wife--I am so lucky to be a coparent with such an amazing, kind, insightful, and loving woman. This goes out to all those who have mothered me in different ways and at different times--friends, aunts, grandparents, mentors. This goes out to all those who are missing their mothers (or mothering person), whether they have died, become estranged, been separated by prison, or borders. This goes out to mothers who have lost children for any of those reasons as well. This goes out to all the people who care for, nurture, teach, lead, and accept their friends and loved ones, especially when in the absence of a nurturing parent--it means so much. This goes out to those hurting today because they did not have a loving or caring mother. This goes out to non-binary parents, transgender parents, dad-only families, adoptive families who may have complicated feelings about the holiday. This goes out to struggling mothers and parents. This goes out to folks who long to mother. I wish all a peaceful mothers' day, whether you celebrate it or it's just another day.

This beautiful song is by Anohni (the name listed is her former band name).

Friday, January 29, 2016

Non-binary Identities are Valid

As a non-binary trans person, my gender is invalidated from almost every direction. After all, my gender identity has been invalidated since I was a little kid and I was told in one way or another, over and over again, that I was supposed to be a girl. When I was 19, I was told I could either be a lesbian or a transgender male, but that talking about anything else in between or different was "weird" "gross" "freaky" and outwardly laughed at. After that, I pretty much stopped talking about it for 10 years. Today, being open and generally "out" as non-binary, I am invalidated when people use the wrong pronouns, call me "miss" or "ma'am" or "lady," refer to me as part of a group of women, etc. It's one thing to be invalidated by strangers. That's easier to shrug off. It's another thing to be invalidated by people closer to you. These seemingly small things remind me every day that I am not seen as who I really am.

Some ways to combat non-binary erasure in your everyday life:
  • Avoid assuming people's gender! This is a good idea all around.
  • Practice using gender-neutral language! Don't use "ladies" or "gentlemen" or other gendered words for a group of people if you aren't certain of each individual's gender. How about "folks" or "everyone"? Don't use "sir" or "ma'am" or other gendered words for people you don't know (sometimes when I get "ma'amed" I want to poke people in the eye! No offense. I probably won't.) Don't say "boys and girls," or "ladies and gents." How about, "children," or "my good people!" 
  • Don't assume pronouns, and use the correct pronouns even if they are challenging for you
  • Remember to consider non-binary people when talking about gender issues and/or trans issues. If you are talking about bathrooms, for example, remember that the issue is not just about allowing people to use the facility that matches their gender, it is also about non-binary people not having an option that matches their gender at all! When discussing children, parenting, and schools, don't forget that some of those trans kids may be non-binary! 
Model this for your children, for your friends and family, and your coworkers!
Non-binary people exist and are valid.

[image description: drawing of a person with their hands raised and eyes closed,
a solemn look on their face. A banner below says "DO NOT ERASE NON BINARY
PEOPLE."] image from dakshinadeer on

There are many different non-binary identities that people might claim, and sometimes people might change what they say their gender is (I used to use the term genderfluid, because my gender feels fluid in some ways, but I stopped using that when I realized that I do not experience my gender fluctuating from one gender to another as clearly as many people do who identify as genderfluid). Even if someone is uncertain about their gender or changes their mind about what term to use, their identity is valid. It can be confusing to explore all these different new terms in a world where we were taught the binary was the only way.

Why are some people so skeptical of non-binary identities?

Well, to start with the obvious, we were raised in a society that says there are only two genders--male and female. It can be hard to unlearn these concepts that have been so ingrained starting in early childhood.

Unfortunately, it is not just cis people who erase or invalidate non-binary identities. Some binary trans people are not accepting of non-binary trans people. I hope this is not the case for the most part, and I haven't experienced this in my personal life, but I certainly have run into this online. This especially comes up when someone doesn't want to or can't medically transition, or when they don't want to fully medically transition (this also affects binary trans people who can't or don't want to medically transition).

Sometimes this invalidation comes from other non-binary people! Look out for the gender police! Are you trans enough? Are you genderqueer the same way as me? I think this comes from internalized transphobia and feeling insecure about one's own identity being validated. It's sad when I see this happen, though.

[image description: the face of a snarling wolf and the words, "NO GENDER POLICE ALLOWED."]
If you are skeptical of non-binary identities, whether intentional or not, do some research. Non-binary people have existed throughout world history. The rise of patriarchal oppressive (and often Christian) governments and ruling class is what snuffed out the visibility of trans people, as being trans was considered a threat to the ruling class of men, and seen as a pagan practice. Joan of Arc, for example, was burned at the stake because they would not cease dressing in men's clothing, and were therefore considered pagan and dangerous to the patriarchy. Many Native American tribes also recognize more than two genders, as do/did many other cultures around the world. If you are interested in learning more, an excellent starting point is Leslie Feinberg's "Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman." I know there are many other books and works out there on this subject that I have yet to explore! If you have some to suggest, please share them in the comments!