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The LGBTQ+ community has been a prevalent topic in modern society; whether regarding the rights of these members, or hate crimes against them, there is often a story on the news that about the community. However, these stories are exclusive to a select few members of the community – though there is nothing wrong with this, there is much more to the LGBTQ+ community. Growing up in a conservative Filipino family, heteronormativity weaseled its way into our daily lives, and I found myself growing up around phrases such as “that toy is for boys!” and “that’s gay, don’t do that.” I remained ignorant of the LGBTQ+ community until my sophomore year of high school, where I encountered more individuals that fit into in-between categories, ones that I hadn’t even known existed until that year, and my ignorance towards them was no coincidence – modern media purposely ignored them. To them, to explain what these grey areas were was a waste of time, too complicated to bother with, and that is the very reason why I made the decision to research the less-known gender and orientation spectrums.
My goal was to erase the stigma that individuals are solely expected to be one or the other, in terms of gender identity and orientation. Since society perpetuates heteronormativity nonstop, I hoped to not only battle against that, but also to spread the opposing concept to my fellow peers. In conducting my research, I had few general questions; a majority of my research was conducted based on prior knowledge. However, I did have one question that stood out as the focal point of my research – what was the media so insistent on ignoring? Why was the non-binary community so intimidating that we had to push it away?
While researching, I referenced information provided on sites focused on the LGBTQ+ community, as well as personal experience both from a close friend of mine and different articles. While gathering sources for my research paper, I looked to articles that spoke of heteronormativity in media, hate-crimes faced by queers in America, and the concept of “corrective rape.” As a result of my research, I found myself cementing my own knowledge, gaining a proper understanding of the issues experienced by queers, and realizing why society refused to let these issues see the light of day.
What does non-binary mean?
To begin to understand this community, one must approach gender as an abstract idea based on self-image. Society exists within the confines of the genders “man” and “woman,” yet there are many who see themselves as being outside of or in between these confines. These people make up the queer, and can experience identities often grouped into three categories: genderqueer, multigender, and genderless (“Too Queer for Your Binary: Everything You Need to Know and More About Non-Binary identities”).
Genderqueer people, according to Kaylee Jakubowski, “can have any gender identity,” but their method of expressing this gender identity can be described as “not cisheteronormative.” This term also serves to act as a “catch-all” for non-binary people – although the many individuals fitting into this category do not all identify as the same gender; they do identify as genders that “[don’t] have a mainstream niche within our society.” To define every single identity possible under the umbrella term of genderqueer would be a difficult feat considering the diversity under the term, but there are some terms that serve as beginning points to understanding the terminology behind the area outside of the gender binary.
First, there is the idea of being demigender, which includes the identities of demigirl/boy. These refer to someone who has been assigned fe/male at birth, yet experiences only a slight association with their assigned gender. This disassociation is not enough to cause dysphoria, in which the mismatch between their gender identity and biological sex causes extreme stress and anxiety. Demigender can also refer to someone who was assigned one gender at birth and associates more with the opposite gender, but not strongly enough to justify identifying as inherently “male” or “female.” Demigender is both an umbrella term, and an identify within itself, which is understood as an identity for someone who only partially identifies with the concept of gender.
Second is the trans* identity. While this term does include those who identify as transgender/transsexual, there is much more to it than is known by modern society. People who identify as trans* may also identify as transmasculine/feminine, wherein they are very closely disassociated with their designated gender at birth – this is where the identity of demigender ends. While demigender people may disassociate from their birth gender, this is not enough to identify as “masculine” or “feminine.”
It is important to realize that the terms transgender and transsexual are not the same; when someone identifies as a gender that does not match their “assigned birth sex,” they are transgender. Likewise, when someone is born within a body they do not feel is “correct,” and they make an effort to change this (i.e., through body modification surgery), they are transsexual – the prominent difference between the two is “whether the emphasis is on the gender, or birth sex of an individual.” When used as an umbrella term, it refers to those who identify as “anything other than their assigned birth sex,” and it is crucial to remember that the term transsexual is often considered a slur by some members of the trans* community (Terminology | The Safe Space Network).
Multigender is used as an umbrella term for people who describe their relationship to gender as “experiencing multiple genders or pieces of many genders.” Most who experience multiple genders explain that “they feel masculine/manly some days and feminine/womanly other days” (Jakubowski), but every individual has their own way of expressing their identity. As with other non-binary people, pronouns for those who are multigender is a difficult thing to explain; the most important thing to remember, for both your convenience, and the individuals comfort, is to ask prior what their desired pronouns are and work to remember to use them properly. Multigender people can also experience genders simultaneously, and their expression of this is no different than the expression of those who are genderqueer. This term encompasses a wide range of gender identities, some being polygender, bi/trigender, and genderfluid.
Someone who identifies as being polygender may experience multiple gender identities and may express them simultaneously, or vary between them. These identities are not confined to masculine or feminine, as polygender individuals can experience male, female, and/or non-binary identities. They may identify as multigender, non-binary and/or transgender, as well as genderfluid. These individuals can have any possible gender expression, but most prefer to keep their presentation androgynous and/or change it to be more masculine or feminine depending on the identity they feel comfortable with.
Genderfluidity can be seen as an identity itself. This is when someone feels as though they fluctuate between gender identities, depending on the time, circumstances and/or situations. The expressions of a genderfluid person can change gradually, or quickly; I, personally, identify as genderfluid, though the extent of my expression differs from that of others. While I often dress and act “feminine,” there are days where I wake up in the morning and feel as though expressing my gender identity in this way would be incorrect. Genderfluidity fluctuates in speed, and genderfluid people can go for weeks or months expressing themselves in a certain way, then have a desire to change.
Bi/Trigender encompasses two or three genders, and one typically does not identify as bi/trigender if they feel they have more than two or three gender identities. Someone who is bigender may feel to be simultaneously, or consecutively, two genders in one body. While these genders are typically masculine or feminine, this is not always the case. These people may express two different personas, one distinctly “male” and one distinctly “female” but many other gender configurations exist. Trigender covers two different circumstances; one who identifies as trigender may feel neither male nor female, but not to the point where they identify as being androgynous or agender, constructing their own gender identity as they see fit. The term can also refer to someone who moves between three genders, simultaneously or consecutively.
Not every non-binary individual sees themselves as harboring more than one gender identity – this is a “complete inverse,” wherein people see their relationship with the concept of gender being “completely null” (Jakubowski). This can be described as either having no attachment to one gender or another, or that the entire concept of gender is inherently foreign and intangible. The most common identity that fits under this category is agender, wherein an individual identifies as having no gender, and/or feeling as though they have no gender. While expression for the previous two categories could be explained to a degree, for genderless people, gender expression is a unique challenge, both to describe and to perform.
Jakubowski says that one source described that, every morning, they made a “conscious decision…to what sort of gender expression will be given off,” keeping in mind the different social interactions that would come hand-in-hand with dressing a certain way. Ultimately, the expression of genderless individuals varies, defaulting to the “queer aesthetic.” While this term typically brings to mind “vibrantly dyed hair” and “genderqueer clothing combinations,” all the queer aesthetic really involves is anything that an individual finds aesthetically appealing, paying no mind to whatever its apparent “marketed demographic” seems to be.
As for pronouns, genderless people more often than not prefer to be referred to using gender neutral pronouns, which isn’t much of a surprise if you really think about it. Some of these include “they/them/theirs,” and some even forego pronouns altogether and prefer to be referred to by their name.
Is “non-binary” exclusive to gender?
The term, while it can refer to gender expression, is not exclusive to gender; it can also refer to orientation. It is important to realize that there is a difference between being sexually attracted to someone, and being romantically attracted to someone, and this difference is not difficult to understand – you can be in love with another person, yet not desire experience sexual intimacy with them. This can also be applied to the reverse; although one may
feel the desire to be sexually involved with someone, they can also have no desire to pursue a romantic partnership. The umbrella term for these individuals is “queer,” encompassing a wide range of sexualities. The most commonly known of these sexualities is asexuality/aromanticism.
An asexual person is someone who “does not experience sexual attraction” – note, however, that asexuality is not the same as celibacy, as people who are celibate experience sexual attraction and choose not to act on it, while asexuals deem their sexuality as “an intrinsic part of who they are.” (Asexuality.org) As with the gender identities in the community, people who are asexual express and experience their sexuality differently; some individuals “may or may not masturbate, have sex, create relationships or hold the same definition of asexuality.” Likewise, an individual who views themselves as aromantic experiences a lack of romantic attraction, and/or a lack of interest in romantic attraction.
While asexuality and aromanticism typically coexist within one individual, they are not codependent – someone can be asexual, but still experience romantic attraction, and vice versa. Pursuing a relationship with someone who is asexual is not a doomed relationship. Commonly, people believe that a healthy relationship must include sexual intimacy, and believe that an asexual’s lack of sexual attraction means a relationship with them would not be satisfying or fulfilling. However, asexual people do experience attraction, but do not feel a desire to act out this attraction through sexual intercourse, instead working around their lack of sexual attraction and getting to know their partner through other means.
There is also a subcategory of asexuality, known as Grey/Gray-A. Those who identify as Grey-A do not typically experience sexual attraction but; may experience it sometimes, experience sexual attraction with an incredibly low sex drive, experience sexual attraction and possess an adequate sex-drive but not enough to desire the act itself, or even enjoy and desire sex, but only under specific circumstances.
Despite the wide variety of people that see themselves as non-binary in terms of gender identity, orientation, or both, the general consensus between the public outside of the non-binary community is that members within the community have no idea what they’re talking about. I have been told that if I “keep filling my head with nonsense,” I won’t get anywhere in life, leading me to question if success was determined by whether someone was cisgender.
Are there successful non-binary people?
There are not many people who acknowledge the existence of non-binary individuals, either by choice or by lack of knowledge, but out of those who do, some brush off the idea of “non-binary” as a pubescent phase. These people view the non-binary community as being a group of millennials who are still growing into being adults, and/or just want to be “unique.” Many who are cisgender tend to create outrageous names and claiming them to be “non-binary genders/sexualities,” for the sake of ridicule. Contrary to popular belief, there are a number of widely successful celebrities who identify as non-binary, both in terms of gender identity, and orientation.
One is Laverne Cox, a transgender actress famous for her role as Sophia Burset on Orange is the New Black. She is the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy in acting, and the first to be nominated for the Emmy Award since 1990. She has been recognized by Time magazine and Madame Tussauds, becoming the first openly transgender person to appear on the cover and the first transgender woman to have a wax statue modeled after her. She actively uses her success to advocate for the acceptance of transgender individuals in the United States, and expresses self-love for herself and others. Cox has also won awards in her work in social issues – in May 2016, Cox was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from The New York School for her work in the fight for gender equality. The impact she has in the media has led to conversation regarding how being transgender “intersects with one’s race and identity.”
Another is Anna Paquin, known for her role as Rogue in X-Men, who came out as bisexual in 2010. She experienced a number of different instances of discrimination, something she reiterated in an interview with Us Weekly – she stated that, “Bisexuality is not being greedy or numerous other ignorant things I’ve heard at this point.” She also shot Larry King down when he asked if she was a “non-practicing bisexual” as she is married to a man, saying that “it doesn’t work like that.” Her participation in the Give a Damn campaign and her response to questions regarding it demonstrated the passion she has for the cause itself; the actress, when asked about her participation in the video, answered that “it was a cause she cared about and privately supported, but not one that she ever had an opportunity to speak out about in a way that would be useful.”
Jaden Smith also created media buzz for his fashion choices throughout 2016. He has been pictured wearing various skirts and dresses, clothing typically seen as girl clothing. In an interview with GQ Style, he said, “I don’t see man clothes and woman clothes…” Smith also shared his take on gender norms and their relation to clothing, saying that he feels like “people are kind of confused about gender norms… [they] don’t really get it.” Smith’s breaking of gender roles is an example of the “queer aesthetic,” wherein people don’t see gender in clothing; all they see are pieces that are appealing.
Despite the success of these celebrities, the media still tries to erase the possibility of not only more young people finding they are non-binary, but the possibility of currently non-binary people to feel like they can also be successful.
Heteronormativity in the Media
The media is the primary information hub for today’s society, and is the driving force behind the spread of heteronormativity. Adults often have their minds made up about the LGBTQ+ community, the media serving as a way to mold the views of younger people. There are two media outlets that are typically always heard or seen in daily life: television, and toys. From steering certain toys to different demographics to erasing LGBTQ+ characters in popular television shows, the mainstream media tries its hardest to perpetuate heteronormative culture.
Ever since the days of Barbie and Hot Wheels, children’s toys have always been geared to girls and boys. This plants the idea in the minds of children that you’re only allowed to interact with certain toys; not only restricting their freedom to choose when they get older, but it also forbids children to be children. There are toys that tell boys they will “make important discoveries…and impact the environment…” and toys that will tell girls they will “focus on
attracting males.” Children comply with these gender roles early on, but as they grow older, there may be confusion as to why they don’t fit these roles. Lori Day asks, “what are we so afraid of?” (“How Highly Gendered Toys Present an Exclusively Heterosexual Worldview to Children”) Instead of remaining scared of their children not fitting in, parents should realize that causing their children stress will only hurt them as they grow older.
Television witnesses the direct erasure of queers – TV shows often depict only straight relationships to be healthy. On the off chance that a healthy queer relationship is portrayed on television, the depth of their storyline is shallow compared to that of their straight counterparts. Media-monitoring group GLAAD reported that “4.8 percent of characters in the 2016/2017 TV season are LGBTQ” and, while this percentage has grown from previous years, it’s nothing compared to the 95.4 percent of heterosexual characters in the same season. Possibly the most criticized example of erasure is the death of Commander Lexa in The 100; Megan Townsend explains that “queer characters…end up being killed or dying in some sort of way…often to further the development of the more central and usually straight cisgender character” (“The ‘Record Number’ of LGBTQ Characters on TV Remains Depressingly Low).
The media’s disregard for queer people works to spread heteronormative culture. As more children grow up learning that the only correct way to live is to be cishet, the children that experience isolation and confusion for how they feel about themselves face higher risk of bullying from their peers.
Violence and Endangerment for Queers
Hate crimes fueled towards the queer community are not foreign – over the years, there has been countless reports of violence with the victims being openly queer, some even seen with
their significant others. While there are endless amounts of people who are queerphobic, only a handful have the courage to be violent; however small this handful may be, however, it does not erase the endangerment that queer people face.
There is also the idea of “corrective rape.” Julie Decker, asexual activist and blogger, openly admitted to being sexually assaulted when she was 19, saying that she had “spoken extensively about [her] sexuality” to a male friend, only to have him attempt to kiss her even after she rejected his advances, to which he claimed, “I just want to help you.” Decker also says that, since coming out as asexual, she has “received death threats” and messages saying that “she just needs a ‘good raping.” When hearing someone is asexual, some see it as a challenge, thinking that “you really want sex but just don’t know it yet” and that their victims will “thank them for it later.” Not only does this perpetuate rape culture, it also fuels isolation asexuals feel in their community. These are people that will grow up thinking they’re broken, and that their decision to come out as asexual was wrong.
Religion has always been a huge factor in the spread of queerphobia, due to the notion that “God forbid men to sleep together in the same way they do women” – this is a faulty basis, as the Bible prohibits things like getting tattoos (“Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you…” [Leviticus 19:28]) and getting remarried after a divorce (“Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery…” [Mark 10:11-12]). Fred Phelps is a prime example of this – an “anti-gay church-leader” who imposes on funerals and gay rights events bearing signs reading “Thank God for Aids,” and “Fags Die, God Laughs;” perhaps the most disturbing one of all being “Matthew in Hell,” referring to Matthew Shepard who was murdered for being openly homosexual (“Reclaiming Queerness”). This not only leads people who are devout in their religions and queerphobic to believe they are correct in their spiteful actions, but also demonstrates yet another method of instilling fear into queers: imposing the idea that death should be seen as a blessing.
Queer youths also find themselves in harm’s way for their choices regardless of where they live; however, in an overwhelmingly discriminatory region such as the South, being queer comes with even higher risks of violence, coupled with little action to fix it. Jon Graham, a close friend of mine who is FTM transgender, shared with me his experiences living as a queer adult in Texas. He explained that, when coming out to his family members, he received criticism, with his family refusing to take him seriously. Jon commented that he “used to think [his] family would provide a safe space” once he came out to them, and only received a slap in the face once the situation arose. Jon also identifies as being asexual, but he has chosen to remain silent about it outside of his close friends, not wanting to attempt to explain his sexuality to his family members as well. I came to realize that violence and endangerment for queers was not exclusive to queerphobic strangers, but also people that some hold dear to their hearts.
Hate crimes are incredibly traumatizing and terrifying for their victims, as the idea that one can be assaulted to the point of death for a personal choice is horrifying, and queerphobic hate crimes aren’t just geared to young adults. There are children that want to break away from gender norms, they want to be free to choose what they want to interact with and what they want to be when they grow older, only to get shut down and scolded.
How do we change things?
Changing the views of everyone who participates in the harmful stigma against the queer community would be a difficult feat, and near impossible to accomplish – but it would be wise to understand that fueling the spread of this stigma is harmful to us. Children face the risk of being bullied and being in harm’s way for wanting to feel comfortable in their own skin, and adults add gas to the flame by forcing them to believe what they choose to want is wrong.
My views on the queer community haven’t changed much, but they have strengthened. Queers are often seen as the bottom of the barrel, so boldly discriminated against that they are terrified of coming out. The main question I kept in mind when researching for my paper was why we choose to ignore and avoid the queer community, and the answer is simple: we are afraid of the unknown. Things that we are ignorant of instill fear within us – we can’t prepare against them, so we push them away. Being queer shouldn’t make someone fear for their safety, people should feel comfortable with themselves and amongst other people, especially if they aren’t doing something criminal, or morally wrong.
Changing things does not involve changing the minds of every queerphobic person in the nation; rather, to accomplish this, we need to begin looking at things with an open mind. Realize that those in the queer community are human, that there is nothing wrong with feeling uncomfortable in your own skin and wanting to change. Realize that even if you are queer, your future isn’t doomed. Realize that, with these restrictions, we’re going against the idea that the nation was built off of: freedom, and the right to choose. We cannot continue to label ourselves as “the land of the free” if we dehumanize those who are different from us.
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