Last week, I was reminded that nonbinary people are the internet’s favorite scapegoats. I was reading Katie Herzog’s new article for the Stranger, entitled “If the Future Is Nonbinary, It’s a Bleak One for Women.” In it, Herzog makes all the typical demeaning assumptions about nonbinary people. She says being nonbinary is a choice. She says nonbinary identity is a fad. Most alarmingly, she implies that nonbinary people threaten the future of womanhood itself. As an enby myself, it’s all stuff I’ve heard before. What particularly infuriates me about Herzog is that she continues to write “controversial” articles on trans and nonbinary people in order to create a buzz, and these articles contain harmful misinformation about nonbinary and trans folks
Herzog’s piece is a response to an article called “No, the Future Is Not Female. It’s Nonbinary,” by Jessica Porten. Porten argues that the slogan “The Future is Female” is exclusionary, and advocates for replacing it with “The Future is Nonbinary.”
Herzog rolls out two harmful stereotypes about nonbinary folks in her response, which paints Porten’s article as advocating some kind of genderless dystopia. The first is that being nonbinary is some sort of choice. While Herzog admits there are enbies who feel their gender identity is deeply ingrained, she also infers that there’s a large swathe of individuals who identify as nonbinary as a political strategy or fashion accessory. “Motivations for identifying as nonbinary vary,” she says in one part of the article, and in another, “Identifying as nonbinary can be a way of creating your own exemption.” For almost all of us, the motivation is simple: we identify as nonbinary because we are nonbinary. When we grasp for that part of ourselves called gender, what we touch does not feel binary. This sense of gender is as deeply felt as it is for any cis person. Would you ever ask your cis friend what her “motivation for identifying as a woman” is?
Herzog then deploys a second stereotype: that the nonbinary identity is a social contagion. To her, it’s a contagion which threatens to erase and disempower women. She evokes this fear of erasure when she says, “there’s a real lack of discussion on what the rise of the nonbinary identity means for those of who actually identify as [women].”
However, nonbinary genders are not a recent phenomenon. We’ve been around as long as men and women have. If more and more of us are coming out, it’s not because of some gender-based Tide Pod challenge. What’s happening now is a blossoming of the language nonbinary people use to describe themselves. We now have the means to proclaim we exist – because of this, we have become more visible.
Thus, it’s absurd to suggest the millenia-old institution of womanhood will be dissolved anytime soon. Queer people have gained increasing visibility over the years, and yet straight people (for better or for worse) continue to exist.
Herzog makes it sound as if enbies and women are adversaries who must struggle with each other for power and recognition. It’s particularly cynical vision of gender politics. Nonbinary folks and woman can be powerful allies. We both face disenfranchisement, erasure, and violence because of our gender. What’s more, both AFAB and AMAB enbies still face sexism and misogyny because they’re perceived as women. As a transfeminine nonbinary person, I suffer at the hands of both sexism and nonbinary erasure – and I’m not the only one.
The bigger issue here is not which slogan we should adopt. It’s the fact that Herzog and her ilk continually turn nonbinary folks into a spectacle to grab clicks. Herzog has built her name on writing “controversial” articles which capitalize on society’s disgust and fascination with us. Doing this makes life more difficult for a particularly vulnerable population. If you want to know just how vulnerable we are, take a look at a recent study done by the American Academy of Pediatrics on trans youth suicide rates. 41.8% of nonbinary youth participating in the study had attempted suicide.
Here are a few slogans for you: The future is one where nonbinary youth do not feel it necessary to kill themselves. The future is one where we are free to break the binary without harassment or erasure. The future is one where cis folks with an agenda shut the fuck up about nonbinary people, and let us speak for ourselves.