Are you really trans?

Do you really qualify as "trans"? Please take this quiz.

  1. Does your gender ever misalign with what people proclaimed you were when you were born?

If you answered "yes" to question 1, then you qualify! If you wish to call yourself transgender, then congratulations!

Here's your membership card. You might not want to show it at the border crossing into Florida.

But I really do get the question. It's a question I've asked myself so many times.

Telling myself "no"

What feels like an eternity ago, back when I knew I was bisexual but little else, I found myself increasingly surrounded by transgender people. They were, in those days, primarily of the binary kind. But there were a few starting to talk about how non-binary really fit them better.

Listening to them, and increasingly understanding that there actually could be a better way to reframe how I felt inside and wanted to show myself outside, made me wonder… was I actually non-binary too? Yeah, that resonated. I wasn't a man, wasn't a woman.

But was I transgender?

I didn't know. But I did think, very strongly, that I shouldn't say I was. I knew that people who were visibly transgender faced a tremendous pushback from society, and they needed their space.

The last thing I wanted to do was take up their space.

I had a private conversation with a friend who was also thinking very similarly at the time. We smile about that conversation now. Today, neither of us are shy about our non-binariness.

But that doesn't mean I don't still have my doubts.

Being told "no"

I read a Tumblr post not that long ago that hit me like a ton of bricks.

rodentmancy: “ever notice how all nonbinary people are afab?”

no but i have noticed how every single amab nonbinary person ive come across is either forcibly labeled as a trans woman or a cis guy who just Loudly Gay

solitarelee: every single amab nb i've met has also been incredibly skittish about "intruding into queer spaces as a man" and other such shit that's force fed to everyone in the community by exclusionists and terfs.

It resonated so strongly because I, too, had noticed the visible AMAB non-binary community was small and quiet. I also perceived that expectation that AMAB non-binary folks were trans-women-in-progress. And I definitely perceived that I didn't fit in these "non-binary" spaces.

There are definitely clear things we can point to, things that manifest this problem.

The "women and enbies" thing—grouping women and AFAB non-binary people who are seen as Women Light™, perceived as actually women who just don't want to look like or be called "women".

The rehashing of the trope of the bisexual as a "gay in progress" (they're just experimenting, they'll find out they're gay eventually.) Non-binary people will eventually find out they're actually binary transgender.

But I want to back up a bit and talk about our tendencies to build spaces of shared identity.

Expect the unexpected

Looking outside the queer community, shared identity runs strong, reinforced from the day you're born. You're a girl or a boy, you will love a boy or a girl (respectively), the women will fulfill their role, the men will fulfill their role.

This creates a really comfortable space for the people who feel perfectly at home with these roles and relationships. It's also why they fight so hard against the idea that their neatly-packaged groups aren't as neat as they think they are.

In queer spaces, we're well aware those groups don't work. But, we're humans. We desperately want to not be alone, we want to have community. We just want to be able to communicate ourselves in a way that others will readily understand.

This is why I spent years telling absolutely everyone I could find that I was just bisexual. I was surrounded by people who were at least acting heterosexual (just like I did for decades). That frequency I emitted resonated with others and I found community with it. It was heady.

But, as bisexual activist Robyn Ochs says:

I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted–romantically and/or sexually–to people of more than one gender, not necessarily at the same time, in the same way, or to the same degree.

Any queer person who considers themselves an inclusivist will read this quote and say "well, of course!" I did the same. I wanted to make that tent big—partly because I wanted people to be happy, but also because I hoped that it would mean more people for my group.

There's a problem here, though, at least for my hopes of a neat community where everyone completely understands everyone else. While it's true that there is, at its core, a shared experience of bisexuality—a rejection of attraction to a single gender—the ways one can have this experience are effectively infinite.

While I was saying these inclusive things, I was also perpetuating ideas that bisexuality was experienced in a specific way. I suspect that I was actually finding people, similarly interested in community, who shared some experiences with me.

But to really create that inclusive umbrella of bisexuality, what I had to do was not only accept but expect that bisexuality would appear in ways that were unexpected.

From bi to non-bi

So it is with being not just non-binary, but transgender as well. In fact, let me put out an Ochsian statement of being transgender:

I call myself transgender because I experience gender in a way that differs from the gender I was assigned at birth, not necessarily all the time, or in the same way as anyone else, nor to the same degree.

That's it. That's the statement.

But, of course, that doesn't stop what I hear from, well, everyone else. And it's not just the cisgender folks, those lucky stiffs with a ready-made template for everything that's just laid right out in front of them.

It's also the messaging that invariably bounces its way in front of my eyes or floats past my ears from other queer folk, tightly tying an identity to a specific experience.

And to be absolutely crystal clear, that doesn't mean it isn't right to express a shared experience! To pull together a community around those, to draw validation from it al. It's so very important to be in a place where are are understood.

But I think it's important for us all to remember that there's no One True Way to experience being non-binary, being bisexual, being transgender, being queer. It's also critically important for us to explicitly make space for those folks who are going to experience it all in a slightly—or radically—different way than we do, so long as their way isn't harmful to others.

I think you can be inclusive without denying yourself a community. I don't think it's exclusivist to talk about shared experiences, to seek those who share those with you. It gets exclusivist when you start explicitly gatekeeping.

Explicit inclusivity makes space for everyone. It lets them know they have the right, gives them the confidence to express their own experience. Maybe, through that, they can find bits—if not large amounts—of common ground with others.

Let's make sure we make it clear that one does not have to act a certain way, have a certain kind of expression, or feel anything specific to be under our umbrella with us.

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