In The In Between: Women's History Month + Being Non-Binary
"In the In Between" is AC Dumlao’s monthly Hella Pinay column on what it means to be (in(side) the) in between of two places, identities, concepts, constructs, and more. April 2018's column is a reflection on the past month of March, which was Women's History Month.
Often, I can’t put the right words to how I feel about myself, about gender, about existing in this binary world that's deeper than regurgitating my bio and my social media projects. There’s a lot I still don’t know, or can necessarily put into words. So, here is me trying. Not necessarily coming to conclusions and answers. But that’s what In the In Between is about. Also, I want to acknowledge that I missed a March publication. Mental health has been kicking my butt, and I’m going to be transparent to say I’m re-evaluating my ability to deliver content regularly. Perhaps next month will be a photo essay, or a fashion piece, or something yet to be discovered! But it will still be In the In Between because no matter what I do, there’s an in between in which I live.
March was Women’s History Month. March 8th was International Working Women’s Day. As a non-woman, non-binary (or “enby”) individual, I responded on Twitter in two ways. First:
For those not in the know, this screenshot is from the NBC highbrow post-life comedy The Good Place, by the guy who did Parks and Rec. It also stars the wonderful, perfect-looking Filipino-Canadian actor, Manny Jacinto. I’m not not encouraging you to look at pictures of him all day, but here is a direct link to a Google image search. Where was I going with this?
On The Good Place, there is a character named Janet. She’s everyone’s personal assistant in the afterlife. She appears and disappears. She knows all information ever. She’s played by the (beautiful) D'Arcy Carden. And while she does get to make out with the, again, endlessly attractive Jacinto, she is not a human, nor a robot. And she is not a girl. But she looks like one. And she corrects people all the time.
I am like Janet. I am not a girl. But I look like one. And I have to correct people all the time.
(Caveat here that it does pain me to identify with a white woman-ish character, but in this case, the character, again, is not a human nor a woman.)
I did not come to this realization that Janet is a genderless icon until seeing it mentioned in one of the trans Facebook groups I’m part of, where people list wonderful headcanons such as Peter Parker being a trans guy (bit by a “spider” then gaining super strength and muscles!). Such is the beauty of the internet.
While I am trans non-binary, I don’t “look it.”
While we live in a "gender revolution" world, I find that the reinforcement of the gender binary is disproportionately still in use. With #TimesUp. With discussion of white male terrorists. With statistics of well, about anything. With all-female colleges. With “The Future is Female” shirts. With awards shows like The Oscars. All of these say: men do this, women do this. Women only. I’ll even say something possibly controversial that I haven’t fully thought out, but hey, this is my column and not yours: #YesAllMen in the mainstream certainly does not take in to account the experiences of trans men, transmasculine people, non-binary people, and intersex people.
(I purposefully do not put #MeToo in this list, because black activist Tarana Burke has explicitly spoken of the intersectionality of #MeToo, though in the mainstream, is still very woman- and binary-centered).
But this is my experience. What I’m learning in my gender journey is that even what feels universal is not. Prescriptive statements are not helpful.
There are non-binary women. There are non-binary women.
I want to clarify that I’m not saying “abolish gender.” But I do think that gender should be an opt-in. This concept came to light for me during a panel I recently moderated about the legal implications of third gender options starting to be allowed on birth certificates and driver’s licenses in certain states in the United States. What was obvious was brought up: gender (particularly in a binary) is not an accurate way of identifying someone; height, eye color, photo are all more reliable. In fact, having gender listed is a constant strain and danger for trans people who no longer look like their picture.
I almost wish that I were a woman. That I could go back on all of this. It’d be easier to market myself on “top women” lists, and get into all-female spaces without making a fuss.
But no. There are too many enbies who reach out to me. Who ask me how to explain their pronouns to their families. If getting from high school to college will make it better. How to talk to people about inclusive reproductive healthcare. Enbies who retweet both my serious and funny posts.
That’s the reason I’m doing this after all. As much as I hate to say it, it was the election of 45 which led me to this hyper-visible path. I can’t change it all by myself. I do small things: I’ve started a weekly #mememonday highlighting enby memes, and #tct aka #theycrushtuesday / #theycrushthursday. I sell stickers that say “Call Me They.”
In true In the In Between fashion, I haven’t found a conclusion. What I do know is that time and time again, I feel invalidated by the world, and even by my own brain, for not fitting in a gender binary. But I also know that being out as a trans non-binary person has helped make me into the best version of myself that I’ve ever been. That in my conception of myself, my journey includes being assigned female at birth, socialized as female, and identifying as cis female for most of my life. I also accept that gender isn’t a zero sum game. That there are non-binary men and non-binary women. That non-binary people can use binary pronouns. That there isn’t one-way to be non-binary. That within my own life: there will be more tough conversations and uncomfortable moments. Some days I’m equipped to engage, and other days I’m hiding from the world and my notifications. Do I want to abolish Women’s History Month and International Working Women’s Day? I don’t know the answer. But I also don’t know if that’s the right question to be asking. I’ll certainly be reflecting on this more. And I’ll talk to you all soon.
AC Dumlao is a queer trans non-binary first-generation Filipino-American advocate and artist. AC’s work is dedicated to affirming and centering underrepresented people and their intersectional identities. They were profiled by NBC Asian America for the 2017 “Redefine A to Z” list of AAPI emerging voices. AC is also the creator of the social justice Facebook page Call Me They. Their writing has been published by The Huffington Post, Autostraddle.com, and Wear Your Voice Magazine.