The Problem with “Non-Binary”

“The term ‘non-binary’ is used by people who don’t identify as either male ♂️ or female ♀️, and don’t want to be restricted by traditional binary notions of gender.” From #Openly on Twitter 🌈

Ok. I get it. I myself, and many many people, especially girls and women, do not “want to be restricted by traditional binary notions of gender”. Binary notions of gender are how patriarchy, and its various historical and contemporary manifestations, has entrenched itself. It’s how women and men are indoctrinated into their social roles as masculine and feminine. Gender roles can also be the basis of matriarchal societies centered on mothers and grandmothers. They don’t have to be androcentric. There are cultures and societies which are not patriarchal or androcentric. Most of them, however, have been colonized into isolation and submission to patriarchal outsiders over hundreds or even thousands of years, in different places and in different ways. So what is gender?

~Human males, “boys and men”, are socialized or “masculinized” to be dominant over women (meaning all human males, within other male-dominated boundaries of human difference such as age, class, status, race, etc.). Human females, “girls and women”, are socialized or “feminized” to be submissive to men (this includes all women, who are also subject to other male-dominated social boundaries of class, status, caste or race, etc.). Gender can then be equated to where you fit on the “dominance-submission spectrum”. Homosexuality or bisexuality can be challenging to gender roles, but don’t have to be.

Gender roles were originally always based on sexual differences between males and females – that’s the whole point about gender – to provide a socially recognized way of controlling heterosexuality and reproduction. Sex itself, as a biological reality, has no “gender”. It is an entirely neutral natural condition of our existence as a sexually reproducing species. Some gender roles can be androgynous or even transgender working against the binary nature of sex. But biological sex, the foundation of gender, is immutably binary upon which our survival and evolution as a species depends. Intersex is not an exception to this, but rather is a naturally occurring chromosomal anomaly within a binary sexual system of biological reproduction. Sex and gender are usually correlated, but they are not the same thing. Gender, as a human way of narrating sex differences, can be detached from sex. There can be a “gender spectrum”. But a sex spectrum does not exist.~

Rejecting, resisting, reforming or getting rid of patriarchal or “traditional gender roles” is what feminism is supposed to be about.

It is not about detaching us from physical reality, but rather liberating us from destructive social norms.

Challenging patriarchy is also central to other forms of human rights and anti-discrimination work including that based on sexuality, class, caste, status, race, ethnicity, religion, age, nationalism, etc. That’s what being “gender critical” is. It used to be the core of all forms of feminism, going back centuries. Unfortunately, that no longer seems to be the case. Challenging traditional gender roles is what distinguishes radical or GC feminists from rightwing conservatives. Alliances between these two groups is complicated and, in my view, very problematic.

I would argue that resisting patriarchy, including traditional gender roles based on male dominance and female submission, is one of the fundamentals of all human rights work. This work is now being pried loose from human rights, and especially women’s rights and the original aims of LGB rights, as the “T” has come to dominate all other progressive political movements. Even Black Lives Matter is caving in.

Radical feminists are adamantly opposed to the whole concept of gender stereotypes, and would like to abolish “gender”altogether as inherently demeaning to the female sex. I myself don’t think this is possible as I think gender predates and precedes patriarchy, but certainly the worst aspects of binary gender roles that are deeply connected to sex discrimination in our contemporary societies could be eliminated.

But there’s the thing. Traditional and restrictive binary gender roles are not just individual choices. They aren’t just what your individual personality might be. They are nobody’s “true self”. Gender is not just a performance or expression or identity. Gender is what we, AS A SOCIETY, call the roles, personalities, expression, appearance, expectations and behaviours we ascribe to women and men because of their sex. Gender isn’t just something that was randomly invented by marketing departments and advertising agencies (although it has certainly been exploited and exaggerated by them). Gender is how sexual differences between males and females are imagined within any human society. And in most human societies as they currently exist, gender is the most important way in which sex differences are regulated and controlled. Patriarchy reduces women to their sexual, reproductive and caregiving body parts in the service of male agendas. You cannot “identify as a woman”. Femaleness, as a physical and an historical social reality, is not an identity or an individual choice. Neither is maleness.

To be “non-binary” recognizes that we all live in a binary system, and that you yourself would like to reject this. That you don’t want to choose between one set of gender roles or another. So you choose a kind of androgynous identity to separate yourself from the ridiculous Barbie vs. GI Joe gender industry. That’s commendable, except for two big problems.

First, it won’t work. You cannot make the binary gender system called patriarchy disappear by simply telling yourself you’re no longer a part of it. The system is much bigger than any individual trying to be recognized as a person – not just as a girl or a boy. Individualism is part of the neo-liberal philosophy that underlies modern capitalism, especially in the US, that tries to convince us that everything is about individual choices. It is used successfully by corporations convincing us that the problems they create are really about what individual consumers do or don’t do. Our choices. Our fault. Climate change becomes about individuals buying electric cars or turning down the thermostat or “offsetting” carbon emissions from flying, instead of corporate responsibility by the fossil fuel industry (Exxon spent years successfully selling this along with climate change denial). Plastic pollution can be solved by individuals recycling plastic containers, or not buying them in the first place. It’s never about billion dollar industries making and marketing products made out of or packaged in plastic (another fossil fuel product by the way). Smoking? Just quit, or better yet, chew our anti-smoking product, or wear our anti-smoking patch! Substance abuse? “Just say no”. PTSD or other forms of trauma or mental illness? Let’s not look at a society run by corporate capitalist psychopaths who are killing, traumatizing and driving us mad. Individual therapy or more drugs is the answer. Born in the wrong body? Hormones and cosmetic surgery. Your choice. Our marketing opportunity. But all of this is a lie. Our choices are important, but only if they are made collectively and those who are really responsible (corporate and individual) are held accountable.

Declaring yourself to be non-binary can be the first step on the road to joining with others to change the system on a society-wide level. In which case, welcome to the fight! It can also be a positive individual step that offers girls, boys and young adults time to sort out who they are as adult human beings of either sex, or sexuality. But individual choices about presentation or appearance will not eliminate patriarchy, just as opting out of capitalism will not get rid of the oil industry, or the tobacco industry, or drugs, or the exploitation of women, men, and children, or the destruction of our natural environment. This is about something much bigger than pronouns or a haircut or new clothes or what your latest selfie looks like on Instagram.

The second major problem is, “non-binary” is the gateway for many people into the transgender industry, and its accompanying ideology, mostly consisting of a hodgepodge of critical queer theories and neo-liberal feminism. Climate change, pollution, substance abuse, sexual exploitation, violence and poverty are all real problems in the real world. Feeling as if you were born as the wrong sex “in the wrong body” is a form of mental illness – its delusional – similar to anorexic girls who think they’re too fat, or men who think beating up the women in their lives makes them strong. Indeed, these pathologies are related. Gender dysphoria, autogynophilia, addictions to pornography, sexually demeaning “liberation” for attention or cash, body disassociation, androgynous “non-binariness”, male violence fueled by hyper-masculinity, or the glorification of feminine objectification are not forms of rebellion either for or against gender. Quite the opposite. They are the delusions of sick individuals in a sick society bound by restrictive gender roles, whether attached to sexual difference, or detached and transed into fantasies borrowed from pornography or modern entertainment platforms such as gaming. Avatars and robots are fantasies or corporate products – they are not replacements for real humans in the real world. And women are not reducible to a soothing voice in a box, or a surrogate, or a “sex worker”, or an image in a man’s head, or even to working hands, a caring heart, or a vagina, a cervix, a uterus, ovaries, breasts, that “collection of lucrative holes” many men see us as.

Gender dysphoria might be treatable by actual physical transformation through puberty blockers, or hormone therapies, or cosmetic surgeries (just as some of these products were originally used to castrate sexual offenders) but the bodily changes will never be more than superficial and will not change your sex. Those physical changes are also expensive, dangerous, debilitating forms of bodily mutilation that will turn you into a permanent prisoner of the medical side of the transgender industry. The ideology is pure corporate capitalism. It is a lie, conflating gender with sex. It is destroying people’s lives, especially those of children and young people, and the “widows” of men or women reinventing themselves to match an image of gender they have in their heads – the performance of talented actors on Oprah, and YouTube influencers, notwithstanding.

As for the trans individuals who do not make any physical changes to their bodies, nor plan to, but simply claim to be the opposite sex manifested by cross-dressing and superficial “gender bending”, you are liars or fools. Many of you are predatory men’s rights activists. And feminists who call themselves transgender allies, you are handmaids to patriarchy, not feminists.

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