Affirming Trans People Means Caring For AMAB-Nonbinary Folks Too
Showing up for amab-nonbinary people means giving a damn about trans folks who ain’t got no interest in proving or performing our gender.
In November of last year, I attended a rally coordinated by Black Womxn For, and hosted at Clark Atlanta University, for Elizabeth Warren. I hated it, and I wrote about all the reasons why following the event.
However, I was not prepared for the response that the article would bring. After the piece went live I was met with an onslaught of antagonisms masked as criticisms from various cisgender Black women and gay men who insisted upon engaging me as though I am a cisgender man—many of whom are very aware that I am not. Overwhelmingly, I was being asked to account for the sins of cisgender men for critiquing a white woman who I believed then, and do believe now, is using Black people—and Black women, more specifically—to gain the “Black Vote.” This instance reminded me of so many of the other times I’ve been engaged this way, and that has led me to writing this: nonbinary people assigned male at birth (amab) are not men. Engaging us as if we are is cissexist.
In the past few years, violence against Black trans women has become hypervisiblized. In response, many people have seemingly taken on the mantle of performative advocacy and activism to prove their commitment to trans liberation. However, because it is but a performance, trans women are forced to experience heightened scrutiny, visiblized rising death tolls, and being made into a spectacle. And while their plight becomes more visible, cis-lings find more ways to invisiblize nonbinary trans people. When you exist in a fat and Black body, that violence only becomes worse. So people grow comfortable with being transphobic towards nonbinary people because the violence transgressed against our bodies has not yet been directly translated to Death—thus they cannot yet build social, political, and/or economic capital off of our lives.
Since I started openly identifying as nonbinary nearly four years ago, this is nearly always how I am engaged. People who I date and/or have sex with need me to be a Man so that they don’t have to contend with their ugly politic around gender. Other marginalized Black people need me to be a Man when I offer a sound critique so that they can build a campaign against me rooted only in a politic around identity and not in love or principle.
I came to this realization when I saw it happening not only to me, but also to fellow fat Black nonbinary people—amab, afab, and intersex people. Fat Black amab-nonbinary people are engaged as the monster under the bed and in the closet; we are asked to bury our transness so that cis + thin people are able to find their victimhood through us; we are stripped of our humanity—and our desire to exist away from or outside of the oppressive nature of the gender binary—and demanded to take comfort in being the antagonist in a story we never asked to be written into.
My fatness, and my dark skin, and people’s disinterest in separating the phallus from cis manhood leaves me to be interacted with as a hyperaggressive masculinist. Yet no one seems to call this exactly what it is: anti-fat, anti-Black, and cissexist. There is no other way around it. And the only reason people don’t choose to interject on my behalf in most cases is because no matter how many times I say otherwise, people can’t conceptualize this body of mine away from manhood. They don’t want to. And because there is no currency in protecting, showing up for, and caring for nonbinary people, they do not have to. So we are asked again to be seen as nothing more than the monsters the rest of the world needs us to be for them.
“Nonbinary” has become another buzzword to the Woke Brigade, just as “femmes” did just a few years back. We are “women and nonbinary people,” as if that is not inherently dismissive, erasive, and shortsighted. Not all nonbinary people are afab and not all afab-nonbinary people are feminine or interested in being coded as feminine. This becomes even more harmful when many organizations begin to claim to represent “women and nonbinary people”, but have a staff made up mostly of cisgender women. This is violence against trans people and it should be named as such.
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When Black Womxn For and other Warren supporters harassed me, people said that I hate Black women; they called me a misogynist; they directly called me a man; others told me I “outranked” them in terms of power dynamics, and some others flat out named that they wanted to care and show up for the Black women [who were harassing me] simply because they were Black women. No one publicly said that what was happening to me was cissexist. No one publicly said that what was happening to me was anti-fat. And no one demanded that they be accountable to their words and actions. Instead, everyone watched from the sidelines and direct-messaged me about how much this very public display of anti-fat cissexism bothered them.
Showing up for trans people, though, means caring for all of us. It is not just a hashtag. It means seeing trans women as more than Death. It means visibilizing the plight of trans men while not asking them to die in the process of being shown up for. And it means giving a damn about trans people who ain’t got no interest in proving or performing our gender.
Nonbinary is not just a buzzword. It is just as real of an identity as any other, and we are more than your diversity quota. For some, it is a third gender. For some, it is movement between the gender binary. For others, it is an attempt to position ourselves outside of gender altogether. We don’t have to show up white, thin, or androgynous—and androgyny does not have one universal look either. We take on different looks and many different forms. We shapeshift. Some “conform” and others are deviant. But we are not something to be packaged into your binaried language around gender. And when you see violence happening against us, name it directly. Because if transness, in its simplest form, is an all-encompassing term for people who do not [exclusively] identify with their assigned sex and/or gender, then nonbinary people are trans, too.
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