The first Women’s History Month was celebrated in 1987, the year I was born. Inadvertently I spent my whole life celebrating this month as a woman, until 2020. Last year, I came out as nonbinary, and this new experience of gender is rapidly altering my relationship with feminism.
For many years I have been an advocate for women’s rights. I’ve worked with the National Organization of Women, I was involved as an advocate for female survivors of sexual violence and, as a journalist, I worked to push women’s voices to the front. By all considerations of the word, I was a feminist. As a nonbinary person, I wasn’t prepared for the experience of no longer finding acceptance in the feminist spaces I spent so much effort upholding.
In the past, as a journalist, I had made sure to know when the marches were happening and what events I wanted to cover during Women’s History Month. This year, it slipped my radar, until I was invited to participate in a womxn event on International Women’s Day. (The “womxn” has been popularly used since 2015 to include trans and nonbinary women.)
When I posted about the event a friend of mine sent me a message, in confusion, asking if I was now identifying as a “woman.” For the first time I thought, “I may not be welcome here.”
In 2019, I came out as nonbinary and my relationship with feminism has been rapidly altering by this new experience of gender.
On the day of the event I entered the room and found myself surrounded by mostly cisgendered women who never stated their pronouns and never asked mine. My identity didn’t line up with the others who were in the room. I felt like a misplaced object in the popular “one of these things is not like the other” Sesame Street skit.
While I no longer identify as a woman, I deeply identify with the experience of having been socialized as one. There’s a long history of womanhood that I feel biologically tied to and proud of. It is this spirit, the uncelebrated accomplishments and the heritage of the fight for equality which Women’s History Month celebrates. Yet it is in this month, for the first time, I felt the great separation and isolation that sometimes is associated with the nonbinary or gender non-conforming experience.
These celebrations are an important part of my work as an advocate and activist, and although my gender identity may continue to change, I hope to always be involved as a support for putting women’s voices toward the front of the room. The gendered segregation of these feminist spaces, which do not offer open dialogue for trans and nonbinary bodies, stifles the growth of the movement. I still want to be a part of these conversations, because I still want a future where all gender expressions experience equality.
For the first time, I felt the great separation and isolation that sometimes is associated with the nonbinary or gender non-conforming experience.
The definition of feminism is “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.” You don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist. If large groups of ciswomen are sitting in conversation with each other, segregated from other gender expressions, the movement becomes limited. In this circumstance, the ability to have nuanced conversations about the deep and lasting impacts of gender inequality can only be seen through one lens. Opening the scope of this lens, to encompass the gradient scale of gender, allows for more possibilities of evolutionary social change.
I understand the long tragedy of the silencing of women’s voices. However, the more we open the dialogue of gender, the more we can make space for each other, the more rounded understanding we can have of the impacts of gender inequality. Opening the gender binary gives humxn a window into a world that has been dominated by one type of person. The white male. The opening of the gender binary offers us a relief from the pieces of ourselves that we have oftentimes trapped into the limited perspective of what it feels sometimes to be a woman.
If large groups of ciswomen are sitting in conversation with each other, segregated from other gender expressions, the movement becomes limited.
As we begin to experience gender among fluid lines, it is necessary that we work to integrate the reality that not only women experience situations of gender inequality. The Gender Nonconforming and trans community know these inequalities just as strongly as the cisgendered community. Building feminism around the idea that only those identified with being a woman can partake in feminism, diminishes the large leaps and bounds that the movement could make. The gender segregation of the women’s movement creates a large and palpable schism between all bodies that experience the negative impacts of the patriarchy.
In a live video on Instagram on International Women’s Day, well-known nonbinary activist Alok spoke about the need for inclusive feminism. They stated, “Feminism is about the expansion and horizon of a possibility. Offering an invitation to a more just and more free world for all people, where the logics of heteronormative reproduction don’t hold us back.”
We are not living inside the utopian future that the second-wave feminists saw for us. We are pushing beyond the barriers of what that utopia could look like.
The evening after the Women’s Day event I met with a friend and her children. She told me that on the car ride over, her young AMAB (assigned male at birth) child said he thinks he might be “a they.” I told them I was “a they,” and he looked at me, shocked, with a big, wide-open mouth. I wondered what the world would be like for this child, what worlds would they be allowed into, or not, and how would they navigate through those spaces?
All genders can uphold the importance of gender equality. This has been my fight for a long time. My gender identity may change how I fight, but it won’t change the causes at the center of my activism.
As an activist, much of my work focuses on the world we are creating, the world we are inspired to build and questioning the current social structures that keep us from that world. When I spoke with my friend’s child, it was clear to me that this future world exists on the hope that all genders would be allowed in the room, and the conversation would be strengthened by opening that invitation.
As our society changes, as ideas among youth about gender begin to change and as our own expressions of gender begin to morph, we need to begin to open ourselves to what, who and how our culture is impacted by gender inequalities. To recognize the large scope which we are condemned by the patriarchy, to recognize that trans and gender non-conforming individuals.
My identity doesn’t exist to harm anyone. I’ve chosen this identity because it’s what helps me feel the most comfortable. It’s not meant to detract from anyone else’s experience or to make others feel uncomfortable. This identity I’ve chosen I would hope could help to expand our views of how we can live this life.
So I’ll still celebrate and include myself in Women’s History Month events. Why? Because all genders can be feminist. All genders can uphold the importance of gender equality. This has been my fight for a long time. My gender identity may change how I fight, but it won’t change the causes at the center of my activism.
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