Being Non-Binary in a Binary Business World
In follow up to Tuesday's Instagram post, which was somewhat spontaneous and incomplete, I wanted to expand on one of the problems I've encountered as a non-binary person in a binary business world.
For those who don't know I started this business as a super secret side hustle to a hardcore vegan bakery and radical social project I ran in Berlin, full time and alone. I needed some anonymity after being dragged through the mud on more than one occasion by a deeply hypocritical and vicious political scene, as well as a creative outlet that would take me out of the kitchen from time to time.
The premise of the project was simple: create something, anything, from that which I've scribbled down in countless notebooks or left swirling around my head. Each idea that has made its way from scribble to tangible object now represents a little piece of me, the collective sum of which goes some way to making me whole. In fact, everything I create, present or write is a very clear reflection of ME. I represent me. I AM ME. There's nothing ambiguous or absurd in that which I am, so if anyone wants to know who that is they need only take a look at what I've produced. I suspect, however, most people don't do this, which is confusing considering what I'm about to say.
I've been contacted on a fairly regular basis since I started the business by those who want to sell my wares in their store or feature me in a magazine's article. The emails almost always start the same: "we love the feminist angle", as if to warm me up, followed by "we want to curate a selection of female artists", "we want to empower women", "we want to create a space for women", and so on.
In the 20+ months I've run this business I have never once referred to myself as female or a woman. Why? Because I am neither. Equally, I've never hidden my identity - not that it would be wrong for me to do so in a cissexist, trans-exclusionary world - it's simply always been assumed by individuals that I'm a cisgender woman, for which no-one ever sought clarification.
Which brings me to a related side note: people could just ask.
Yes, even the feminists who consider themselves trans-inclusionary - I see you, posting "trans lives matter" pictures to your social media without taking steps to ensure the trans lives that exist around you feel safe, validated and welcome - have never, ever, asked me my pronouns. Every single person I have engaged with on or off social media has assumed not only that I use female pronouns, but also that I refer to myself as a girl, lady or woman. I've engaged in conversations with people about intersectionality and inclusivity, yet in the very same breath been misgendered by them. It's unreal. And hell hath no fury like a cisgender white woman scorned, so over time it became impossible to speak up about this without a clique of cis women rallying together to tell me that they were feminists, dammit, and I was wrong for suggesting they might want to address their inclusivity or safer space policy. [More on this in another post because there exists far too much to discuss on the matter]
"I really appreciate you contacting me" I begin in reply to the emails, unsure how to phrase the next part so as not to apologise for who I am, whilst making it clear I do not fit their mold. "I'm non-binary, neither male nor female, and it would seem therefore that I don't fit your specification," I say wistfully whilst briefly considering adding an "I'm sorry..." after all, as if I've done something wrong by not being female or a woman. I feel awkward and embarrassed, like every other time I'm misgendered, but I'm also upset.
I'm upset because for a second I feel validated, welcomed, wanted. Perhaps the magazine or store is in another country or on another continent, enabling me to feel even more accomplished in what I have built. But this feeling disappears quickly as I come to realise I don't fit the stipulated requirements and therefore don't belong in their carefully curated collection of creatives.
I'm upset because all of the reasons these individuals list as to why they want a female- or women-only space are ALL applicable to me and every other gender deviant out there! It's not women vs. men it's ALL OF US vs. the patriarchy! To exclude a huge percentage of the population that wants to dismantle said power structure is not only insensitive, it's illogical.
Whilst I expect more from self-proclaimed 'feminists', this exclusionary theme is typical of the business world. There's a seemingly endless void outside the only two visible groups - cis men and cis women - a void where individuals such as myself are lost. There is 'business' and then there's 'women in business'. That's it. There's no 'business for gender non-confirming, non-binary or trans people'. In fact, we don't even exist within business census data. There are no statistics available on the number of trans-owned businesses, for example. None.
'Women in business' want to tackle issues such as the gender pay gap, glass ceiling, discrimination in the workplace, unequal access to job opportunities and promotions within, all of which is excellent. They want to create spaces, entire companies, whole industries where women don't experience any of the frustrations that are so common place in mainstream (aka. men's) business, again all of which is excellent. But in focusing solely on the empowerment and elevation of cisgender women (let's be honest, 'women in business' does not have a history of being trans inclusive) they've forgotten there's a huge group of other people who are also disenfranchised by the status quo.
Sadly, I have received only two follow-ups to my regretful responses, neither of which included either an apology for misgendering me or an extension of their original offer to include me, the non-binary trans person, in their store or article. Which leads me to my last point for now: the main reason it took me almost two years to address this topic.
The awkwardness and embarrassment I feel each time I'm misgendered, coupled with the continual rejection by endless 'feminist' groups, has left me defeated and dejected; and whilst there have been times in my life that the very absence of a safer space led me to create one, it's not always realistic for those of us who are already marginalised to muster up the motivation to build something from scratch to fill the void.
So to anyone who holds this way of thinking I say: being so exclusionary isn't very feminist of you, so stop it. NOW. If you think you're somehow taking a higher path by focusing solely on a female- or cis women-only space in a patriarchal world, you're mistaken. You're lacking the enrichment that diversity offers. You're lacking the empowerment that comes from community and solidarity. You're lacking the foresight necessary to start a real revolution.
I strongly believe that when we rise up we must lift others with us, otherwise what have we achieved but discrimination and inequality by another name?
Photo credit: Matthew Henry