Creating Our Own Existence – #minorityreport

In #minorityreport, Features, FILM, THEATRE & TV, HOME by J & Sarah

#minorityreport is a feature in which people highlight and discuss the work of a minority person or community in the media. The idea being to highlight the voices of people, too often ignored.

btb-logo-for-articles (1)I first had the idea for Beyond the Binary last year. It definitely seems like more than a year has passed – but really, the fledging thought of a place non-binary people in the UK could call their own is fairly new, despite us having already 25,000 views since July. Not bad for a small website!

At the time of BtB’s conception, I was working for a non-profit project called All About Trans. The aim of the project is to bring together the media – usually mainstream institutions such as the BBC, Channel 4, and various newspapers – to talk to a variety of trans people about their experiences and lives, in order to gain an understanding as to why sensitive and accurate representation is important. I have now moved on and work for an LGBT charity – however, being in close contact with the media got me thinking: how best can non-binary people express ourselves, as the media often chooses to forego our stories in favour of something more sensational and surgery orientated? For me, the answer was clear, and being surrounded by so many creative and expressive non-binary people, I knew I had a shot at making it happen: our own website, curating our thoughts and being a place to publicise our own views. No longer would cis people try to fathom their way into our minds and then put something totally incorrect down on paper: we would be the authors of our own stories, have agency over ourselves, and talk about the things we saw as important.

That was my goal when I drew together some like-minded people to help get some ideas down, including Sarah Gibson, Beyond the Binary’s Assistant Editor from the beginning. One part of our mission was clear to all of us: this would be focussed, as niche as it might seem, on non-binary people from the UK or living in the UK. There were a few reasons for this: the non-binary community online is very US-centric; spending a lot of time on Tumblr, I know that issues, language, and concepts are structured around a US majority audience, and as such, our terminology and the way we discuss gender changes due to space and culture. It was also easier to manage a focussed group of people – the non-binary community in the UK in comparison with the US is smaller, close-knit, and our energies could be better directed (for example, keeping up to speed with national non-binary legal issues is easier – we managed to put together a media rush when we learned about #SpecificDetriment [click here to read the media rush in question and to explore BTB]. Despite that, we wanted our website to remain open to people of colour from outside the UK to submit, as our voices are silenced within the non-binary community, which is still, like the wider LGBT community, hostile for those who aren’t white. But even as we grew, so did the need for us to exist.

While non-binary identities are in general systematically erased and ignored by the mainstream media, what does make it into the public eye is an incredibly narrow sample of non-binary people. What the media is willing to include is distilled and twisted to fit the specific narrative which they want, focusing almost exclusively on young, white, androgynous non-binary people who are portrayed as wanting to be a sort of ‘third gender’. Discussion of any oppression they might face, save occasionally for gender neutral toilets, is cast aside in favour of a voyeuristic examination of their identities. Any time we get to speak about the issues which we face it is packaged up as us demanding something outlandish, as if we are trying to impose our own world view upon everyone else, designed to stir up the ‘PC gone mad brigade’. Binary trans people have been subjected to these same tactics for years though it is now thankfully slowly going out of fashion.

Our history and culture is neglected and forgotten, we are seen as nothing more than our gender identity, not really as fully fledged humans but one dimensional caricatures. Sensationalism is rife, there to cram our stories into moulds for sale and mass consumption. This erasure can’t be seen in a vacuum and is strongly linked to the erasure of all beings who do not fit the white, Western heteronormative ideals. While different forms of gender variance have been documented and celebrated in other cultures throughout history, this knowledge has been suppressed and destroyed by the legacy of colonialism. The only way for us to challenge the dominant narratives is to be intersectional in our approach, to tell all those stories which remain untold. Taking back control over our own stories and identities is essential. We are not just walking gender identities, we create art, poetry, film, music, we can conjure up characters like ourselves, design fashion, raise children and so much more. Spaces like Beyond the Binary exist for us to tell the untold stories, to portray us as actual people, to simply show you what the world looks like through our own eyes.

Words by J and Sarah – Editor and Assistant Editor for Beyond the Binary

Jade Fernandez used to work for All About Trans, a project designed to increase media representation of trans people. She now works for Stonewall. In her spare time, she writes diverse fantasy, sources content for BTB and procrastinates on tumblr. They identify as a non-binary feminine person (taking either female or neutral pronouns), and have previously spoken and taken part in events centring on queer and trans people of colour. 

Sarah Gibson is an engineering student, former Cambridge University SU LGBT+ trans* and intersex rep and a queer trans person of colour preferring none or neutral pronouns. They have worked on a number of high profile campaigns at their university and in the wider region including improving representation of trans people in Cambridge’s student media and de-gendering the university’s graduation dress code. 

‘Creating Our Own Existence’ is part of Season V of PTL which is run in association with: All About Trans.

We encourage all of our readers to donate to this season’s organisation: Gendered Intelligence.

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