American / Book Reviews / nonfiction / queer / The Latest

“Nonbinary”: Exploring gender and identity


Book cover of Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity

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Literature – the writing and telling of stories – has always been a way for marginalised groups to express themselves in ways that mainstream culture would not allow. It allows cis people, like myself, the opportunity to hear from and support nonbinary and trans voices. It allows nonbinary and trans voices to connect and find each other. These words and stories aren’t just validated through the act of writing because I believe those voices and words were valid before they even had to speak. But these stories do offer visibility, strength, support, community, and love. The many gifts that literature affords to people fighting for visibility are also the same things used by authors wishing to harm and invalidate trans and nonbinary voices.

I have tried to think of ways to approach what has been unfolding in the literary world. Famous authors have spoken out of turn. They have tried, and are probably successful, in spreading harmful misinformation about gender, identity, and the trans and nonbinary community. Those authors and minds will not get a mention in this article. They can fucking choke on their millions of dollars earnt with hate speech.

Today’s post is about celebrating the amazing and beautiful voices in literature. There are so many authors and publishers honouring trans and nonbinary stories and this is just one book of many.

Nonbinary was edited by Micah Rajunov and Scott Duane. Micah and Scott are advocates, writers, and researchers. They lend their own stories to the anthology with countless other trans, queer, and nonbinary voices. It was humbling to read their stories.

Riki Wilchins says it best in the Forward of the anthology:

If I am nonbinary, can feminism – the politics of women – still represent me? Can I enter women-only spaces, or men-only meetings? Can I be gay, straight, or bisexual? Here language fails, the entire discourse on gayness and sexual orientation collapses?

p. xii

As a lover of words and literature, I am in awe of what stories can do for us. Although, it is in reading these stories that I am reminded of the limitations of words and literature. We as a society have constructed language and culture in a hetero-cis way. The inbetweenness of identities and the multiplicity of human experiences cannot be expressed with the words and literature we have and know of now. We need new words. We need new stories. We need new voices to guide us.

Often, the language of the nonbinary community reflects the frustrating but necessary process of defining oneself only in opposition to what is already defined.

Rajunov and Duane

We need to flip the whole system upside down. Shake it until every hetero-normative word falls out of its pockets and then fill it with a new language, a new form that doesn’t rely on othering in order for validation.

The trans and nonbinary community deserves more from us cis folks. Freedom to be oneself starts when one can truly feel safe. Right now, our medical system barely supports trans and nonbinary people. We should not, for example, assume that the sole reason for medical intervention in trans and nonbinary lives is to either make them completely ‘pass’ as a new gender, or to beat the nonbinary out of them. There we go again, binaries in everything we do.

Instead of treating people the way we want to be treated, maybe we need to ask people how they would like to be treated by us instead?

As Michal “MJ” Jones points out, “To live in authenticity does something to a person.” What it means to live in authenticity can be different for every person. These autobiographical stories are just some examples of the many ways authenticity can look like. I hope that instead of looking to fuel hatred, you can choose love. Instead of fearing what is different to you, seek out knowledge and stories. Come to those stories with an open heart and compassion.

If you are concerned about how you can support trans and nonbinary folks, why not buy their books? Support their research. Advocate for them in your community. And as always, share the reading love.

Get your copy of Nonbinary here.

Note: this poetry collection was accessed through Netgalley for review purposes. All opinions are my own.

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