Supporting Non-Binary People Is a Moral Good With Strategic Value For The Left
In the past 31 years , the queer community has dealt with a multitude of ideological and material challenges. I was born in 1987. During this time the Reagan and Bush administrations murdered a generation of queers through willful inaction. They left people without recourse as their weakened immune systems succumbed to the ravages of AIDS.
I remember growing up in Dallas, a haven for southern queers. In the 90s, I remember visiting cafes and restaurants in the Oak Lawn neighborhood with my father. The cafes were filled with monuments of remembrance for all of those lost during the scourge. While it was upsetting and confusing to my hetero eyes, it was illuminating to the danger and hate that queers of all kinds deal with.
Which brings me to the latest controversy stirred up by a local alt-weekly pundit, Katie Herzog. The Stranger hosts the gadfly of the radical queer community. She has written enough contrarian “but I’m a lesbian” hot takes around gender and sexual politics that she has developed a decent sized following of “anti-identity politics” devotees. After writing multiple articles defending Jordan Peterson’s status as an inquisitive liberal, rather than the neoreactionary mystic he is, it looks like Katie Herzog is back on her “just asking questions” his time she focuses on the rise of people identifying as non-binary, who may also refer to themselves as enby.
According to Herzog’s interpretation, the rise of enbies spells doom for a the original victims of sexism, women. She begins her article by tracing the history of the slogan “The Future Is Female” from its early days as a concise manifesto for lesbian separatism to mainstream liberal pablum. Eventually the slogan had to change. As trans and non-binary people become more visible and vocal, the inherently exclusionary nature of an all female future became more obvious.
In reading Herzog’s telling of this modern history, this was a mistake. Never mind the fact that for generations many trans men have hid among lesbians for safety, or that non-binary folks are constantly told that their gender expression is not real. In fact, if one moves away from a subcultural approach and examines the implementation of gender as a system of power, it becomes rather clear that it is only through an eradication of the binary that we can have egalitarian gender relations.
To Herzog this is a moment of loss for cis women at the altar of a “du jour” ideology of online liberals, intersectionality. There are plenty of legitimate critiques of intersectional theory in politics and culture. Too often, it is used as an excuse for inaction to uphold an unjust status quo rather than achieve egalitarian goals. Not too long ago we had a Democratic nominee for president who at one point described Black teenagers as “super predators” who got undue credit for randomly name-dropping intersectionality in a speech. Like any ideology or theory, it can be poorly applied. However, this ain’t it, chief.
As for examples of how non-binary people are able to lord this status over cis women? The best Herzog has is Instagram’s admittedly retrograde standards on female nudity, which don’t allow women’s breasts in pictures on users feeds, while allowing non-binary identified nudity to stand. As an argument goes, it’s pretty flimsy, as it equates the struggle of being unable the to show breasts for extra likes with political and economic visibility and justice. It would be comical if it wasn’t so diminishing to real-life trans and non-binary people’s experiences. The possibility of extra Insta followers is not equivalent to being told your gender is not real or being murdered or harassed at a significantly higher rate. From the pay gap to social relations, there are a multitude of ways patriarchy and capitalism oppress cis women, but Herzog’s example shrinks these realities into petty nonsense.
Sure, maybe it’s vaguely annoying to some to go through the torturous process of asking for gender pronouns. Perhaps it’s unsettling to your idea of childhood to have children’s genitals not define their identity. Maybe the idea of people who don’t seem queer identifying as non binary makes you mad. Attempting to reframe these trends as an assault on women not progressive. Infact, this view is deeply conservative and more focused on protecting those in the club while ignoring the more radical possibilities laid out in front of us.
Near the end of her blog entry, Herzog defends her position by stating that people who describe themselves as non-binary take an individual approach to solve a systemic issue. To a degree, she’s right. This shift in mainstream gender expression could stay in the realm of interpersonal relations if it is not connected to a political movement that works towards political and economic justice. Considering the disproportionate number of queer people in the working class, there is a clear path forward for queer folks to align with comrades for labor protections, worker empowerment, and social democracy. Sadly, Herzog ignores this dimension, leaving a powerful case inert, turning her critique into nothing more than reactionary pablum.
Throughout my life, I have seen the word queer shift. It went from insult, to a radical call for unity to a commonly used demographic term. While this may not be a apparent to most users of the term, “queer” has roots in the radical deconstruction of all that is deemed normal, from gender and sex, to race and capitalism. It is a universalist call to continue questioning what society deems acceptable and just. It rejects the stasis of an ideological status quo and responds with radical fluidity that will not rest until these systems of power are burned to the ground.