I wanted to talk about something I’ve witnessed across many different communities amongst some non-binary identified individuals: femme hatred or just the overwhelming avoidance of the feminine within non-binary identified individuals.
I want to preface this by saying that on a base level, I understand some of the anti-fem attitudes I see. I have a variety of different reactions when people perceive and judge my gender. Although I’m non-binary identified, because I am constantly analysed through a binary lens, different ways of interpreting my identity illicit different responses. When I’m assumed female, this has, in the past, demonstrated to me that I have somehow failed in an attempt to create non-binary presentation. In other words, I am somehow gendered, despite not wanting to be.
When I’m assumed male, this demonstrates to me that I have some how succeeded in an attempt to create a non-binary presentation. I am still gendered in society’s eyes, even in a way I don’t want to be. Being non-binary means that I don’t identify with either option, but yet, being assumed male because I am usually assumed female means that I have somehow won, I’ve somehow subverted understandings of gendered norms and at least crossed a boundary in what I’m used to being perceived as. Therefore, it would make a lot of sense that being assumed female contains a lot more negative emotions than being assumed male does.
So on a basic level, I get some of the hatred and avoidance of femininity. If that just reaffirms an identity to others that you don’t have, then I understand wanting to stay away from it. I see lot of examples of explaining non-binary identities or genderqueerness by putting gender on a spectrum with “male” or “masculine” on one side and “female” and “feminine” on the other side, with genderqueer or non-binary identities set right in the middle. While this gradient may illustrate the point very clearly to cis people or binary identified people, I feel like the gradient really fails to capture the essence of gender expression and interpretation.
While the experience of different marginalisations and intersections always differs, one thing that many privileges have in common is being a cultural and social default. So, for example, a privilege of whiteness is that whiteness is so often considered a default. “Flesh tone” is code for “white skin”, items of clothing, bandages, or other items that are meant to blend in with skin or look like skin always reflect whiteness, the majority of individuals represented in films as a default are white, and artists consider the race of a sculpture as white immediately before anything else. That’s just one part of privilege.
Maleness and masculinity have that same privilege within Eurocentric societies. Groups of individuals are commonly referred to with male pronouns or male signifiers (those guys) and masculine general names are considered gender neutral (dude) where female or feminine signifiers (ladies, girls) are not given the same flexibility. Default avatars and representations of humans are always masculine bodied and represent white supremacist society’s concept of a “male” figure. Curvy shapes with breasts or hips never enjoy that same freedom. Therefore what becomes inevitably clear is that within white supremacist society, non-binary individuals do not and cannot exist in between the gradient of “masculine” and “feminine” when masculine is a cultural default.
I’ve already discussed how I feel that androgyny tends to create a situation where more masculine presentations are preferred and one must abandon all feminine qualities in order to achieve a “genderless” look. Therefore I understand why a rejection of the feminine, femme-ness, and “female” represents some freedom from gendered constraints. Within this gender disordered society, many are often searching for something that will get a recognition of gender neutrality or at least a lack of gender from others. But what I think a lot of non-binary people forget is that we’re negotiating with a society that refuses to accept our existence all together. Audre Lorde once wrote, “The masters tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Playing by their rules of “gender” and what is constructed as “genderless” may not actually break any of those rules.
I don’t wish to say that should a non-binary identified person choose to dress more masculinely or overall have a more masculine presentation that they are somehow buying into the binary or reinforcing any harmful stereotypes. At the end of the day, I think what feels comfortable for your own personal expression is something I don’t have the right to dictate and the last thing I would want to do is force someone into yet another gendered box, since that’s what I feel like is already happening left and right.
Instead, I would like to see more non-binary people, if they haven’t, reconsider their aversion to the femme and femininity. Because so much of our culture is already so anti-feminine and pro-masculine. None of exist within a social vacuum, we’re all positioned toward a state of femme rejection and hatred. I think it’s worth examining those attitudes at least once over.
This article was published in January 2013 and was last updated in October 2014.