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Women and Non-Binary Spaces Are Not the Inclusionary Revolution You Think They Are

by Maeve Topliff

A wall with the phrase 'Support Community' painted on around a barred window.
Image Courtesy of Matthew Schwartz Unsplash

Gender is a complicated topic, we created it but seemingly are constantly tortured by it.

Who is invited into what spaces, who may use what terms and call themselves by what names. Now that gender is becoming more fluid these labels and groups we assign each other to are becoming obsolete. The issue here arises when those who are in no box gender wise, such as myself, are still pressured to assign themselves a group. As an AFAB gender queer person, (AFAB meaning assigned female at birth) I am privy to ‘women and non-binary safe spaces’. As someone who has thought of themselves as both of these things at some point in their life, my relationship to these spaces has been drastically different at each of these points.

What I have found about these spaces is that they actually have very little relevance for non-binary people. We are not a subsection of womanhood, we have no more affiliation to women than we do men. What we were assigned at birth has no relevance to what spaces we may join, as this is just another way to enforce gender roles that we have clearly denounced. Furthermore, once actually inside these spaces, I find that they are tailored more to women and it begins to feel like either your gender is being ignored and you are forced into pseudo-womanhood, or that you are simply excluded entirely. Much of the time the language is not inclusive and your input as a gender queer participant is not valued. They are created with kind intent, but it is ultimately ignorant good will.

I would like to pose a scenario to you: It is a women and non-binary people event at a bar. Most people imagine this to be AFAB people all round, women laughing with their friends, feminine looking people gossiping and drinking etc… A 6’’2 tattooed person who has masculine presentation walks into the bar. (Imagine a Dwayne Johnson type beat.) They go by they/them pronouns. Would they be accepted with open arms? Does this space actually cater to their needs? Are others who present similarly to them also going to feel welcomed and hence will they feel included here? I can tell you that the answer is almost definitely no. Because what people mean when they say ‘women and non-binary spaces/groups’ is a space without a ‘masculine threat’. Women and people who are targets of the patriarchy deserve safe spaces, there is no question about that. I understand the need to have spaces in which we can gain solace from the patriarchy; what I propose here is a proper intersectionality implemented in these spaces. Clumping women and non-binary people together in this scenario completely invalidates a whole group of people! Not to mention it completely misses the point of non-binary identities.

We belong to no side, we may have our own perceptions of how closely we identify to certain binaries, but each and every non-binary person, nay each and every person, experiences their gender differently.

It is societies obsession with trying to categorise gender and enforce gender roles that make the concept of gender queer identities so hard for cis people to swallow.

There is a severe lack of AMAB (assigned male at birth) and masculine non-binary presenting representation in the media. Part of this is the constrictions that the patriarchy puts on men to squash feelings and perform in a masculine way that often prohibits them from questioning things like their gender. To denounce being a man and create your own path, which may involve embracing the feminine parts of yourself, and creating entirely new parts, flies in the face of everything that the patriarchy hammers into men from the second they are conscious of their existence. For anyone transitioning genders is rough! You have to really get to know yourself, you have to let parts of yourself go and reshape how you view yourself. Now imagine doing all that work, coming to terms with who you are, and still fighting like a salmon jumping upstream to stop people from trying to enforce on youwhat they think you should be. It’s exhausting.

I do not wish to write as though I fully know the experience of AMAB and masculine non-binary people as due to my feminine presentation when I transitioned I did not lose access to many spaces I had previously occupied. Now this is an issue in itself concerning how I am still perceived as a woman to most. Because there is such an idea of what non-binary people look like, those who do not conform (which is most of us by the way!) get erased. Which is why when I hear ‘women’ and ‘non-binary’ used side by side it frustrates me because what they mean is AFAB people. People still view me as a woman, I come out every single day, multiple times, to varied reactions. But nine out of the ten people I tell my pronouns to will never use them because I wear a skirt, and have long hair. And if I didn’t, if my gender expression was a masculine one, I would have probably lost access to these spaces with my transition. So while my inclusion in these spaces is a cause of discomfort for me, AMAB and masculine non-binary people often do not even receive this. When AMAB people transition, suddenly male spaces are not as welcoming, and when they turn to non-binary ones they are again, left out. In these scenarios no one wins.

Essentially, what we must grow to understand is that non-binary identities have no look, no sex, no societal constrictions. They are simply what we wish them to be.

That is an uncomfortable truth, it is not how we are raised to understand gender. But it is, nonetheless, the truth. We can learn, and listen, and respect it, or we can continue to ‘other’ an ever growing group of people who just need a space to be themselves.


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