Nonbinary identities like my own are often disregarded, ignored, or at best, regarded with confusion. Especially in formal spaces. This was not the case at the event ‘Gender Diversity Beyond Binaries’ hosted by UN Women at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City on July 15, 2019 - and one of the first times an event was dedicated entirely to trans and non-binary people’s lives at the forum. This intentional inclusion of nonbinary folks in formal spaces is desperately needed. It speaks to nonbinary people like myself on levels that binary people, especially cisgender people, could not begin to understand.
I felt included before the event began. At the door, everyone was offered pronoun stickers - and the options weren’t just ‘he/him/his’, ‘she/her/hers’, and ‘they/them/theirs.’ People who use ‘ze/zir/zem’ pronouns and ‘xe/xir/xem’ pronouns had stickers to choose from too. The seemingly small offering of pronoun stickers to all, was, in fact, no small feat. It ensured that one person’s offering of their pronouns wouldn’t be an oddity like it so often is. And it signified to everyone in the room that people of all genders would not only be respected, but actively included in the conversation.
Victor Madrigal-Borloz, UN Independent Expert on Protection against Violence and Discrimination based on SOGI; Ambassador Martín García Moritán, Permanent Representative of Argentina to the UN; Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director, UN Women; Imara Jones, award-winning journalist; Katlego Kai Kolanyane-Kesupile, Religion Fellow, OutRight; Geena Rocero, Founder, Gender Proud; Kay Ulunday Barrett, poet and activist
And that indication did not disappoint. As the conversation about gender diversity around the world ensued, it became abundantly clear that this inclusion wasn’t just an act. Each speaker mentioned nonbinary and gender diverse people explicitly multiple times. Gender equality, a conversation which usually centers around cis-women, was discussed in a way that acknowledged the impact of gender inequality on nonbinary and gender diverse people, and invited us to take part.
This event was truly historic in its inclusion, and I am excited for what it means for the future of nonbinary inclusion in formal political spaces. And as the Executive Director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo, affirmed: “Women and people with nonbinary gender identities must have their own spaces to speak. To act, to own, and to drive their own movement without support.” When we are allowed our own spaces, when we are spoken to instead of about, we can speak to what will truly make a difference in our lives.
A tweet by Fabrice Houdart described the essence of the event well:
What we are witnessing today at groundbreaking #Beyondbinaries event at the @UN is people that were excluded before being offered for the 1st time a chance to share their experience inside a patriarchal structure of power. pic.twitter.com/7DSw2ZWPhZ
— Fabrice Houdart (@HoudartUN) July 15, 2019
Katlego Kai Kolanyane-Kesupile, Religion Fellow, OutRight; Geena Rocero, Founder, Gender Proud;
There are always levels to our requests - putting your pronouns into your email signature and remembering to offer your pronouns when you introduce yourself are small steps that make a big difference. But for true inclusion so much more is needed. There needs to be legislation allowing us to be properly identified on government-issued documents, bathrooms which don’t force us to enter gendered spaces that don’t correspond with our identity, visibility in culture and media, representation in politics, arts, international organizations. As Geena Rocero of Gender Proud stated- “Dignified and nuanced and accurate representation of trans and gender diverse people saves lives.” When our identities are accurately represented, we are no longer oddities. And as Katlego Kai Kolanyane-Kesupile added “We [trans, nonbinary, and gender diverse people] are not just entertainment pieces, we are whole human beings.” We are so much more than our preferred pronoun, and an understanding of that is crucial to achieving genuine inclusion.
Discussion on “Gender Diversity Beyond Binaries”
The panelists not only boldly asserted the need for inclusion of nonbinary and gender diverse people, they didn’t shy away from speaking about the fact that we have always existed, and the role colonial powers played in our erasure and othering. Many indigenous communities had gender diverse people readily accepted into their societies before colonization, yet now we face a fight against societies that would rather forget and view nonbinary identities as a white concept. “We need to decolonize that understanding and reclaim that space of gender fluidity that's always been there,” stated Geena Rocero. White people such as myself need to be aware of this, uplift the voices of indigenous communities who have always celebrated rather than sought to destroy these identities, and ensure that we don’t take the credit for this work ourselves. This concept spreads into LGBTIQ activism as well, for if allies continue to be the spokespeople for the LGBTIQ rights movement, LGBTIQ people, especially nonbinary and gender diverse folks, will exist as concepts rather than realities.
Attending this event made me feel incredibly empowered, seen, and recognized more than I have ever been as a nonbinary person. Rather than hearing binary and cisgender people talk about my identity, other trans and nonbinary people dominated the conversation. Katlego Kai Kolanyane-Kesupile said it best- "Those who are living beyond the binary are getting to the point of existing without meeting qualifications for our existence, so how do we get to that point without being seen as rebels? Our visibility should not be needed to prove a point. We are more than you and essentially you need to learn how to become a bit more like us.”
I hope to see many more formal events with this explicit inclusion in the future, and in the meantime, I will think back on this one fondly.
Watch the full panel discussion
Published on July 16, 2019 | OutRight Action International an LGBT human rights organization