Femmephobia in non-binary communities

Image via New York Public Library Image Gallery.

I’ve witnessed a lot of femmephobia or just the overwhelming avoidance of the feminine among non-binary people.

For those read female for most of their lives, I understand feelings of frustration toward femininity. I have a different reactions when people perceive and judge my gender. Although I’m agender, because I am analysed through a binary lens, different ways of interpreting my identity illicit different responses. When I’m assumed female, this has, in the past, meant I have somehow failed to create non-binary presentation.

When I’m assumed male, this means I have succeeded in an attempt to create a different presentation. I am still gendered in society’s eyes, even in a way I don’t want to be. Being agender 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. So it makes sense that being assumed female contains a lot more negative emotions than being assumed male does for people like me.

If femininity reaffirms an identity to others that you don’t have, then I understand wanting to stay away from it. And much of the anti-feminine attitudes I see are coming from those who have been read as female all of our lives.

Image via New York Public Library Image Gallery.

Explaining non-binary identities

There are examples explaining non-binary identities 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, I feel like the gradient really fails to capture the essence of gender expression and interpretation.

One of the first examples of the “Genderbread Person” which has now updated.

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 white 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.

Google image result for default avatars, usually containing more “masculine” features or completely absent of any feminine features.

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 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. 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.

Instead, I would like to see more non-binary people, if they haven’t, reconsider their aversion to 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.

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