It has been a whirlwind year. Let’s recap: In 2015, Jaden Smith stole our hearts with unabashedly androgynous fashion, Miley Cyrus eschewed gender labels and started a foundation, and genderfluid actor and artist Ruby Rose’s character Stella on Orange Is The New Black embraced her complicated womanhood. Mal Blum put out a new album, mainstream media like MTV produced decent portrayals of genderqueer folks, and the honorary title Mx (an alternative to Mr. or Ms.) was added to the Oxford English Dictionary, and the Washington Post style guide now embraces singular they pronouns. In many ways, it was a watershed year for the gender variant community as the general public began to pay attention. Of course, visibility can’t fix the violence and discrimination facing gender variant and trans folks. The queer and trans community has mourned the murders of at least 21 trans women in 2015, primarily women of color, and at least 27 suicides. The stakes remain so high, which is why it’s important to honor the work of genderqueer, agender, gender non-conforming, genderfluid, androgynous and non-binary folks who are making themselves visible, speaking their truths and fighting for the liberation of the whole community. I asked a few of amazing folks from the Autostraddle team, community and beyond to share a moment, anecdote or breakthrough that stands out for them from this year.
Tyler Ford, Writer and Activist
This year, I’m thankful for all of the dialogue that has been occurring around transness and gender non-conformity. Whether it’s via celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner coming out publicly or weird plot twists involving trans reveals (looking at you Pretty Little Liars… I still don’t know how to feel about that one), 2015 has been littered with opportunities to talk about trans lives, representation, and visibility. The media’s current interest in trans people terrifies me — there’s too much talk and too little inclusion; too much focus on transness being “so hot right now” and too little focus on ending the oppression of trans people — but media interest also offers me the opportunity to educate people on LGBTQA+ identities and issues on a much larger scale, which excites me. As a result of the changing media landscape, I’ve been able to write about my experiences for major publications and reach audiences who have never heard the terms “agender” or “non-binary” before. Personal and public conversations that have stemmed from sharing my story have been life-changing for me, and have made this year particularly special and inspiring.
Anna Bongiovanni, Staff Cartoonist
Before I can celebrate or praise or even think clearly about the year 2015, I want to point out and remember that it is a year of many heartbreaks. While this year was great in some ways, it sucked in a lot of others. I don’t want to forget the people who were murdered or driven to suicide this year. I don’t want to glaze over those who were kicked out of homophobic and transphobic families. I don’t want to ignore the day to day microaggressions (and aggressions) many genderqueer and trans people face. In terms of living safely and happily, it’s all of us or none of us. I want to celebrate each other’s lives and successes, but I don’t want us to be comfortable, because things just aren’t comfortable yet.
Lots of change has happened in regards to genderqueer and nonbinary visibility. Locally, gender-neutral bathrooms are now legal in Minneapolis. Yay! However, the rest of America has some work to do. And the most dangerous part about fighting for non-gendered bathrooms is the transmisogynistic “advertising” (I like to call it what it is: hate speech) that pops up. In better news, Mx was added to the dictionary. Darkmatter exists and people are listening. I became pals with genderqueer cartoonist Justin Hubbell. I was able to review MTV’s True Life: I’m Genderqueer and it wasn’t awful! I got to keep drawing comics about two queer besties and their daily struggles for Autostraddle!
Very specifically and special to me, I was able to teach this year at a very cool high school and, to my intense joy, all of the students got my pronouns right. This was due to the work of the principal who corrected each student when they used ‘she/her’ instead of ‘they/them’. Every. Time. This principal never made it a burden and never made it a big deal. Trans and genderqueer folks are often forced to be their own advocates in workplaces. I am often “that person” at work: the one insisting we introduce ourselves in a way that includes pronouns, explaining gender neutral pronouns to co-workers who don’t care, constantly correcting people until I get to tired and just give up. So I think the raddest highlight of my year was I got to experience simple allyship that had a direct impact on my daily experience.
Aida Manduley, Educator, Therapist and A-Camper
The term Latinx is getting some important shine this year, and it excites me to no end! Back in 2010, I was doing work at a nonprofit in Rhode Island that focused on LA REVOLUCIÓN (a.k.a. socioeconomic and political justice work with an emphasis on low-income communities, immigrants, and people of color). We were starting to more meaningfully use the term “[email protected]” (often pronounced “Lah-ti-NOW”) as a way of incorporating women as more than a linguistic afterthought. Spanish, as many know, is a gendered language where even inanimate objects like bananas or playgrounds get coded as masculine or feminine by the use of articles like “la” and “el.” When writing or speaking about groups of people, if there is at least one dudely human in there, linguistic rules dictate the masculine terminology be used. Doesn’t matter if there are 1 million badass chicas in a room, as long as there’s one bro, it’s “ellos” instead of “ellas.” This use of the “@” felt good to my bilingual feminist self and felt like a small crack at the patriarchy. In 2013, even NPR did a segment on it.
This year, many of us in the United States as well as in Spanish-speaking countries have seen the rise in the use of an “x” instead of the @ sign to make words like Latinx (pronounced Lah-teen-EX) gender neutral. This is not just about disrupting and reclaiming language, but also about making space for a wider variety of genders and experiences, and specifically non-binary people. As someone who identifies as genderqueer and has had a wibbly-wobbly confusing gender journey since 2007, this feels AWESOME. For someone with a tenuous relationship to the mainland U.S. and whose gender exploration has been coded in English, it is so amazing to have language in my mother tongue to talk more fully about myself and my communities. Interestingly, this has not just been a “grassroots activist circle” thing! Discussions about it have even started poking into more mainstream media and Latinx-specific outlets, like Latina magazine, Latino Rebels, and Pride Site. Some people aren’t so jazzed about the “x” (and mostly have terrible arguments on their side) but I hope the “x” is here to stay.
Alaina Monts, Staff Writer
I was first introduced to Stevonnie on a Saturday morning while painting my toes and catching up on Steven Universe episodes. I started watching Steven Universe because I kept seeing posts about it on tumblr about how queer and “forward thinking” it was, so I figured I’d try it. I did not expect to cry from this children’s television show, let’s be clear. In the episode “Alone Together”, Steven was having trouble figuring out how to fuse and he and his best bud Connie are talking about it on the beach. The two start dancing (the way that Gems fuse) and all of a sudden, there’s a new fusion: Stevonnie.
My favorite part of the whole episode is what happens when Garnet sees them. She is full of joy and says to them, “Stevonnie, you are not two people. And you are not one person. You are an experience. Make sure you’re a good experience.” And then all of a sudden, I was crying. Here was a children’s television show with a tall, glamorous, brown, big-haired character that used they/them pronouns. They were being praised by everyone around them, encouraged and admired. I very recently came out as non-binary, and seeing this character on television who was “an experience” helped me decide how I was going to live my new-ish life with this identity. I’m not stuck somewhere in the middle of being a boy and a girl. I’m not two people. I’m not some binary. I am an experience.
Alok Vaid-Menon, activist and part of poetry duo DarkMatter
In May, 2015 I was part of the first ever (or at least known to me) panel of all Black and Brown non-binary trans femme youth called “The Trans Tipping Point is Crushing Us: Trans Politics in the Era of Visibility” along with some of the most influential non-binary femme activists in the country: Joshua Allen, Jamal Lewis, Malcolm Shanks, and Shaktii. We talked about decolonizing gender, both the gay movement and the trans’s movement complicity in binarism, and the historical and continued erasure of gender non-conforming people from our cultural and political spaces. This felt like a huge movement moment for several huge reasons: typically only trans people who identify within the binary and pursue medical transition are granted space to speak about trans issues and typically non-binary and gender non-conforming politics erase femme people of color. From all of our intersections we spoke about the need to center and uplift gender non-conformity and presented new (and ancestral) ways of engaging in gender liberation. What I hope is that next year activists and organizations will start shifting their language and political frameworks to include gender non-conforming people.
Audrey White, Staff Writer
I was scared to read Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts when it first came out this year, and I was right to be. The book, which blends narrative and theory to paint a complex and moving portrait of contemporary queer families, gender, birth and grief, shook me open and gave voice to feelings I had kept below the surface for so long. Nelson’s descriptions and conversations with her partner Harry held up a magnifying glass to my own questions about my gender and all the words I didn’t have for it. Early in the book, Nelson describes one of Harry’s films in which two butch characters use ‘he’ when talking among themselves but ‘she’ in public spaces. She offers this insight:
The point wasn’t that if the outer world were schooled appropriately re: the characters preferred pronouns, everything would be right as rain. Because if the outsiders called the characters “he,” it would be a different kind of he. Words change depending on who speaks them; there is no cure. The answer isn’t just to introduce new words (boi, cisgendered, andro-fag) and then set out to reify their meanings (though obviously there is power and pragmatism here). One must also become alert to the multitude of possible uses, possible contexts, the wings with which each word can fly.
Nelson never seems to resolve the recurring question of whether or not the words are enough, but the words are ours. They have wings. So much of what I saw and read about gender in 2015 was about being brave in the face of uncertainty as we find our ways home. The Argonauts helps give wings to the words we need to get there.
CJ Kemal Daniel Bruce, A-Camper
2015 has been an incredibly important year for me when it comes to identity. I was born and grew up in Trinidad and Tobago, and left for London with my family when I was 14. I have visited once since and vowed never to go back, as I just didn’t think I’d ever be accepted. However, this year I went to my first ever A-Camp where I met my first ever fellow non-binary Trinidadian! After many conversations with them, I decided to do the most terrifying thing I could imagine at the time and just a couple of months later I was on a plane back home for the first time in almost 7 years. AAAHHH!
Turns out I needn’t have been so scared. I had no idea there were so many amazing queers in the island I grew up in, the island I thought had rejected me. It was an absolutely life-changing trip. Now, sitting in my tiny flat in London again, I feel complete in a way that I had previously never thought possible. I am comfortable in almost every aspect of my identity, and have kept in touch with a few of my fellow queer Trinis. Honestly, I’m just happy to have learned that all the narratives I’ve heard about my home being an unsafe place for people like me isn’t strictly true. For the first time in a long time, I really feel like I have a home!