Our very own Dr Francis Ray White features on this week’s cover of London gay magazine QX. They are interviewed as part of a feature on ‘Genderqueer & Breaking the Binary’. Francis writes:
I definitely think that in the last year or two there’s been so much more visibility of non-binary people, at least in certain circles. Part of that is down to figures like Jack Monroe coming out publicly, but it’s also the result of a much longer history of trans activism. When people talk about trans issues now non-binary people get mentioned more often and I feel like that has really come on recently. The ideas circulating about what trans is are broadening out, and that’s really good.
But then, last September, there was the government’s response to an online petition asking for transgender people to be able to self-determine their legal gender. The Ministry of Justice’s response to non-binary people was basically to say that they had no intention of legally recognising people who define as a gender that’s not male or female, and that they were not aware of “any specific detriment” experienced by non-binary people! So it feels like things are starting to be discussed, but it’s still not at a point where you can legally define yourself as something other than male or female.
I’m not sure if legal change is the only thing we need. You are erased in other ways. It’s not overt, but it’s just the world is set up for two genders and if you try to be anything else it sometimes feels impossible. Society just needs to be less gendered in general – like often you get asked for a title or a gender when there’s really no need for it.
There’s just a chronic lack of awareness and a lack of knowledge about other gender identities. Like in that petition response, it’s just generally assumed there aren’t many or even any people to whom this applies and therefore it’s not really an issue. So the progress is uneven, but starting to move in the right direction. I came out as non-binary about four years ago and I feel like even in that time there’s been so much change and people are more aware of what it is.
My queer friends are amazing so they get it and that was fine. I’m out to my family, they took a bit longer to understand it, as did people at work. Working in a university is a relatively accepting atmosphere. Not completely, you’d be surprised, but it’s a lot better than some other places. My students are great. I do talk to them about it but it’s difficult. When I changed my name they got used to it pretty quickly, but it’s harder with pronouns. I am asking them to use ‘they’ now and some of them do and some of them don’t.
The hardest thing is keeping hold of that sense that you are what you know you are, even though you rarely get acknowledged as such. Sometimes you have to exist in the face of the confident assumption that you don’t. But you are legitimate; remember that.