Monday, January 19, 2015

Non-Binary Hero/ines

So I am badly in need of role models. Especially non-binary role models. And I'm not alone. I mean for key segments of my life I didn't even realize that being non-binary was possible. The book I'm reading at the moment (on what philosophical ethics should say about intersex), begins with physicians arguing “intersex individuals could not possibly live normal lives as intersex individuals and … the only chance for happiness and psychological well being was the establishment of a secure male or female gender identity. Secondly, there was simply no precedent for [such individuals] living as normal people within our society (Darbuul 2000).” Now I'm trans, not intersex, but I think it's clear that it's really being non-binary that the doctors thought was unprecedented, and impossible to be compatible with “happiness,” “psychological well being” or being “normal.” So seeing people, who HAVE navigated non-binary lives in our society, and come off as successful, or happy, or psychologically healthy, or even maybe kinda normal – is important, both for me personally, and for society as a whole to give up these dumb arguments.

If you look for strong black role models (like say Dr. Rev. MLK whose day it is, or Oprah, or bell hooks, or dozens of others), or strong female role models, or these days even strong Trans role models, it's not too hard to find some great examples. But if you want specifically non-binary role-models … uhm … Well, for starters who is the most famous non-binary person you know these days? Does any name even jump to mind?

For me, there were three big non-binary role models that were personally influential to me as I was sorting myself out

Richard O'Brien – Riffraff from Rocky Horror Picture Show, and more importantly the writer of it (and the music and lyrics of it). Assigned male at birth, he struggled with his gender his whole life, and eventually came to identify as transgender, a mix of male and female, and possibly third gender. He's been taking estrogen for over a decade but retains male pronouns. At one point he estimated that he was 70% male, and 30% female.

Kate Bornstein – A writer and gender theorist, who identified as a trans-woman, and later a genderqueer, and takes she/her as pronouns. Her books My Gender Workbook, and Gender Outlaws, both influenced me greatly. I disagree on a number of theory points, but admire her personally, and her rare combination or radicalness and gentleness. We share many tastes too, like Neil Gaiman comics.

Brin Convenient – founder of and a Youtuber. – A bigender person, I encountered electronically early on. Not as famous as the others, but I had some personal interactions with Brin, and watched enough of Brin's videos to think of her as a role model. Importantly he/she leads a pretty normal life, rather than an ultra-edgy one the way that Bornstein or P-Orridge, or in someways even O'Brien do.

Frankly, I usually looked to binary trans people as role models. Both famous ones like Lana Wachowski or Jennifer Finney Boylan, and people I knew in real life or electronically, like Sir G, Boy Kris, or MaryXYZXYZ. Trans people that I perceived as peers, rather role models exactly, or who I perceived as just a little “ahead” of me, like Shannon, Rachel, Erica or Andi, were also critical.
Once I had already begun identify as genderqueer privately, a buddy of mine, Walt, pointed out to me the amazing life of Genesis P-Orridge.

Genesis P-Orridge – is a musical and performing artist best known for leading the cutting edge industrial band Throbbing Gristle, and later Psychic TV. In 1993 s/he began h/er “pandrogyny” project in which the former Neil Megson and his wife Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge attempted to merge into a single genderqueer being through hormones, surgery, artistry, and occultism. Even though the formerly Lady Jaye half died in 2007, the other half of Genesis has continued with the project. I listened to Throbbing Gristle long before confronting my gender issues, or learning that the person who fronted the band later became an out genderqueer, who takes s/he and h/er.

Here is a partial list of some others folks that are publicly non-binary, and that are famous enough for me to be able to find a little about them. I rather suspect that I will being doing more detailed postings on the lives of particular non-binary folks over the next few weeks, and I learn more about them myself. But for now here is a schematic list.

Ruby Rose – Australian model, DJ, MTV VJ, actress, etc. She's the voice of Maybelline in Australia. She's engaged to a lady (actually Pheobe Dahl, Raold Dahl's granddaughter), and in July 2014 she came out as genderfluid, taking he and she based on mode.

Justin Vivian Bond – A singer-Songwriter known for cabaret style, also a Wiccan radical faerie, Mx. Bond, takes the pronoun v, and has been an out genderqueer, since shortly after v (ver?) interactions with Kate Bornstein in the mid 90s.

Chris Pureka – Singer-songwriter with a folky style, and several albums. Has been out as genderqueer since at least 2007, but apparently still takes she/her.

Jiz Lee – porn star, Hawai'ian, genderqueer who takes they/their. I'm guessing that they identify “mahu” (a native Hawai'ian category of genderqueerness), but I'll try to confirm that if I do a follow up post on them.  (Pictured here in their role as Spider Jerusalem!)

Gopi Shankar – Tamil activist, wrote a book on gender identities in Tamil India, coined lots of terms in Tamil for variations on gender identity. Founder of Srishti Madurai Genderqueer group. Takes ze/hir in English.

Rae Spoon – Canadian singer-songwriter, identified as trans-man for a long time before claiming to be gender-neutral and genderqueer in 2012

Ivan Coyote – Canadian writer and spoken word artist, genderqueer, takes they/their

Hida Viloria – Latina intersex activist, writer, chairperson of Organization Intersex International. Born in 1968, her parents were among the first in the modern period to refuse “normalizing” genital surgery for their child. Identified publicaly as neither male nor female before the word genderqueer had even been coined, but embraced the word later on.

Marilyn Roxie – designer of the genderqueer flag. Takes they.  Also does a fair bit of music criticism, and founded a netlabel.

H. A. Burnham – supposedly coined the term Neutrois in 1995, to describe hirself, and takes/took ze/hir. Can't find much info on Burnham though ...

I'll look up more and add them tomorrow, but I wanna get this post up … Oh and some more!

So if you don't know the Trans 100, is a list of 100 trans people who are congratulated for being awesome each year. It's website is here. Part of the goal of course is to have a wide variety of role-models. I could only find 2 from the 2014 “class” who I could tell were non-binary, there may be others who identify as non-binary publicly, but didn't mention it in their short biographical blurb

Micah Bazant – visual artist, self-identifies as “Timtum” (one of the 6 categories of gender identity in Jewish law, and a non-binary one at that). Creator of the trans zine Timtum, co-edited the Love and Justice Haggadah, and one of the members of a website for Jewish religious thought from a trans perspective. Takes he/him

TC Tolbert – A genderqueer poet with several books and chapbooks. Teaches at the University of Arizona. take s/he.

And now adding the 2013 Trans 100 Class ...

Avory Faucette – blogger, speaker, and activist. A non-binary person who takes zie/hir (with the extra i, how uncouth, zie and I, should have a terrible fight because we are almost alike but not quite ….).  Oh did I mention International Human Rights Law? Yeah.

Ignacio G. Rivera - “A storyteller, radical queer colored mujerista parent, activist artist, and strategic/visionary organizer.” Performance artist, film-maker, lecturer, sex-educator. They identify as two-spirit and genderfluid, and take the pronouns they/their.

Kate Bornstein – already raved about her, but she's in the 2013 Trans 100 too.
Qwo-Li Driskill – multiracial Cherokee Two-spirit, poet, performer, activist, scholar, editor. Co-editor of Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature and of Queer Indigenous Studies. Teaches as Oregon State University. Take they/their.

Sassafras Lowery – Author, artist, educator, editor.  Edited the "Kicked Out" anthology about teens being kicked out of their houses.  Wrote a novel, Roving Pack, about homeless queer and trans teens. Ze identifies as genderqueer (according to hir Facebook page, don't worry I only stalk to compliment).  Takes ze/hir (the right way, with no i, see? Sorry, I just gotta cut the treacly admiration with a little silliness OK?)

And now some suggested by viewers and interlocutors!

Raphael Carter - An American science fiction writer, who also wrote on gender issues.  Zir first novel was shortlisted for a Locus award, and zie was a nominee for the Campbell Best new writer 97-98.  One of zir short stories won the James Tiptree Jr. award for 1998, making zir the first non-female to win it alone.  Zie (with the i, dammit) was one of the very first webloggers, and did a lot of work on androgyny, zir "Androgyny Rarely Asked Questions" piece is great, did you know that "arenotelicon" is an early Renaissance term for a being that alternates between genders as hyenas were thought to, that is so obscure even the OED doesn't list it?  Or "homovestite" - "one who obsessively, compulsively and  neurotically wears the clothing of their own sex." or "gender refusnik" - someone who is denied access to SRS either from lack of funds or medical paternalism, even gender otkaznik if your slav-savvy" or radar, or scrat, or, never mind I'm gonna have to do a whole post on this I can tell ...
That's Raphael on the Right

Rabbi Elliot Kukla - first openly trans person to be ordained a Rabbi in Reform Judaism.  Rabbi for the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center.  He takes he, but identifies as tumtum, in an article in Transtorah that I have read and re-read and also need to do a full post on soon.  He wrote the first blessing for sanctifying the sex-change process to be included in the 2007 edition of the Union for Reform Judaism's manual for GLBT inclusion, called Kulanu.  How cool is that?  His chaplaincy specialized in mental health issues, and he's done a lot with end of life issues in Judaism to,  He's also a visiting faculty member in Pastoral Care, at my denomination's theology school Starr King.  Also I gotta say, as I read Kukla's article about the category of tumtum and his recognition of it within himself, I think he identifies as non-binary, but if I'm wrong and he identifies as a binary trans-man then I humbly apologize.

[Edit Again]  I now have another post, adding the 2015 Trans 100 class over here

Any other Non-Binary role-models that you folks want to suggest?


  1. Maybe Raphael Carter? I only know of zir (I think Carter uses/use

  2. Sorry, hit "return" early...Carter wrote about being non-binary in the late 1990s, I think, and also wrote one sf novel and some essays and poems about science and a great early weblog. I keep hoping there will be more writing...