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Should “women’s spaces” include non-binary people?

December 23rd, 2014     by RJ Vandrish     Comments

Illustration: Erin McPee

Now that winter is starting to settle in, I’m trying to cope by thinking of warmer times. As I bask in memories of this past summer, I think mostly of my warm and sunny week in Halifax, performing in the Queer Acts Theatre Festival. During the festival’s conference portion, we discussed the state of queer theatre in Canada, the trend of the one-person show and about the experiences of queer women in theatre.

The latter section featured a panel of young professional women in theatre and film discussing the importance of creating women’s spaces in the arts. Listening, I couldn’t have agreed more, especially as women are so underrepresented in theatre and film. But still, something felt off.

Given all the efforts to include and represent women — such as the creation of women ’s theatre companies and the Bechdel Test — I ask: what about non-binary artists?

Specifically, what about non-binary artists who aren’t female, but still experience misogyny and similar barriers as the ones women face in the arts?

In my experience as a genderqueer person, non-binary identities are generally overlooked by the general population. I rarely am gendered correctly by strangers. I usually get Miss-ed or Ms-ed or sometimes Sir-ed. Mixed up but never Mx-ed. I experience transmisogyny as a trans-feminine person and, if people assume I’m a cisgender woman, then misogyny as well. Yet I don’t always feel comfortable accessing spaces or programs meant just for women.

Isn’t the point of having women’s spaces to make space for people affected by misogyny?

One solution is to have “women and trans” spaces and programs (or magazines!), which are becoming an increasingly popular alternative. Nonetheless, one of the problems with “women and trans” spaces is that trans men who live and are read as men benefit from (or perpetuate) male privilege in mainstream spaces, but also take up resources that people who experience misogyny may depend on. However, this is equally complicated by not all trans men pursuing transition or not always being read as men.

Ultimately, the kind of space needed depends on the purpose of the space. So what type of space will help foster the voices of artists who are currently disenfranchised because of misogyny and sexism?

As a non-binary trans-feminine person who has been through all the youth programs at a queer theatre in Toronto, there isn’t much left in terms of queer spaces to develop my artistic voice without going back to school. Looking at all the women’s programs I’ve considered, I see something that was intended to address issues I face, but would make me feel uncomfortable to join (Would they respect my pronouns? Is there a gender-neutral/single stall washroom? Would they recognize non-binary genders and that it is not only women who are affected by misogyny?).

I’m not sure what the solution is. I originally pitched the idea for this article while I was still at the Queer Acts festival in July and have been thinking about it ever since. But, until we come up with the ideal space or program to address these ideas — or better yet, end gendered oppression altogether — I have a working proposal.

What I propose is to expand the scope “female” spaces, to create something like a “female-of-center space” to include all people who identify on the feminine side of the gender spectrum (or who regularly experience misogyny). If you’re a cis or trans woman, you’re in. If you are a female-assigned agender person, you’re in. If you’re a male-assigned genderqueer person, or identify as two-spirit or just regularly experience misogyny, you’re in.

While this idea is still in the works, I don’t think it will ever solve the gender representation gap. But, as I think warmer thoughts, I hope it might create a dialogue about how to make safe spaces for women and girls without alienating non-binary people.

RJ Vandrish is a theatre artist (stage name: Rory Jade Grey), playwright and a regular Shameless contributor. While they use the term “gender spectrum” in this article, they recognize that gender is not limited to a spectrum and has been understood in many different ways throughout time and across the world.

Tags: arts, gender, queer, youth

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