C/O Travis Nguyen

Learning to love myself through research and reflection 

By: Anna Samson, Contributor 

During my first year at McMaster University, I came out as non-binary to my close friends and sister. As I grew more comfortable, I began to tell more people. Now, aside from some conservative family members, most people in my life know I’m non-binary. However, it took a long time to embrace myself as non-binary in a world that thinks in binaries and cisnormativity. 

I was assigned female at birth, always used “she/her” pronouns and stuck to that side of the gender binary. But something always felt off. I would later learn this feeling is called gender dysphoria, a term that refers to the distress one feels if their gender identity differs from their assigned sex.  

I remember talking to my older sister about how I did not feel like a girl or boy and worried there was something wrong with me. I asked her if she ever felt this way. I thought it was a normal part of growing up and something everyone experiences at some point. She asked me if I was transgender. Not knowing much about the gender spectrum and growing up in a conservative Christian household, I believed the negative things I had heard about transgender people and the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and immediately replied I was not, quickly changing the topic. But that moment stuck with me. It was one of the first times I acknowledged I do not fit into the gender binary and it was jarring. For many years after, I tried to ignore these feelings. 

In first year, I took an introductory gender studies course in which I learned about inequality, intersectionality, 2SLGBTQIA+ identities and more. This course finally gave me names for many of the things I had been experiencing and thinking about my whole life. I learnt about the gender spectrum, which especially piqued my interest because learning about a gender spectrum as a concept told me that others questioned their gender identity like I did. I did some more research and learnt about transgender identities, under which non-binary falls. 

I learned there are many gender identities outside the male-female binary. Non-binary is a broad spectrum covering all gender identities that are neither solely male nor female and exist outside the gender binary. While I felt this applied to me, I also felt it was not specific enough. When I first “came out” I identified as agender, meaning I have no gender and used any pronouns. But that did not feel right either. So, I started identifying as genderflux, meaning my gender identity fluctuates, with the base being agender, and used “she/they” pronouns. This identity felt right for me, but I noticed no one ever used “they” pronouns for me, which was frustrating because it felt like the erasure of my gender identity. So, finally, for brevity’s sake, I have now been identifying as non-binary for years, using “they/she” pronouns. And it feels right. 

But my journey to self-acceptance in terms of my gender identity did not stop there. I also had to figure out what sort of gender expression felt most comfortable to me. Being AFAB, my gender expression has been mostly feminine but it felt wrong. Within feminine clothing, I preferred baggy clothing, though my family often scolded me, telling me to wear more form-fitting clothes. I liked wearing sports bras and bralettes that were like chest binders and wearing boy short panties or boxers made me feel more comfortable.  

I also never got much into makeup other than wearing lipstick, because it felt very gendered and I felt using it meant I accepted being AFAB. While I know clothes and makeup are not inherently gendered, they do hold gendered connotations in society which make it difficult to embrace one’s unique identity. Ultimately, I have opted for unisex or less form-fitting clothing, as they make me feel more like myself. 

While I have come a long way in learning to love myself by embracing my non-binary identity, there is still a lot of work for me to do. I still need to find a hairstyle I feel comfortable with. I also need to accept menstruating is a bodily function outside of the gender binary. There are several other things as well.

Most importantly, any positive steps I have taken towards accepting and loving myself require practice. I still accidentally say the wrong pronouns for myself sometimes or wear gendered clothing that makes me feel uncomfortable before realizing it.

Along with accepting and embracing myself, I also must forgive myself and others for getting it wrong sometimes. This is my lifelong journey of embracing myself and my non-binary identity. 

Photo C/O Cecilie Johnsen

CW: Biphobia, transphobia

Friends, Romans and countrymen, lend me your ears. For too long I’ve had to put up with the same bullshit. This little bi is here to set the record straight. Biphobia and bisexual erasure are a daily reality for bisexual and pansexual people alike. Even amongst the LGBTQ2SIA+ community, biphobia runs rampant. While I have noticed an improvement in recent years, there are still a number of myths about bi folks that remain. Let’s bust them.

Myth I: Bisexuality is transphobic 

There is a common misconception that bisexuality is transphobic because it refers to attraction to only cisgender men and women. There are a number of reasons that this is wrong, but to begin with, trans and non-binary people can be bi.

“But Lauren, bi means two,” you say. “So you must only like men and women.”

Listen buddy, you’re being pedantic. Yes, technically the bi in bisexuality is meant to indicate an attraction to two genders. However, bisexuality was first recognized back when the idea of being transgender or non-binary was mostly rejected by Western society. At the time (and still, sometimes, today) society only recognized two genders. Our understanding of gender has evolved over time, and so has the definition of what it means to be bi.

It’s easy to say that bisexual folks are attracted to cis men and women, whereas pansexual folks are attracted to everything in between. It puts us into neat and tidy boxes. It’s easy to do that, but oh boy is it ever wrong. In my experience, the only difference between bi and pan is whatever label feels more comfortable to you. Personally, I just feel more comfortable with bi. 

My sexuality isn’t limited to the definition of bisexuality, but it feels necessary for me to have that label in order to exist in a society that is defined by labels. My romantic and sexual orientation is messy and complex and trying to fit it into a neat and tidy box is like Cinderella’s stepsisters trying to fit their feet into the glass slippers. Just because it’s easier for you to say I’m only attracted to men and women doesn’t mean it’s true.

Myth I: BUSTED!

MYTH II: Bisexuals are confused

On one side of the biphobia coin is the idea that all bi folks are one step away from coming out as gay or lesbian. Yes, it’s true that some people will use bisexuality as a way to experiment with their sexuality and branch out. Hey, coming out sucks, and I absolutely understand people who want to get comfortable first. That doesn’t mean all bi and pan people are just deluding themselves, it just means that some people may not be comfortable coming out without a transition period. 

The other side of this coin is the idea that bisexuals are actually just straight and are either confused or looking for attention. For a long time, I thought that I was just confused. I’ll be honest, I actually went back into the closet because I was convinced that other people were bi, but I was attracted to men so I guess I must be straight. I doubted my own damn sexuality, which is nonsense and ridiculous. No one should be made to feel that way.

Myth II: BUSTED!

Myth III: Bisexuals are promiscuous

Disclaimer before we get into this: I am NOT saying that it’s a bad thing to have sex. Have sex with as many or as few people as you want, I support you wholeheartedly! The thing that I do take issue with is people thinking that someone’s sexuality means that they want to sleep with you.Bisexuality is an identity, not an invitation. 

Have you ever tried navigating a dating app as a bi person? There are three main camps of people you’ll run into. First, unicorn hunters. As a rule, this is a heterosexual couple looking for a threesome. As I’ve mentioned, it’s gross to assume that someone’s sexuality means they want to have sex with you. Buddy, it is not my fault that you can’t please your girlfriend on your own. Buy a vibrator and leave me out of it.

The second group is biphobic people that think that bi folks aren’t queer. I am so tired of the “you must be this gay to ride” trope. It’s a relationship, not a rollercoaster. I can’t believe I need to say this, but bi people aren’t inherently more likely to cheat on you than anyone else. Just because we’re attracted to more than one gender doesn’t mean we can’t commit to one person.

The third and final group is decent human beings who actually want to date you, bless their hearts.

Myth III: BUSTED!

Myth IV: Bisexuals in relationships have chosen a side”

There is an assumption that bi people in committed relationships have “decided” that they are gay or they are straight. This is so unspeakably invalidating. It makes me feel like I’m right back in the closet again. Not everyone is out here looking for a polyamorous relationship (although if you are, more power to you), some people just want to settle down with one person. That shouldn’t and doesn’t invalidate their identity. Your relationship status doesn’t define your sexuality.

Myth IV: BUSTED!

Sometimes I feel like people have forgotten what the B stands for in  LGBTQ2SIA+. It’s not bananas, folks. A part of common human decency is to respect the way that people identify. I don’t need to justify my sexuality to anyone, and I shouldn’t have to. Neither should you. Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.

 

This article is part of our Sex and the Steel City, our annual sex-positive issue. Click here to read more content from the special issue.

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Photo by Kyle West

Hamilton city council has committed to taking an equity and inclusion lens to municipal decisions going forward.

Two weeks ago, Mayor Fred Eisenberger brought a motion to city council to implement a new equity, diversity and inclusion lens into city policies.

The motion passed unanimously and calls for a report to be brought forward on how to introduce an EDI lens to all city initiatives.

Attached to the motion was a draft version of an equity, diversity and inclusion handbook.

The motion also includes an allocation of $5,000 for city council to hold an EDI summit.

The new lens builds on the recommendations highlighted in Hamilton’s equity and inclusion policy implemented in 2010.

Ward 1 councillor Maureen Wilson said an EDI lens will require the city to be more specific and concrete when it incorporates equity and inclusion into different policies.

According to Wilson, it is not about quotas and targets, but about a shift in decision-making that will require city council to include the perspectives of all communities.   

The EDI lens will first be applied to issues concerning housing and homelessness.

However, Wilson sees potential for it to affect how the city envisions issues like transit, helping to consider the ways that different communities, like women or bikers, get around in Hamilton.  

Eisenberger’s motion followed debate at city councillor over the city manager search committee and interview process, which some individuals, including Wilson and Ward 3 councillor Nrinder Nann, criticized for not taking a diverse and inclusive approach.

Denise Christopherson, the CEO of the YWCA Hamilton and chair of the status of women committee, has called for city council to adopt an EDI framework for years.

Christopherson said she is encouraged by the support for the motion at city council and appreciative of the efforts of Wilson and Nann in pushing this forward.

“It’s been in the works for a long time,” Christopherson said. “To develop a framework, this is going to be a multi-year work project that hopefully gets ingrained in everything they do at city hall. So when they're putting forward a proposal, it’s about, have they gone through the lens of inclusion? Who have they consulted with?”

The YWCA Hamilton currently runs multiple programs providing housing for non-binary people and women without places to stay.

Christopherson is hopeful that the new lens will result in more funding for programs like these.

“I like to say that the city should have a hand in all marginalized communities,” Christopherson said. “Hopefully we see more investment in those necessary programs.”

Community organizer Sophie Geffros is also optimistic about the new lens and what it could mean for current city council issues.

“I’m cautiously excited about it, because it signals to me that the city is at least beginning to acknowledge that designing a city around the needs of straight, white, middle class, able bodied men is not just ineffective but can be actively harmful for its marginalized citizens,” Geffros said.

As the city still awaits a report on how the lens will be implemented, activists and supporters of the motion are hopeful about the many policy areas a city-wide EDI framework could effect change in.  

 

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Photos C/O Trevor Copp

By: Jackie McNeill

Tottering Biped Theatre, a Hamilton-based theatre company founded by Trevor Copp, has reached over 600,000 views on a TED Talk about ‘liquid lead dancing,’ a gender neutral form of partner dancing.

Several McMaster alumni are involved in the theatre company, particularly with their summer Shakespeare work held at the Royal Botanical Gardens.

The theatre is social justice-focused, devising works that have addressed issues like poverty, same sex marriage and mental health and different interpretations of Shakespeare.

However, as prominent as the theatre’s work is, it is not what Copp is arguably best known for.

In 2015, he and his colleague Jeff Fox delivered a TED Talk in Montreal on a dance concept they developed called ‘liquid lead dancing.’

Liquid lead dancing, a form of gender neutral partner dance, was born out of Copp’s discomfort with the systems and rules he was perpetuating as a ballroom dance teacher.

As explained in their TED Talk, the strictly gendered partner dancing promotes a relationship shaped by dictation, where the man leads and the woman follows.

He and Fox developed liquid lead dancing to turn this dictation into a negotiation.

It proposes a system where lead and follow are exchanged throughout the course of the dance regardless of gender,” Copp explained.

This change of form will hopefully become normalized as a dance and help to normalize healthy relationships outside of partner dance as well.

The liquid lead dance between Copp and Fox morphed into a play about creating the first dance for a same sex wedding.

After a successful run of the play, a former student contacted Copp about presenting their dance form as a TED talk.

Copp and Fox’s TED talk was picked up by TED.com, and has over 600,00 views to date.

Despite the success of the TED talk, Copp admits that it has not been all smooth sailing promoting liquid lead dancing.

“Most people are comfortable with their given role, and, even though they aren't particularly traditional in their thinking, allow it to decide their roles as dancers. There's comfort in the familiar. I don't begrudge it at all. I just think that if you're going to recreate a culturally outdated form you should be conscious of it by making a choice to do so as opposed to sleepwalking your way through the dance form.”

Acknowledging that the work he had done with liquid lead dance is not that well-known in Hamilton, Copp is aiming to work harder at spreading the dance form in the future.

As explained in the TED Talk, liquid lead dancing is not about dance alone.

By addressing the strict roles perpetuated in partner dancing, Copp and Fox have begun to address the erasure of non-binary people and same-sex couples in dance, in addition to the exclusion of Black, Asian and other non-white bodies.

By bringing these issues that are prevalent within ballroom and partner dance to a wider audience with the TED Talk and Copp’s theatre company, the same issues that are prevalent in everyday life stand a better chance at being addressed.

Copp has performed liquid lead dance at conferences throughout Ontario, New York and Ireland and is looking forward to next presenting at a conference on consent and sexuality with Planned Parenthood in Virginia.

 

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Unlearning and breaking the stigma associated with the bisexual identity

Being a member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community is hard. A large part of your identity is under near-constant scrutiny. What is usually considered a private aspect of your life becomes a matter of public discourse. Bisexuality can be understood as an umbrella term, encompassing several more specific identities related to sexuality. As someone who falls under this umbrella term, I have experienced discrimination for my sexuality from loved ones and strangers.

I am a non-binary, bisexual person in a relationship with a cisgender heterosexual man. I only mention that I am non-binary because I was assigned female at birth and am often perceived as such. Being perceived as a woman is troubling at times, but it has taught me a lot about biphobia in cis-heteronormative and 2SLGBTQIA+ spaces. 

When I am out with my partner, no one gives us a second glance because we seem just like any other heterosexual couple. That is not the truth. Our relationship is inherently queer because I am queer.

Regardless of which space I am in, I often get the same reaction when I tell people I am bisexual and in a relationship with a man. It is along the lines of, “so, you are basically straight then”. Not only does this belittle and disregard a large part of my identity, but it also does so for every bisexual person out there in seemingly heterosexual relationships. 

A similar reaction is experienced by bisexual people in same-sex relationships, along the lines of, “so, you are basically gay then”. Either way, the bisexual identity is erased to cater to black or white ways of thinking, which appease both heteronormative and homonormative ideals.

As I have only been in serious relationships with men, I spoke to some bisexual friends and explored 2SLGBTQIA+ communities online to learn more about this sort of reaction. I was horrified to discover that the same black or white way of thinking is also applied to bisexual people within 2SLGBTQIA+ spaces. I could not stop thinking about how bisexual people are isolated by the same community that is meant to include them. 

The sheer shock I felt when I first learned how contested the bisexual identity is in all spaces has not dissipated. I had always expected pushback from cis-heteronormative society, but I am appalled that many bisexual people still are not accepted by 2SLGBTQIA+ spaces. As far as I can recall, the “B” in 2SLGBTQIA+ stands for bisexual. 

I often hesitate to tell people I am bisexual or to tell those who know, that I am in a relationship with a cis heterosexual man. I wish that I, and other bisexual people, did not have to feel uneasy about sharing a part of themselves. Discrimination on any basis, including someone’s sexuality, is an archaic action from a bygone era. It’s time to accept others for who they are and make an active effort to make sure people do not feel alienated from the spaces meant to include them. It’s time to say bye to biphobia.

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