About that whole “binary” thing…

Hi Everyone,

Things have been pretty happening around here, haven’t they? I’m loving the flow of material, conversations, and community. And I’ve mentioned you rock my world, right? Cuz you seriously, seriously do.

Soo… since we seem to be getting a little bigger and a little louder, we’ve also been getting a little more feedback on the directions we take with our content. More often than not, if some tension comes up, it’s usually around the issues of binary gender and categorization — whether or not we should be talking about people in terms of maleness and femaleness. This might seem weird, but we — as a project — intentionally try not to take a position on that issue.

Here’s why: We’ve gotten to know our community quite a bit through all the comments, submissions, and feedback you’ve given us over the last year and a half. And from what you’ve told us about yourselves, it seems like you come from a wide mix of backgrounds and identities.

I’ll be honest — my original draft of this post attempted to put you into three groups: those who identify outside of the binary system; those who explore their genders within it; and those who are friends, family, and allies of the kinds of people represented on these pages. And I was going to be all “community-building”-like, and describe the characteristics of each of these groups to you in concise detail, thereby helping you gain understanding of who else is here.

And then I realized I was full of shit (many thanks to the Genderfork volunteers for helping me see that).  I can’t tell you who you are. It just doesn’t work that way around here.   Any attempt I make to put your identities into summarized language is going to exclude and alienate a lot of you.

That makes this next part a little harder, but work with me here: Try for a minute to picture our beautiful, messy, complex, diverse mix of identities as a dinner party gathered around a table, trying to find common ground and a way to support each other. What do we have in common?  We all agree that it’s okay to play with gender — to mix things up and to walk down the street with ambiguity and androgyny. We agree that our personal stories are important and real. We agree there is beauty and significance here. And we agree that this experience is hard and that we need each others’ support.

Here’s where we disagree: We disagree on how labels should be handled. We disagree on whether “male” and “female” are inherent human categories (and we’re just playing with them) or whether they’re invented and could be scrapped altogether. We disagree on how everyone should think, and we disagree on what would make the world a better place. Pretty much any statement that’s big, sweeping, generalizing, categorizing, or summarizing is going to make somebody at the table feel like their identity doesn’t belong.

And go back for a second to what we all have in common: We all know that feeling sucks.

I offer this up as a point of reference — not as a request or an explanation. We’re certainly not perfect (Exhibit A: this post!), and we know we post things that don’t work for everyone at the table. But we try to be aware of the mix of needs, and to tone down content that could seem alienating to some folks. Whenever possible, we aim for intimate headshots and personal stories in the content we display. When we focus on experience instead of opinion, we tend to find our common ground.

Thank you for being here. Thank you for contributing, for commenting, for confiding, and for sharing this with your friends. In the last six months, we’ve quadrupled our readership and built a staff of 11 volunteers. There will be more changes, more energy, more wonderful things coming soon, and we look to you to help us maintain the integrity of the conversation.

So much love,

Posted by on April 13th, 2009 at 01:00 pm

Category: faces 12 comments »

12 Responses to “About that whole “binary” thing…”

  1. sexgenderbody

    extremely well put, and right on point. this topic is coming up a lot lately in my own life and work.



    sarahdopp replied:

    thank you for saying so. it was hard to write. :)


  2. Katie

    Thank you for this post. I've never commented before, but I've followed this blog for a while, and it's always interesting to read!


  3. Erica

    Blah, this is why I feel so hesitant about laying out how I view gender,sex, and identity. I don't want to feel like I'm offending anybody or saying that what I think is how it really is. I'm even only 17, and I'm learning and changing how I think every day.


    sarahdopp replied:

    I hear you on the "blah" — i find myself tripping over it too. But there's definitely space for laying out how you feel about it all and how you see it… just… maybe not here. :) Your blog looks like a good place for that. Add a mini-disclaimer that this is just your perspective and you reserve the right to learn and grow from here… and then spell it all out! I think the world benefits from more openness.


    Erica replied:

    It's so strange because after I posted this comment I actually starting writing a blog that included a disclaimer just like that, haha.


  4. sarahdopp

    Thanks for commenting, Katie! Love your blog (i just passed on the "vagina full of aids" video — omg hillarious)!


    Katie replied:

    Ah, thank you! -is insanely happy that people actually read my blog >_> –
    Did you see any of the "vagina full of aids" guy's other videos? Apparently they were marvelous, but I couldn't tolerate that level of stupid long enough to investigate, haha.


  5. Anja Flower

    Ya know, the only reason I think these things even come up is because we all struggle against a culture that doesn't allow for gender ambiguity and gender play. If we weren't considered so unusual and picked on so much, would we even really notice these things?

    Also, Sarah and volunteers, thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing what you do.
    I'd type more, but I am sick like dog and need to lay down.


  6. Sid

    Thank you so much for this. I really love this blog, and it has helped me to find the confidence to really explore my own gender. It's wonderful to read something from the people behind the scenes. Thanks for doing all this, and to everyone who volunteers, and who submits content.


  7. jean_c

    echoing sid — even with the limitations we are working within (language, culture, mindset of "binary", photos available on flickr, etc) this website — and especially the voices it provides a forum for! — are very inspiring to me… and have helped me in my own gender explorations a lot. thank you all!!!


  8. therejustis

    I just got introduced to this blog by a close friend and it sure does make me smile. I have flirted with my own gender identity for a number of years now but it has only been in the last few that i have really tackled what it all means to me philosophically. Its encouraging to see evidence of not only people thinking about who they are, but also trying to break down traditional definitions that we would never have chosen to limit ourselves by.

    Yes it is far too easy to assume gender based on our sex (though we can mask that), but that does not mean we need to identify with any of the social, emotional and behavioural expectations of what it is to be that sex. If gender is simply a definition then write your own rulebook on it. My only real frustration is knowing that visually I am more limited by what I know of gender. I know what visual cues are socially male and socially female but that is generally the limit of what I have to play with. I feel neither male nor female so wearing a skirt or a suit wont help me find definition, merely breakdown any idea of sex based limitations, despite still being between the binary.

    Still, it is great to know that people out there are tackling the same issues and that my convictions are not just the talk of a bored person with too much time on their hands


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