This article first appeared in ENBY Magazine.

Busting Binaries

If and when I use the word non-binary to describe myself, I need folks to understand how deeply I mean non-binary. No, I’m not a boy or a man or masculine. No I’m not a girl or a woman or feminine. Beyond gender, words are words, and like everything else can be interpreted in many ways. When I first found the words non-binary and agender to refer to gender identity, I fumbled with them in my mouth. Since I first stumbled into my truth, I’ve come to realize just how many binaries need to be eradicated to free our minds and free our lives from our own oppressions. I’ve realized how deeply I embody the concept of non-adherence to any binaries.

In all my years of education, I’ve learned that everything is connected. My gender cannot be contained within a binary — nor can my relationship to self, land, or others. Understanding this truth is what frees me from further perpetuating myths that simplify the human experience. I am not interested in myths, in true Scorpio fashion, I am interested in depth, in honesty, in the soft of what lies underneath our exoskeletons.

In terms of race, people exist beyond a Black, white binary, we know this. Consider that binary busted. I would argue that white as opposed to non-white is only so useful in understanding the historic and modern functions of race. The historic persecution of Jewish people for instance busts the white, non-white binary. The history of Chinese and Indian people in the Caribbean serve as another example that busts this binary. Black, white, and person of colour as racial categories only end up homogenizing people and cultures, and simply create a tripartite, which we also don’t want. I could point to the current commodification of Black culture, and particular Black aesthetic features alongside the state’s insatiable appetite for Black death, and argue for a Black, non-Black binary, but history demonstrates that racism lives, breathes, and works beyond anti-Blackness, busting that binary as well.

In academic and social justice spaces, people are often either understood as settlers or Indigenous people. The focus on the North American continent however fails to understand Black people as displaced Indigenous African peoples. Descendants of slavery were obviously displaced by the TransAtlantic slave trade, but so many who remained on the African continent continue to be displaced by war and colonialism. Similar conclusions can be drawn about Indigenous Asian people who are displaced by similar and related conditions like poverty, civil war and ecological destruction. Understanding African and Asian peoples, and therefore their Latin American and Caribbean descendants as Indigenous, yet displaced from their homelands busts the Indigenous, settler binary.

Disabled authors and activists continually remind able-bodied folks that ability too exists beyond a binary. Changes in circumstance like illness, injury, surgery, even pregnancy and old age may impact one’s ability and mobility. Our mental and physical capacities vary from birth and beyond, and can change in various ways throughout our individual lives. In looking at my own life, I see the binary busted. I couldn’t stand or walk on my own for more than two weeks after having surgery on my knee in the tenth grade. Once I could do so, I walked with a cane. After six weeks of physical therapy, I walked on my own. To this day I walk without the need of help or mobility devices, but my experience, while short, illustrates how busted the abled, disabled binary is. I can only imagine the experiences of others, especially in the midst of a global pandemic.

While I hate to go against Marx, in 2021, economic status is more nuanced than two opposing classes of people — the working proletariat and the ruling class, the bourgeoisie. Things like access to housing, education, literacy, employment, property ownership are far more complex today than they were in 1868. The economic landscape is no longer simply made up of white men working in factories. Marx didn’t have to consider how one’s immigration status, ability, language proficiency or history of incarceration would even further impact a person’s class or economic status. Today people pay into employment insurance, they’re offered benefits by employers, they’re in unions, and they’re small business owners. On the flip side, people are couch-surfing, they’re precariously employed, and people have no other option but to have multiple side hustles to stay afloat. I think in modern contexts, people’s experiences exist and range beyond the binary of proletariat and bourgeoisie.

Just as our identities exist beyond binaries, so too do our actions. The things we do are not simply good or bad — these words are subjectively defined for one, furthermore, the context and consequence of our actions need be considered. None of us are simply one thing out of two opposing options.

Binaries are boring. Binaries limit our thinking and our self-expression. We have to free ourselves from either/or thinking. Life is more often both, and. I am a boy and a girl — but mostly neither. I’m queer, I’m trans and I’m gay. At some point in my life have claimed the L, the G, the B, the T and the Q. I am Black, I am Indigenous (to Africa), I am a settler to Turtle Island, I am the child of immigrants. I am the descendant of enslaved peoples. I experience mental illness and have been physically impaired because of surgeries. Universe willing, I will age and may become differently-abled as I do so. I’m thousands of dollars in debt yet live comfortably in my mother’s home. I am a good writer but I’m of absolutely no use around a math problem, pretty good at science and not too bad at art. I am a great friend, a good child, an okay sister and an awful cousin. I am all of the above and more.

I am here and trying. I exist beyond imposed and man-made binaries and I bet in more ways than one, so do you.

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Jam Bridgett

Jam Bridgett

writer and visual artist around Tkaronto. exploring themes of love, revolution, community and queerness + sharing unpublished writing of mine. (they/them)