Photo by Jonas Off on Unsplash

Before any other thoughts on LGBT History, we need to talk about something else: The Binary. Binary existence, binary feelings, binary definitions and binary thoughts.

Basically, Binary is everything composed of two elements that are mutually exclusive. Something or Other, Yes or No, On and Off, True or False and so it goes. Think of a binary number system: any given digit could either be one or zero, not both at the same time, not another number either.

If you think a bit, you could notice that most things in life fall in a binary system of understanding, so it would be normal to think that binarity is the rule of the nature of things but actually, not quite. Binary is the rule of the most basic forms of thoughts and may be present in many forms (either thing/Not-thing and thing/opposite-thing) but its use is quite reductionist if we think in human essence and identity.

Think, per instance, in the basic thought of binary gender: Either Male or Female, Man or Woman. We could systematize it in a number of ways, but most would fall in two (not so) distinct ways of understanding: Opposition or Affirmation. In the Latter, the definitions of both terms would be: Male is Non-female and Female is Non-male. Then the first would be Male is Male and Female is Female, but both lines of thought reiterate the other. Think of it: In a Binary system, B is necessarily Not A and vice versa, it’s like thinking of negatives and positives: One thing exists because their opposition exists, then this thing is inseparable from its own reverses, and that’s when problems start to appear.

Instead of gender, think now of sexualities. In a binary system of thought, we Immediately face some problems, but those could be fixed by exchanging one binary for two, three or more. Example: an Hetero-Homo duality would be incomplete if we think of sexuality as a single binary, because it presupposes that the only two things possible are to either be straight or gay, when we know that bi and ace people exist. In this cases, we could turn the question in a three binaries system as in: Sexual/Asexual, then if sexual, Bi/Not Bi and then, if not bi, then Hetero/Homo.

And it works relatively well in a system where you consider only binary genders and expressions, but ONLY if you think of asexuality as a monolith and not a spectrum. But then you wouldn’t be talking about asexuality but only a fraction of it. You could not possibly understand asexuality that way, then the next natural process would be trying to understand it in more complex binaries, which would already start as a problem: Asexuality spectrum is not a matter of either/or, and Asexual people could be gay, straight, bi, pan or any other sexuality they would like, but ace people could also be strict asexual and aromantic, then you couldn’t make an asexual binary system isolated from an sexual system, which means asexuality could not possibly be understood by binary thinking.

Returning to the gender aspect, one could try (as they often do) to understand Non-Binary people by binary thinking. Seems ironic, and it is, but not as obvious as it may seem. Gender Spectrum is often understood as matter of opposition, where Something is either male or female, Man or Woman, and it seems to work pretty well until you see it in closer detail. In binary terms, everything not male is female, and everything not female is male because, as I stated before, those two terms could only exist in a duality if one is the exact opposite of the other, therefore anything should fall in one of the terms. However, Male and Female are not as solid a criteria as you would imagine. Masculinity and femininity are social terms, sure, but the instances of Man and Womanhood in themselves are fabricated terms. Doesn’t mean they don’t exist, just that they don’t think about some pretty important stuff. Think of Intersex people, think of Non-Binary people.

Photo by Maria Lupan on Unsplash

You could try to put them in other binaries, but remember the Association between Man and Woman where one is the Opposite of the other? Well, this automatically brings us some problems.

First: If someone is not a man, then the rule of binarity says they are a woman, and if someone is not a woman, then the same rule says they are a man, in a sense where under that system, Non-Binary would be Men, Women and, at the same time, none of the two. Thing is that classification couldn’t possibly fit the difference between an Agender person or a Non-Binary person with any other gender allignment.

Second: It is trapped in the concept of Gender as being interlocked with the concepts of Man and Woman, and while that makes sense for many, it makes it impossible to understand gender relations in a society where those terms are not the same as they are here. Especially if you think of pre-colonial societies or indigenous groups. Binarity just doesn’t make them justice.

Now that you know the meaning of binary, let’s think in its uses.

If you are in a society in which the gender binarity is the social norm, then it is common to think of binarity and cisgender as being in the same terms, and sometimes people think of Binary as a way to refer to cis people, but that raises some problems:

First of all, there ARE binary trans people. A trans man and a trans woman are binary people unless they state otherwise. Calling Cis people binary people is a (not subtle) way of transphobia, as it is a way of saying no trans person falls under that spectrum. Refusing the binarity of binary trans people is denying their gender and placing them in a category of other. Not other genders, but other people, not what they say they are. Because of it, this is a pretty common ways of Terfs being transphobic without other cis people noticing.

Second, the thought of Binary and Cis in the same terms excludes those who live in a society not ruled by gender binarity. When people think of Third Gender Societies, they tend to associate it with being trans, but in many of those cases, the terms of Cis and Trans aren’t quite accurate.

Third, Intersex people may think of themselves in many ways, and one of them is to reivindicate the title of Non-Binary Cis people, Not all Intersex people are confortable being classified in Cis/Trans terms, but those who are should be given all the right to do so.

Also, when talking to or of Non-Binary people, it is important to know if the person in question prefers to be called Non-Binary trans or just Non-Binary, as some may think of the statement as being redundant and are not always confortable. In any of the cases, just Non-Binary is usually more appropriate.