Stef (firecat) wrote,

Wiscon Panel: "Women and Trans/Non-binary people" : The Pitfalls of Haphazard Gender Inclusion

"Women and Trans/Non-binary people" : The Pitfalls of Haphazard Gender Inclusion

Attempts to create calls for submissions/lists of authors with marginalized genders have come under criticism for asking for "women and non-binary" or "women and transgender people". Adding trans and non-binary identities to "woman" often adds additional confusion for trans masculine people (are trans men included as "sort of women", or excluded as "not a marginalized gender identity"?). Does inclusion of non-binary identities with women imply that those identities are necessarily "feminine"? Does the addition of "trans" as a separate category imply that trans women are not members of the group that is ALL women? How can we more effectively promote the inclusion of transgender, genderqueer, or non-binary authors?

[My notes aren't a complete transcription and may represent my own language rather than the actual words of the panelists. I welcome corrections. I did not identify audience commenters by name. If you said something I paraphrased here and want your name to be used, please comment or send me a private message.]

My comments or clarifications are [within square brackets].

Panelists [my abbreviations for their names] and their web sites:Twitter hashtag: #HaphazardGenderInclusion

When we put out a call for or create a list of "Women and non-binary authors" in an effort to promote diversity, it is a bandaid solution.

KK - What are the goals of such calls and lists, and are they meeting the goals? Is the goal just visibility?

AE - Each call has its own goal. Instead of highlighting a particular gender, they are for breaking up and end the monolithic "100 dudes" nature of so many calls and lists. They create space for spotlighting diverse creators, but the ultimate goal is to eliminate the need for this.

DE - Spike Trotman (, publishes Smut Peddler anthologies of what she describe as "ladycentric porn") was asked: why focus on publishing porn for/by women? She didn't set out that way, but women prefer erotic stories, not so much porn. Tone of stories was different because perspective was different. Brings some fresh perspective.

KK - Goal [of calls for and lists of women and trans/nonbinary ppl] is to break up homogeneity of sff and comix and in general, bring new perspectives.

Calling for "women plus trans women" is different from calling for "women and nonbinary." Does nonbinary fall under women for this purpose? Does that cause problems?

Q - In FB groups for women and nonbinary people, there is sometimes incomplete inclusion. It's assumed the majority of members are women, and posts sometimes start out with, e.g., "Hey ladies"... Inclusion doesn't feel fully thought out.

KK - What would make this better? Change the existing groups, or start different groups?

Q - One group just changed name to remove the word "women". Gender neutral language would help.

AE - The reflexive majority is when people see themselves or see that a group is made up of a majority of a certain type of person, and addresses those people exclusively. As a result, others leave, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Community must make a conscious decision to change and embrace nongendered language. There were some such communities in LiveJournal back in the day. Gendering language is a habit, but it can be unlearned. Gendering language actually takes extra work.

KK - In the panel [at this year's Wiscon] "what happened to the women SF writers?" I wanted to be more inclusive, but is saying "...and nonbinary people" actually inclusive?

What is it like to be out as trans man in a cis world?

DE - I am fairly cis-passing. But when cis men find out I'm trans I get pushed into a different category. Research shows that if your resume reveals you are trans, you are less likely to get a callback for an interview. I only get called to participate in anthologies to fill the "T Space". Some cis gay men are transphobic. I don't get to include any of my other letters, that's why I made the QAT [queer, asexual, trans] comic.

Q - It's not enough to create calls for marginalized creators, it's also necessary to reach out. Not only special issues but also regular issues should be diverse.

AE - The language of the call is a place for nuance. For example I have seen "For women and trans women" [problematic because it suggests trans women are not real women]. Use as many words as it takes. You can't just say "come in," you have to make people feel welcome and you have to prove you are trustworthy.

Audience comment - Marginalized ppl have no reason to trust you. They expect being mistreated as the default.

KK - If you see a call for "gay male fiction", you might think, OK, if I write something from a trans point of view, will they throw it out? We have diverse language that hasn't been thought out. Some ppl don't believe they're included because of the way the call is worded. They might think "I'm not trans/gay/nonbinary enough for this call."

DE - There are tons of anthologies out right now for queer/marginalized groups. But you have to do a lot of work to submit for a comics anthology—several days of work. So if they aren't clear about what kind of people they're looking for, you won't do the work. And if you do submit, you never find out why you didn't get in. Maybe it's because the editors think, "we already have a trans person." Sometimes you might be invited as a special guest, but you have to have already done a ton of work to get enough recognition to achieve that. For example a black trans man wanted to do an autobiographical comic but thinks "no one would be interested, I have never seen anything like that out there."

Q- Some editors put in leg work, recognizing that ppl self reject and encouraging people to submit anyway. Some editors who have presence on Twitter, e.g. Uncanny Magazine (, reach out.

AE - I published an inspirational speech on Twitter and said - some ppl will never self reject. Most of them are mainstream. Don't be like them and assume the whole world is just for you, but you don't have to self reject either. It's editors' job to decide if you fit, not yours. There are reasons we self reject, but we should work on it. I used to self reject from pubs and forums targeted at trans women because my journey wasn't the same and I would think, "am I trans woman enough and will they recognize that?" I missed opportunities.

KK - The most important thing as far as not self-rejecting is concerned: the onus is not on us to fix the problem, but I hope anyone having difficulty submitting will not hold themself back. There are publications for nonbinary authors: Uncanny. Strange Horizons ( Pay attention to who is publishing these voices. Because attention garners attention.

AE - I am getting on my hobbyhorse—our stories are an under-served niche. If we write about mainstream characters, we're competing against a lot of ppl, but some stories are more rare, and if someone feels included in that, they'll give you their money. This gains certain publications attention. I gained success with a story based on my life, not by trying to write the same stories as everyone else. Sometimes dollar signs motivate ppl. There's a viable economic model here, we aren't just charity cases.

KK - Film companies should look at Twitter and tumblr and figure out what ppl want. Money is important but there's also the feeling of recognizing yourself in fiction. Is there more gain in the warm fuzzy feelings?

DE - Everything I've done is because I couldn't find myself represented. As a kid I always identified as the weird monster in stories. I wasn't interested in human stories until I discovered non-cis stories. So it's cool to make a thing and to have it speak to others. In one story, the character doesn't identify as male but feels body dysphoria, and they transition anyway. People see that and say "I didn't know you could do that"—It's ok to take hormones without being a dude.

Q - I compiled a list of stories using non-standard pronouns. Yes I can write such stories, but I'm a drop in the ocean. But when I see other ppl doing it, I think maybe it will spread and we will gain legitimacy.

AE - Trans women can exist outside the punch line of a gay joke. A story that meant a lot to me was the Mad Magazine parody of Silence of the Lambs ( September 1991). This was my first glimmer of representation. There was also an episode of Night Court where a guy meets an old frat brother who has transitioned and is marrying a man. Then on the Internet I found trans woman telling their stories. Telling my story to ppl saved my life.

KK - Intersectionally, when including nonbinary and trans ppl, let's not assume a white middle class majority.

Q - Word submission calls sensitively, have editors who represent diversity, e.g. on board of publication. This sets a precedent and communicates that the mag has already thought about diversity.

AU - I'm going to ask a rude question: Is there a benefit to saying "women and genderqueer," or "women and nonconforming"?

AE - If you say "marginalized sexual identities," you leave it up to potential submitters to figure out what that means. Some ppl think they fit with everything. Sometimes you can say "everybody but cis men," but that centers cis men, so you should use more words, which helps ppl understand that they might be welcome. Articulate what you're doing, make your purpose clear.

Q - A.C. Wise compiles lists of women to read in spec fic, and now has separate lists of nonbinary authors to read ( Boosts certain voices.

DE - "Women and nonbinary femmes" talks about how society perceives you, that's an important experience to talk about. If you're male and nonbinary you get more/different shit than female and nonbinary.

KK - I have no concrete answer, this is why I suggested this panel. There are different reasons and spaces. If you are not in the group you're promoting, google the phrases you're using and see if you are using them as others do. If focusing on ppl experiencing exclusion via being femme, use extra words, avoid "hard line socialization theory". Avoid dog whistle terms.

Q - Push for sensitivity readers for beta reading your work, find someone as a consultant, and pay them. Is there policing of how you present yourself? In the call for submissions for the "POC Destroy..." series the only qualification was "I identify as POC". Avoid other policing.

KK - We don't trust the police, so we don't trust the gender police either!

Audience question - is "genderqueer" inclusive enough?

DE - There is a distinction between "genderqueer" and "nonbinary".

Q - For me "nonbinary" is a broader term. I'm nonbinary but not genderqueer. The term "queer" is fraught for some ppl.

KK - I use "LGBTQIA" and "queer" interchangeably. For some ppl "queer" is too fraught, but the other term leaves out some people, it is always a balancing act. Trans and nonbinary terminology changes very fast. Sometimes it's hard to know the best words.

Audience comment - Where do people questioning their gender fit in?

AE - Go for it, there are no publication police. Some ppl might not be nice about it, but if you're trying to publish, you can't please everyone.

Young ppl are making new gender theories every day.

I used to identify as many other things, e.g. a gay male, although now identifying as a woman feels right. I don't feel bad about having identified as other things earlier in my life.

DE - Use the writing to help figure things out. There's a myth that "we always knew," but most people are muddling through. Places accepting work from non-cisgender ppl are going to be accepting.

KK - As an editor, I think fiction by/about questioning ppl is very welcome. We have gotten to the point where it's easier to avoid gender police. On Twitter/Tumblr you can question and decide, but it's ok to keep questioning. "I'm not sure" is a valid gender identity.

DE - write your stories even if you think ppl don't want to hear them. Because they do want to hear them.

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