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Cynthia Nixon and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Set a New Standard for Nonbinary Inclusion

Cynthia Nixon’s 30-point loss to Andrew Cuomo last night is nonetheless being touted as a win — for elevating critical issues of racial and economic justice in New York and ousting a clique of Republican-enabling Democrats from the state’s senate. But there’s another accomplishment she can point to, and that’s bringing the reality of nonbinary and gender nonconforming people onto the political stage.

Conceding the race last night, Nixon tweeted, “To all the young people. To all the young women. To all the young queer people who reject the gender binary. Soon you’ll be standing here, and when it’s your turn, you’ll win.” This echoes a remark she made at her get-out-the-vote rally the night before the election, where she greeted the crowd, “Hello brothers, hello sisters, hello siblings that reject the gender binary.”

These comments mirror a statement made by Democratic Congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez back in June when she encouraged “women and gender-expanding people” to run for office.

Until this summer — until these two democratic socialist women spoke up — I have never heard a Democrat of any stature acknowledge nonbinary people’s existence. It’s galling that the bar is as low as “acknowledging I exist” but damned if I’m not thrilled they cleared it.

Countless political speeches begin with “ladies and gentlemen” or “brothers and sisters.” Public figures in elected office and beyond make references to “men and women” exclusively, even when describing the LGBTQ+ community. As the #MeToo movement gathered welcome momentum, too many of the discussions it kindled completely excluded the possibility that anyone but a man or woman might be involved in harassment and abuse — even as rates of sexual assault against transgender and nonbinary people remain staggeringly high.

The persistent use of binary gendered language that excludes other possibilities works to hide those possibilities. And it works well — most of my life I had no idea I had any other option but to be a man or a woman and I lived in the ill-fitting role assigned to me until I was 35 years old. While it’s been a joy to have finally stepped out of that role into one that gives me room to be a whole person, I wish I’d been able to do so earlier. I can’t imagine what my life might’ve been like if I’d grown up in a world where candidates for public office casually tossed off references to people beyond the binary.

The erasure of nonbinary identity can have deadly consequences, even for people who do have a binary gender. The cisnormative idea that everyone should “pass” as a man or a woman contributes to the violence inflicted on those who can’t or don’t want to look the way society says they should. It’s no wonder there is an epidemic of murder committed against transgender and gender nonconforming people — particularly black trans women and other trans women of color.

I’m glad there are candidates like Nixon and Ocasio-Cortez who’ve used their time in the spotlight to open up space in our society for people like me. But that should not be a surprising rarity among Democrats — it should be the minimum acceptable standard for anyone who claims to be an ally of transgender and gender nonconforming people.

Image via Getty


Michael Fay

Michael Fay is a writer based in Brooklyn.