In a viral video from the podcast Man Enough, a nonbinary poet and speaker said that gender binary harms everyone-not just transgender people.
Nonbinary activist Alok Vaid-Menon talked about the history and problems of gender binary and how people can fight it in a video that went viral on social media.
Weid-Menon spoke on “Man Enough,” a podcast that seeks to “undefine” traditional gender roles and masculinity, hosted by actor Justin Baldoni, writer and MSNBC columnist Liz Plank and composer Jamie Heath.
In the episode, which premiered Monday, Weid-Menon said that gender binarity — the idea that there are only two genders, not a spectrum — and traditional expectations associated with binary gender labels hurt everyone, not just transgender people, and that these fixed ideas of what it means to be male or female prevent people from understanding who they really are.
Early in the conversation, Heath told Weid-Menon that when he listens to them speak, he asks himself: “Why don’t I fight for them?”
He asked what he needs to “wean” and what he needs to do to help other men wean to better support them, meaning trans and non-binary people like Weide-Menon.
Vaid-Menon’s response, in which he explained how Heath can actually better support trans men, has gone viral.
“I’m non-binary, which means I’m not just challenging the binary between male and female, male and female, but between us and them,” said Weid-Menon, author of “Beyond Gender Binary.” “And in your statement, you said, ‘Why don’t I help them?’ as if this struggle is not your struggle. The reason you’re not fighting for me is because you’re not fighting fully for yourself.”
They said that while trans and non-binary people face violence and death for challenging traditional gender norms, they don’t want people to fight for their rights “because you want to protect me or help me.”
“I don’t need your help,” they said, adding that they “have an unshakable and irrevocable sense of who I am” and don’t need to prove anything.
Instead of telling cisgender people how to help transgender people, Waid-Menon said, they are reframing the conversation by asking cisgender people if they are ready to heal from how gender binary has affected them.
“And I don’t think most people are ready to heal, and that’s why they suppress us as trans and genderqueer people – because they’ve done this violence to themselves in the first place,” Waid-Menon said. “They suppressed their own femininity. They suppressed their own gender non-conformity. They suppressed their own ambivalence. They suppressed their creativity.”
“So I think I would rephrase your question as, ‘Can you help me free myself?’ rather than ‘Can you help me help you?” they told Heath.
They later added that people should have compassion before they “understand”-meaning that they should empathize with trans people, even if they don’t understand them.
A clip of Vaid-Menon’s response, as well as other clips from the episode, went viral on Instagram.
Trans activist and actress Laverne Cox and actor Billy Porter shared clips from the episode.
Cox, star of “Orange is the New Black,” wrote, “@alokvmenon with a full sermon. Know that you are divine.”
Billy Porter, who stars in the series “Pose,” wrote that he “felt it on so many levels.”
“I don’t need your help. I don’t need you to show up to ‘protect’ me,” Porter wrote on Instagram. “I don’t need you to legitimize me. The hatred you feel when you see that we have the courage to live an uncompromising life is hatred for yourselves.”
Trans and non-binary people also shared snippets of the interview on Twitter.
“I wish I could explain my existence as a non-binary person with such clarity,” one person wrote.
Waid-Menon later said that when they talk about how to challenge traditional gender ideology, cisgender men often feel threatened.
This reaction has deep historical roots, they said, noting that they studied gender, sexuality and sociology at Stanford University. In the early 20th century, when women stood up for voting rights, men created postcards that showed women dressed as men and men dressed as women, Waid-Menon said.
The message that men who opposed voting rights for women were sending to other men was that “we would be feminized, we would lose power, and it would be women who would make us do what we did with women: take care of the children and stay home,” Waid-Menon says.
“Women were basically just saying, ‘We want to have the vote,’ and men perceived it as, ‘I’m losing power,'” they said. “And here we are, 100 years later, transgender and gender non-conforming people are saying, ‘Hey, everybody, I want to be able to exist, I want to be able to go out without being spit on, I want to be able to live and not be afraid to die.’ . And people say it’s a threat.”
Vaid-Menon, creator of #DeGenderFashion, said their message to cisgender men is that they don’t have to be masculine or strong, they can be vulnerable and human.
“People don’t know how to get that love,” they said. “That’s the paradigm shift that I really want to get away from – fear and danger make it so that people aren’t ready to accept love. People have been taught to be afraid of the very things that could potentially set them free.”