Gender Stories

Non-binary everything!

February 17, 2019 Season 2 Episode 14
Gender Stories
Non-binary everything!
Chapters
Gender Stories
Non-binary everything!
Feb 17, 2019 Season 2 Episode 14
Alex Iantaffi
Meg-John Barker and Alex Iantaffi answer a series of questions about all things non-binary and talk about their new book, Life Isn't Binary.
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode Meg-John Barker and Alex Iantaffi answer a series of questions about all things non-binary posed by their publisher, Jessica Kingsley, to celebrate LGBT History Month in the UK and their upcoming book, Life Isn't Binary (to be published in May 2019). 



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Singer:
0:00
There's a whole lot of things I want to tell you about. Adventures dangerous and queer. Some you can guess and some I've only hinted at, so please lend me your ear.
Narrator:
0:32
Everyone has a relationship with gender. What's your story? Hello and welcome to gender stories with your host, Dr Alex Iantaffi.
Alex & Meg-John:
0:45
It's the Gender Stories and Meg-John minus Justin special podcast. Yay!
Alex:
0:59
Welcome to a very special episode of Gender Stories and
Meg-John:
1:03
the Meg-John and Justin podcast minus Justin Hancock.
Alex:
1:06
And this is a very special episode because Meg-John and I were asked to do this episode for our publisher, Jessica Kingsley Publishers and that in the UK this month, February when you will get to listen to this episode or maybe you'll be listening another time when we're taping this episode in the UK is LGBT history month. And I also want to acknowledge that in the U.S. right now is Black History Month. And we were asked to talk a little bit about non binary thinking, uh, because we have a new book coming out, right Meg-John?
Meg-John:
1:39
We do called "Life Isn't Binary" and it's coming out in May, but we reliably informed that you can preorder it on Amazon right now if you're excited. Um, so yeah, we wrote this spring last year, getting it ready and uh, we're really excited about, it's got a foreword by CN Lester who is a really amazing musician and writer as well. He writes "Trans Like Me"
Alex:
2:05
And sounds like it is available both in the UK and the US I understand.
Meg-John:
2:09
That's why I think a new version just came out in the u s so yeah, it's an incredible book about trans in the media and it's kind of a memoir to, it's incredible. So yeah, we want to, we want to promote a book today. Yes. So about non binary but not just non binary gender but nonbinary everything.
Alex:
2:26
Nonbinary everything. That's what we're going to talk about and kind of the book is about non binary everything. We start from sexuality, we go to gender, relationship, bodies, thinking, emotions kind of real and nonbinary, um, experiences in a much more comprehensive way. And yes, the book comes out in May, you can preorder it on Amazon or you can also ask your favorite independent bookseller to make sure they have it, right.
Meg-John:
2:55
That would be awesome. Oh, your library, it's really nice to get our books in the library as well.
Alex:
3:00
Yes, please do get the books in the library. Okay. That's a lot of self promotion. I do this every time I do an episode, um, apparently that's how it works. Sorry listeners, now we're just going to the content I promise. So we got some questions from the marketing team at Jessica Kingsley, um, around non-binary issues. And the first question is most people will be familiar with the term non binary in terms of gender identity. For those listeners who aren't familiar or might have an inkling but not a full understanding, could you explain what the term means is our first question, would you like to define it?
Meg-John:
3:41
Uh, yes. So I guess non binary in terms of gender is a fairly new term. Um, uh, in terms of the history, it's maybe five to 10 years, just been a kind of what you might call a nonbinary movement. And nonbinary gender is a subset of transgender. So transgender refers to anyone who didn't remain in the gender they were assigned at birth. That's pretty much true of binary people. Cause most people that are assigned either male or female at birth and nonbinary people are people who um, do not experience themselves as either male or female. Um, but I guess the really important thing to say is that it's a big umbrella, you know, so it encompasses a lot of different experiences. So some people experiences themselves as like having no gender or being agender or gender neutral. For other people they experience gender somewhere between masculine and feminine or man and woman. Some people experience a bothness that they have both masculinity and femininity. Some people it's a fluid kind of move between different genders. They might experience themselves as different genders or different times. Other people, it's completely beyond that binary man or female. They feel like they've got very different gender or their gender is much more interwoven with their sexuality or their spirituality. So there is a real vast array, isn't there a from experience it's under the umbrella of non binary.
Alex:
4:55
I totally agree. I even wonder if, and I know because this was my initial understanding too, around kind of nonbinary kind of coming under the transgender umbrella. I don't know about you, but more and more I find people who do identify as non binary but might not necessarily identify as transgender. And My um, it's really um, kind of separate for some people goes together. You know, like for myself I'm trans and non binary, but for some folks that would identify as non binary but not necessarily as trans.
Meg-John:
5:28
Exactly. And I think some people also questioned the binary of cisgender and transgender and that's part of why they don't see nonbinary as part of trans or other people they associate trans more with a certain kind of journey maybe a medical journey that they're not taking. But then of course some non binary people do take a medical journey as part of transition. So again, I think the takeaway messages, it's like diverse and encompasses a massive range of experiences of gender. Just like man encompasses a massive range of woman. This a massive range as well.
Alex:
5:59
Exactly. Is that kind of huge, vast landscape. And just because somebody says like I'm nonbinary doesn't mean we really understand what their identity experiences, um, expressions of gender might be. Because, like you said, it is so huge and encompasses so many different identities and experiences. So I don't know if that's clarifying at all or if everybody's more confused than they were. But that's, I think one of the definitions. And I love what you said about in some ways, um, non binary identities and thinking can even challenge that trans/CIS binary, right. Of kind of, um, around gender. And I know that's one of the things we do talk about in the book and it's one of the things that when I was invited to think about the future of non binary genders, you know, like scifi I think in that chapter because really this challenging the whole idea of settler colonial understanding of gender as binary.
Alex:
6:54
Yeah, absolutely. In a way it's western world catching up with ways of understanding gender that have been present around the globe in many cultures for a long time and which in some ways, um, yeah, the West just try to eradicate, um, so we're, we're on the back of a need to really think about it in terms of the history of colonialism as well.
Alex:
6:54
Yeah. And I think that's really important because for me it's impossible to talk about non binary gender and gender identities without talking about that colonial piece and other ways in which I could be totally wrong, but one of the ways in which I see in manifesting this kind of more colonial thinking about non binary identities is people talking about young people changing our understanding of gender and it's a new thing, and I'm like, I'm almost 50, you know, and there's other folks raised with a non binary identity who are kind of older but even more than just our age is kind of moving away from this norm-centric anglo-centric understanding of gender and look at, they're a little bit more globally going actually kind of gender is outside of this binary understanding, have always existed all over the globe in indigenous cultures and have been, um, there's been an attempt to eradicate them in language and culture, um, in spirituality in all sorts of ways. And yet those gender identities and expressions have resisted in a lot of ways and here we see a resurgence.
Alex:
8:35
I was gonna say resurgence, exactly. So this next question is about our own identities. Have you always identified as non binary? Do you want to take that first?
Alex:
8:48
Sure. Um, no, I have not always identified as non binary. I think, um, gender has always been rather confusing for me in a lot of ways. And I didn't really know the concept of transgender or nonbinary growing up. I knew, um, I would get really excited when people mistook me for a boy when I was a teenager and I'm assigned female at birth and it was a long time before I realized that that's not a common experience for all people who are female at birth. Some people would be quite offended if they identified as girls at that time was teenagers. Um, and so for me there was always something that didn't quite fit with the way that culture and society wanted to put gender on me, if that makes sense. Like the way that I was expected to navigate the world and the clothes I was expected to wear, I was, I was expected to sit down and kind of all those things, but I didn't have a language. And then kind of in my late twenties, I started to encounter more language around gender queerness. But I had this kind of misunderstanding that gender queerness was uh, equal to androgyny. Um, non-binary is different and I didn't feel androgynous in a certain way is that my body didn't feel like it fitted in with um, the dominant image of androgyny that seemed to be pretty skinny for example, I'm not very skinny that there was a lot of intersections there for me to grapple with. So I've kind of started with gender queer and then I went into identifying as trans and but trans man didn't fit either so it would be more trans masculine. And finally when this term non binary I think started to become more and more visible. I was like, Oh yeah, I'm like actually my identity is non binary and my presentation gender presentation is masculine. But it's kind of a feminine masculinity. And actually I think that writing the gender book with you, "How to Understand Your Gender", even in my understanding of my own identity as this kind of transmasculine but femme masculine nonbinary person. So I would say that now I identify that way. Wow, that was a long answer to a simple question.
Meg-John:
11:07
It's a work in progress, isn't it? I guess we both wrote about how we identified and our gender in "How to Understand Your Gender" and I suspect as you know, we'd write something a bit different today. Um, I remember when I first came across the kind of idea of people being sort of more than one gender in the same person, some bigender people for example, who experienced themselves as shifting between different genders. And I remember thinking that that did not sound like my experience. That even sounded a bit weird, um, kind of when I first heard about it. But that is really why I've ended up as the sense of a plurality and plurality of selves and a plurality of genders. And like the idea of people being plural selves is something that we've explored in "Life Isn't Binary". I'm really pleased to happen because yeah, I would say that my experiences of different sides of me being differently gendered, um, and I really like that. Like that. How this parts of me that still feel quite woman. I was assigned female at birth, but there's parts of me that feel very much man and parts of me that don't really feel that gender at all and and being able to kind of identify those in myself has been a really exciting part of the progress, the process, really the ongoing sense of a journey I guess with with gender.
Alex:
12:19
And you've also got a really great zine about plural selves that's available on your website, right? Because I recommend that zine to my clients all the time because I find the idea of plural selves so helpful.
Meg-John:
12:30
Oh I'm glad you like it. I really enjoyed writing that one. It's kind of a comic zine and yeah, it's free to download on my rewriting the rules website. So if people want to check it out, they can.
Alex:
12:38
It's just such a great resource, I love it and I love this idea of not being a singular self and you wrote about it in such an accessible way. And I think for me being nonbinary is about embracing all parts of myself are more complex then can be summarized in any one identity. Right?
Meg-John:
13:03
That's right. And that's why I think we particularly, we felt passionate about this project really to expand this idea of non binary way beyond just sexuality and gender, which are the places that people are maybe familiar with. Thinking that something might be in between or both, but actually to think about all these things in non binary ways.
Alex:
13:21
So next question is really about the new book and it says In your new book how non binary thinking can be applied to multiple areas of life, like our bodies,emotions, and thoughts. Why do you think people are comfortable with the concept of non binary sexuality but struggle to apply non binary thinking to these other areas of life. Do you want to get us started or
Meg-John:
13:51
People aren't necessarily comfortable actually with non binary genders or sexualities. I suppose that's the first thing to say. So when we talk about non binary sexuality is, I guess we're talking about the kinds of things that people normally labeled as bisexuality or pansexuality or where sometimes something between or beyond gay and straight. Um, and yeah, like we say in the book, because it's still a lot of biphobia and queerphobia, there's a lot of invisibility of polysexuality. So and then the same with nonbinary. There's lots of suspicion and kind of treating it as not a real thing. Or is it like you say just a phase or a young people's thing or trendy thing? So, so yeah, there's not really massively that people are comfortable with it, that people really like binary thinking. It seems to be, but at least they're aware of it. So, but whereas when we move on to talk about relationships and emotions and thinking and bodies, people aren't even used to thinking about the whole binary. So we try and really go unpack that in the book. I guess talk about what are the binaries, what are the binaries that, you know, kind of govern our thinking about bodies or about emotions and we kind of unpack each of them. So like with emotions there are binaries like positive and negative feelings or like being mad or being sane or with bodies to like say abled or disabled or there's like um, well I'll say for example, when we kind of look at those binaries and also the hierarchies. Right. Their implicated in as binary is cause usually one side of the binary is seen as more normal or better than the other.
Alex:
15:19
Yeah. And I've been thinking a lot about why is it that we have this attachment to this binary thinking? Maybe it's because I'm writing this other book about actually two different books through the lens of trauma. And I'm looking at everything through the lens of trauma. And when I think about, um, you know, obviously settler colonialism is a form of historical, um, social and cultural trauma, then I'm thinking about how trauma can lead to these kind of all or nothing patterns like all or nothing is this or that. It's either or like you're with us or you're against us, right? We are human and those other folks are less huma, therefore we can take their, we can take their land and actually we can even understand the land as property and as something that can be taken or owned by people rather than being in relationship with it. Right? So it's this kind of, yeah, this kind of the separation, this othering, this, um, uh, that happens. And this, the severing is that the word the cutting off of relationship between us and the rest of the world, whether it's the land, whether it's other people. Um, and I came that that's create this dichotomy, this binary, um, division in culture that I think we're feeling and all sorts of ways in many, many ways.
Meg-John:
16:48
Yeah, exactly. And it just plays out everywhere. It's like the media kind of sees everything in terms of a debate between two sides. Talk about in the book and you know, that's playing out. Sort of in terms of like, okay, what's the debate about trans when it's, whether trans people exist or not, you know, and this kind of awareness that, that having those binaries, you know, what that does to people in the fight that that's, you know, there's not two sides to that debate and it's not, it isn't a debate, you know? Um, so yeah, I think that it's, yeah, like you say, it's, it's so ancient. You know, when you look at the history of gender, which is something I've been doing for another project and it's just, it goes, you know, agricultural revolution, it goes back millennia. So it's really, really hard to shift it. Um, but you know, I think a lot of these, um, you know, popularity's have different ways of thinking and different identities are beginning to maybe start that shift in kind of western cultures.
Alex:
17:48
There's a real of yearning to move beyond this kind of dichotomous binary, um, thinking about ourselves and our bodies and relationships and our emotion. Mostly people I think have started to see the damage of that great. Um, kind of dividing, really emotions for example, into good or bad. It's really helpful. And I mean, and this is happening even in popular culture. If you, you know, I'm thinking about the Pixar movie, "Inside Out" where the point of that movies to, uh, talk about how old the basic emotions are needed for kind of, um, Eh, organic kind of development of self. You know, that we need to share, we need a sadness, we need joy. And there's a lot of other things that could be said and like, the staff at Pixar, it seems to be able to speak off in all their movies, including Inside Out. But I really love about that movie around, moving beyond this good or bad emotions kind of idea. So I think it's kind of really seeping into popular culture in this way if that might not be as obvious, but it's kind of
Meg-John:
19:00
Yeah, it has me a little bit hopeful. I think that's the, it's a really good example. Um, Inside Out of the way of seeing something more as plural rather than as a dichotomy or binary of two things is helpful as well,
Alex:
19:20
Shall we move on to the next question? It says ultimately non binary is still a label just like gay or straight. Um, why do you think people are fixated on labeling themselves and others? Which is a good segue around what we're talking about, right?
Meg-John:
19:33
I guess it's often, often when it comes to non binary, then suddenly there's this accusation of why you fixated with labeling yourself. And that frustrates me, you know, and even even had queer scholars say like, why are bisexual people and non binary people fixated on labels, but then otherwise places in the same talk they'll happily use labels like straight or lesbian or trans. And it's like there's this almost this idea that somehow bisexual and non binary people need to get beyond labels in a way that other people don't. So, um, I think the problem is we live in a time that is very, um, based on labels. So to expect some of the most marginalized and most invisible people to go with our labels is, is, you know, not, not very helpful if we'll get support, if you're going to get healthcare, if you're going to get rights. Unfortunately at the moment labels are necessary. You know, you need to use labels that the government understand. If you were to say, Hey, this is a group of people, you need rights and recognition. Um, but I mean, broadly speaking, I agree with the idea that it would be good to get beyond labels in the, in the sense of like people's gender should not be so significant in terms of how they're treated for sure. But I think thinking that we can just like automatically leap there after millennia of patriarchy, it's, it's probably not going to happen. So perhaps this is a step along the way. I don't know. What do you think?
Alex:
20:55
I totally agree. And I think there's like this bypassing that people want to do, it's like, oh, it's fine that we labeled ourselves with like man or woman or straight or gay, didn't even want to think about kind of less binary labels like bisexual, pansexual, fluid. But now why do you all have to label yourselves, right. And it's kind of, I see that this form of bypassing of wanting to get to the goal and before we are at the goal. But you know, went back to the, the question of like, why are people fixated on labeling themselves and others? I also think that as humans we're kind of, um, storytelling, meaning making people and labels can be helpful in some ways. If I'm orienting myself to an environment, there is a piece of me that thinks like who is like me and who's different from me, where is safety, right, where is comfort.
Alex:
21:44
Um, and so labels can be helpful in kind of finding each other, finding community. Um, I just did an episode on language recently and I talked about kind of language and labels can help us find one another and finding one another has been huge in terms of kind of um, being able to also create a momentum in social justice movement for recognition of full humanity, full citizenship. Um, for a lot of folks including non binary folks, right? So yes, in an ideal world maybe, maybe um, I don't know if that's possible given how our mind works and there'd be no labels. Labels can be helpful. And what is it that is so threatening about this label of non binary that this seems too much resistance to it in some ways, in a way that is different from other labels. Either labels seem to be more acceptable. Um, in some ways.
Meg-John:
22:46
Yeah. And also I think this, you know, there's something about marginalization and labels as well. It's like people are often, um, upset at marginalized groups for having labels and also, upset at marginalized groups for labeling others. So I guess words like heterosexual and cisgender, you know, often heterosexual and cisgender people have been annoyed at those kinds of labels because they want to say, well, you know, I don't want to be seeing this having a gender, or having a sexuality but we need to name that. We need to name the privileged ones. Like we need to name whiteness, you know, because we can't really critically actually look at something until we have a name for it, for, for it. And so it's, it's really important in that sense as well. Politically I think.
Alex:
23:27
Absolutely. Cause otherwise it's like we don't want to be label in implies because we add the default and as long as we don't label what the default, then we can really kind of look at the whole idea critically. Right? Or when we only labeled transgender and or non binary people as hsving a gender in means that the gender of CIS folks get some scrutinize and gets assumed as the norm and default, but they will want to kind of explore the landscape. We really need to have more specific terms that describe different identities and different experiences and if those identities and experiences don't applied to people they get to say that I will spend a lot of sometimes almost um, asked me permission as a nonbinary person. Like I'm kind of non binary but I think I'm cis and I was like, I'm not the book of nonbinary and or Trans identities. I kind of tell somebody while you're identity is if you are questioning your gender identity or expression, that's totally okay. Yeah.
Meg-John:
24:32
Yeah. I always just say to them, come on in we need more people. Right? If you think it might apply to you. Brilliant. Excellent. We need more people so come on in.
Alex:
24:45
Exactly. If you identify as cis but have a nonbinary expression or non binary identity is but like a more kind of CIS gender expression in the world. That's fine.
Meg-John:
24:54
I think that's, you know, that we end up with these hierarchies even within communities about like who's trans enough and non binary enough and who is queer enough and often you know, often those are really problematic as well. But it's something we unpacking them in the book as well because it's quite complex and sometimes people kind of have a lot of privilege in the world and once the claim are more marginalized identity in a way that doesn't really interrogate that privilege, it's almost like a way of opting out of having to do that interrogation. Whereas other times it's more like you know that that's a genuine experience that they have and they're even more invisible because they aren't seen as expressing it. You know, like if they're not visibly nonbinary somehow they're seen as less. So this is a real complexity around that isn't there?
Alex:
25:34
Oh yeah. And we talk about the complexity of intersectional identities because for some folks, for example who have non-binary identities, it's safer to express those non binary identities kind of visibly in the world. But for others it's less safe for BIPOC, you know, black, indigenous, immigrant and people of Color folks talk about it is not a thing for them. Um, by and large in end of anglo western dominant culture to express nonbinary and entities in a visible way compared to for example.
Meg-John:
26:10
So we have to be really cool. It's just so judging anyone basically on these things. Yeah. Also really interrogate where we're at all of these intersections in terms of kind of privilege and oppression as well rather than, you know, not like taking a label as a kind of just a way of bypassing that work but also, yeah, really recognizing that we can't be judging is anybody else you know, trans enough or equipment off status. Yeah.
Alex:
26:39
Talk about what is this opening up and one is this closing down and I know we've included this in our writing too and that's one of the things I've learned from you, which I really love. Um, which has this idea then with those labels including nonbinary labelr, what are the potentiality is that we're opening up and what are the potentialities we are closing down and intentionality of choice. So we can use labels with intention but still hold them with open hands or we can grasp at them with everything we've got. And sometimes I find that when I do that I want to keep other people out. I'll admit it. I have this moments where I'm like, oh, and this is not, this is not going to make me look good listeners and I'm sorry, but I've totally had those moments of like well fine you identify as non binary but you don't look non binary and that's not gonna be the same experience in the world. And I thought wow, look at that. What is going on inside you, Alex, that you feel you have to police the boundaries of this identity, which by the way is not just yours so it doesn't belong to you. There is a complex set of reasons why people may feel safe or unsafe or even want to, like there is no one way of doing nonbinary or that it was right. I have to look gender expansive or gender nonconforming to be non binary. So there are those moments of what I call really internalized oppression where, well for many of us brought up in kind of settler colonial mentality the idea that we can own anything including our identity labels and keep other people out. Right.
Meg-John:
28:16
And how we fall back into that right. Yeah. And I think you're right, that's one of our examples of the last chapter of the book when we're talking about thinking nonbinary we just come up with a number of ways that people might try. Um, you know, to experiment with a different kind of thinking and I think open up, what does it open up, what does it close down as a nice option. It's like the pretty much anything in the world will open up some things in close down others. Then it gets some idea that we can find, you know, perfect, happy, good, right ways of doing things that will, you know, include absolutely everyone and always just be great and actually more helpful to think yeah, what does that open up and what does it close down? Maybe we try and follow the paths to open up more than they closed out, but recognizing this inevitability. So some close down even when things open up.
Alex:
29:01
and the way of thinking for me is more relational thinking because the other way of thinking of let's find the thing that's perfect, that's good, that's the best. And I think all of us can fall into trap is part of settler colonial thinking. It's actually part of whiteness. And so moving more towards this both/and relational way of knowing ourselves and others I think is so important. Um, and then I dunno, I think it's a shift that's needed in the world obviously because we wrote about it. So there you go! (laughs)
Meg-John:
29:37
The questions then go on to ask a number of questions about uh, relationships because we have the chapter on non binary thinking about relationships. I might try and like bring these together a bit like cause there's quite a lot of them.
Alex:
29:52
You do whatever feels right.
Meg-John:
29:55
Well first of all they say, well we talk in the relationship chapter I guess about we're questioning the idea that there were only binaries in terms of love, say like single versus couple monogamous versus non monogamous friend versus lover where we can unpack all these kind of binaries about what, you know, what's a better kind of love. And we're kind of saying that romantic love often gets privileged over other kinds of love. And then one of the things we do to challenge this is talk about the ancient Greeks. You had like seven different types of love that they recognized of all different kinds, which is something I got from Justin Hancock who I do my podcast with tMeg-John and Justin.
Alex:
30:35
Hi Justin, we miss you!
Meg-John:
30:35
And um, actually when you came on that podcast we talked about different kinds of love because we talked about the love that I have with both of you as my co-authors. And then that puts you in a metamauthor relationship with each other because you're kind of important to each other at a distance as well. So yeah, it's just asking us to unpack that a little bit. Um, like the kind of relationship that we have with each other and how that challenges the binary and also other ways of challenging the relationship binaries.
Alex:
31:04
I love it. Let's go there. So, um, yeah, and one of the question is like, why do you, why do you think we prioritize romantic love to the detriment of other relationships and friendship? And I think the first thing I thought is like, who is the we? Well I think the we in this question is dominant culture right there is this thought that romantic love is superior to the other kinds of blogs. You know, if we have to choose between kind of, um, our partner and our friends, our partner should come first. That's one of the ideas, um, in kind of anglo dominant culture. Um, well first of all well that's not how I was brought up. There's a lot of conflict. When I was, um, the way I was brought up in Italy, in southern Italy especially around the tension between romantic love and partners and family of origin, because family of origin is incredibly important, right?
Alex:
31:58
And so, and it's not unusual to have intergenerational families living close to each other or living together or taking holidays together. And so this idea that romantic relationships are kind of superior is not universally or globally always true, right? So again, it's a very specific cultural lens. Um, and I think that that is, um, for me that's really important to think about is like what is the cultural lens that we were brought up with? And Are we even aware that there is a lens there? Or do we think that that's the world for everybody? Right? Um, and when I think about this idea of like seven names for love, that the ancient Greeks have, it's because we do have lots of different kind of, I, you know, I don't love my child the same as I love pizza. You know, you have this one word in English.
Meg-John:
32:53
Really good, Alex.
Alex:
32:56
It's delicious. (laughs)
Meg-John:
32:59
And I mean, I love your child, you know that but
Alex:
33:01
I know and now we've been home for several days here in Minnesota, but I love them more than pizza. Yeah.
Meg-John:
33:10
Yeah. I think I love them more than pizza also. (both laugh)
Alex:
33:15
Especially gluten free pizza. Um, but yeah, so we got that. We went on a little tangent with pizza because how can you not go on a tangent with pizza? But um, yeah, I dunno. I feel like is what is the lens that we're coming from and I love a lot of the work you've been doing. Meg-John, I recommend, again, your work all the time to people I work with around really not assuming that we understand what our relationship agreements are with one another, whether it's partnerships or friendships of any kind. You know, the, all the work that you've done for rewriting the rules. So I don't know if you want to talk about that a little bit here.
Meg-John:
33:52
Yeah, I guess like that was my starting point really was to question like why do we put certain relationships above others? And it's not about saying, oh well we should put friendship above romantic relationship or family above. It's like, let's think about it. You know, why, why this kind of bond worth more than that kind of bond. Um, and then yeah, just like this idea of intentional relationships. Justin and I explore quite a lot of like, well how do we make the relationship fit like the people involved rather than trying to push it into a certain model because that's what our kind of media idea is of this is what this kind of relationship is. Um, that seems really important. Um, so yeah, just questioning all of those hierarchy as real and then helping people find their own way and letting each kind of love be what it is and that it'd be a work in progress. I guess this is another way of doing something nonbinary is to see things as kind of an ongoing work in progress. So in the same way that gender fluid people or some of them might see their gender as this ongoing journey, maybe that is another way we could see relationships. That may be a little more helpful because it allows for that flexibility and for change over time rather than the idea that they have to stay static and always be the same. Yeah,
Alex:
35:04
absolutely. And I think it's kind of this idea that romantic love trumps all is a pretty modern idea and culturally specific idea. I remember, um, when I was in Grad School, one of my close friends who was planning on an arranged marriage where she wouldn't have a say in it, but she really believed that that was a good way to go. And I, I agreed with her and in a lot of ways in terms of the thoughtfulness that went into it and maybe it was easy for me to agree to it because even in Sicily, um, there were still, um, people would arrange relationships with the involvement of kind of family members to make sure, um, the everybody's interests were kind of met and this idea of like, why is it better to base like a long term partnership on love rather than based on kind of more communal or community based interests as well as kind of individual preferences. Right. It's kind of almost a kind of binary between individual and community and what's the best way to create our lives, right. So again, kind of questioning why do we assume that certain way of doing things we're doing in relationships are better than others automatically.
Meg-John:
36:22
And I think you know that asks about our own relationship. And it's just such a great example of this that helps me to remain tethered to the idea is that, you know, yeah. Like a relationship did start back in the day as a romantic erotic one. Um, and that didn't seem to work out so well for us. And then once we found this cocreative friendship and we connected in terms of projects and then in terms of like, likemindedness and also in terms of the different expertise is that we can bring together and find the shared point, um, that, that seems to be a really good basis that we've just built and built and built on. And it's one of my most long lift relationships that I have apart from the one with my sisters. I guess this is a really close, really genuine relationship.
Alex:
37:09
Yeah we've been in each other's lives for a really long time, since I was pregnant with my first kiddo who is now 15. Yeah, our romantic relationship was really short lived compared to how long we've been friends and then writing and creative partners. Right. And in some ways if we had seen the end of that romantic relationship as a failure, we might not have given ourselves the opportunity to really go through the loss, stay with that and kind of this place where we're like, oh actually this aspects of our relationship are really beautiful and creative, um, and here was still are really connected and you know, still in each other's lives, which I think is beautiful. Um, yeah and, and we come a long way now remember when we thought we could do all the things and juggle all the things and maybe we couldn't. {both laugh]
Meg-John:
38:03
So we're not both trying to like do a podcast and publish several books and like also see clients.
Alex:
38:07
I'm there and I don't know what you're talking about. [laughs] Some things change and some things don't.
Meg-John:
38:18
Well our next book is going to be on self-care Alex so we're going to have to look at this one very, very closely. Aren't we?
Alex:
38:24
I'm trying, I'm trying! Obviously we write about things we struggle with, dear listeners.
Meg-John:
38:29
Yeah, your mess is your message. That's what they say.
Alex:
38:33
Your mess is your message, I love that. So now you know our secrent, your mess is your message still writing about something and we seem very wise. It's probably because we're really struggling with it and kind of mess it up.
Meg-John:
38:46
Okay. I think we should move on to bodies cause I'm just aware of time. It says in the book you you explore how bodies are defined by the binary. Could you expand on this?
Alex:
38:59
Yes. Oh, there's so much to say. I feel like maybe we should have done several episodes. Oh, but there are so many good questions about relationships we should probably move towards bodies. Those are also connected too I think so yes. Bodies are defined by the binary. I think because our bodies are this amazing landscapes that are so much more complex than any binary understanding or thinking that we want to put on them. Right? It's kind of, um, even when we talk about mind over matter, well where is our brain, our brain is our body, our brain is an organ in our body and now we know that our brain is only one place where there are all this nervous system connection. There's a bunch of nervous system connections in our guts. You know, there are new theories like Stephen Porges, polyvagal theory, it's connection in our spine, our bodies are kind of, um, like this beautiful, um, resistant landscape and territory where there will not be confined into these binaries.
Alex:
40:05
Um, and in a way, I think when we tried to confine our bodies into these small binaries of like sick or healthy, you know, fat or thin, uh, working or not working, it just doesn't, it just doesn't work. It's the, it's kind of our bodies are so much more, um, much more expansive. I think that's the word I'm looking for, which is why maybe there was lost a little bit of a connection between bodies, um, and relationship and kind of all of this idea about how relationships often and desired to contain and categorize in the same way in which we have a desire to contain and categorize me much more expansive than any of our categories.
Meg-John:
40:52
Yeah, absolutely. Which is kind of what we say about gender as well. It's like, yeah, this idea of expansive as a really good one, but again, it's so often limited by the kind of capitalist culture that pervades in the west of them. Yeah.
Alex:
41:05
And I think that capitalist culture is a good point because even back to some of the questions from Jessica Kingsley around, um, one of them was why do you think single is still, it's still seen as a taboo or undesirable option? Um, no, it's kind of what is it that we see as legitimate or illegitimate and then some ways this idea that, um, being single, not as desirable has a lot to do with bodies and we're supposed to take care of our bodies.
Meg-John:
41:40
Sorry I'm podcasting at the moment. [laughs] She decided to have a bark and now she wants to go on a walk. Thanks. No we're good, we're good.
Alex:
42:18
So we were talking about bodies and relationships and genders and generally humans being so much more expansive than any binaries.
Meg-John:
42:26
Exactly. And how capitalism is one of the forces that tries to limit that.
Alex:
42:31
Yeah. Capitalism likes to make our bodies into commodities as if our body is a commodity that is to be traded. You know, our capacities, our bodies, our time, our energy, our physical and emotional efforts. Then everything is monetized and everything needs to be categorized to be monetized.
Meg-John:
42:53
It's this before and after binary often this promise doesn't it? It's like we can turn you from fat to thin or ugly to beautiful or poor to rich on these kinds of binaries and offering the promise of a yeah, but it's, you know, they're all based on problematic binaries in the first place.
Alex:
43:15
Absolutely. Take this and you'll be desirable, which is undesirable, right? All those things are kind of connected, you won't be sick, you won't have a cold anymore and you can take care of your children while also going to work while never being sick, right. It's like when I do this too, like I can't be sick, I'm too busy. [both laugh]
Meg-John:
43:37
yeah, we'll see how that works out for you. But still can't step outside of culture.
Alex:
43:46
That's right, you can't step outside of culture.
Meg-John:
43:53
Right. Oh we can tlak about the slow down page. And they say throughout the book you've included reflection points where you invite the reader to take some time out or engage in a reflective activity. What was the thinking behind that? And that came from you that you came up with that idea for our first book together, "How to Understand Your Gender", right?
Alex:
44:09
Yeah, I did. So one of the things I do in my life is also being a somatic experiencing practitioner, uh, which means basically as a therapist I pay a lot of attention to the whole of ourselves and our bodies. Then even talking about our bodies as, it's not us, it's a little bit weird, but language is complex. So I do believe we are our bodies and you might've noticed that we do have a tendency and kind of getting lost in the world of ideas and free wheeling in the world of ideas. And so even for ourselves let alone for the readers, I think to just be doing let's take a breath slow down and bodies are so much slower than our prefrontal cortex. And so having a minute and be like, let's slow down, let's really see how those ideas are settling. What is, can you do something that really helps you take care of yourself? You might have some feelings about this, you know, we're talking in some ways about ideas that are countercultural. And so I think the thinking was really to create a little bit of an oasis for readers and you don't have to do it. One of my partners hates the slow down pages. They read the first draft of How to Understand Your Gender. They were like the book is okay, but the slow down pages I don't like them. I don't know. I don't like them at all. Yeah. Right. And then the net to love them you then even after you use them, but there there's an opportunity to slow down, to reflect, um, to take care of yourself. I know when I get excited I even forget to go to the bathroom. I know it seems so basic, but I'm so excited. I'm talking about something and I'm not taking care of my basic needs.
Meg-John:
45:54
And again, it fits with the non-binarynesss because I guess some cognitive psychologists have argued that when we think fast, we tend to go to those habitual responses, which would include really binary thinking either/or, us and them, etcetera. Whereas if we can slow down and be more mindful and more reflective, that may enable us to see the complexity. But certainly my experience is that I'm much more likely to see the complexity. For example, in a conflict. If I can slow down and take my time around it. And reflect then if I'm just an, if I'm more in my body as well, if I remember I did rather than, um, and I'm very much in my head and very much kind of trying to move at a pace and get it all fixed.
Alex:
46:32
Absolutely and a trauma perspective that also really helps too because I can be coming more from a place of reactivity where kind of the is freaking out and I'm reacting to feeling threatened or I'm reacting to my fear of abandonment but actually, when I slow down I see what's mine and where I'm coming from and I can give my prefrontal cortex time to come back online. And it's, it's creating that pause that gives us an opportunity to be more intentional basically. And so we were trying to create the pause in the book, then gives people an opportunity to both digest the content of the book. It'd also be more intentional in how they want to relate to the content of the book.
Meg-John:
47:15
Yes. Yeah. So then that they ask what's the main point and we'd like readers to take away from this discussion and from the book. Yeah.
Alex:
47:24
Oh yes. Oh didn't they also ask how we think non-binary thinking could improve listeners lives?
Meg-John:
47:28
Oh sorry yes, I just keep leaping ahead.Slow down, slow down. [laughs]
Meg-John:
47:37
How do we think non-binary thinking could improve listeners' lives?
Alex:
47:40
Yes. And that's when we take a pause, a pregnant pause when we think about it. What do you think Meg-John?
Meg-John:
47:49
Wow. I mean I think that conflict, um, and suffering were the two big ones that came up for me, which is kind of like all of the struggles of human existence when you think about it. And like I feel like non binary thinking is heavily implicated in both conflict and suffering. So when we are struggling with ourselves or with another person or people, I think we're often much more drawn. It's a non binary thinking. Um, you know, so us and them thinking like it's all their fault and not my fault. It's all my fault and not their fault. But it's like we polarize into these opposites and we try and either figure out how we're right or we kind of go the other way and decided we were all wrong. And either way it causes suffering for ourselves and the other person. So there's a lot of binary and conflicts and then you know, and our struggles with ourselves as well. I think we can easily go between I'm a good person versus I'm a bad person and always been stalked by that kind of fear that maybe we're bad underneath and again the way we understand the self as relational, as embodied, as plural, you know, that actually gets away from the idea that we could even be all good or all bad. It doesn't make any sense. So I think yeah, the binary thinking underlying conflict and suffering and that I'm finding it just experimenting, playing and shifting habits to more non-binary forms of thinking can be really good for alleviating some of that.
Alex:
49:13
I completely agree. And the only thing I would, I would add, it's not even an addition I think you already said it, but the way I think about is that non binary thinking really helps us be more relational, more relational with ourselves and seeing ourselves as part of kind of broader humanity, more relational with one another. It kind of helps us to stay in relationship. It helps us even to stay in relationship with a broader, what I would call the broader web or network of life, right? If I'm thinking non-binary, I'm not thinking about me and the land as separate, I'm thinking about me and the land as being in relationship, I'm thinking about me and the food I consume as being in relationship. I'm thinking of myself and the rest of life as being part of an ecosystem. So for me as a systemic therapist and as a systemic thinker, non-binary thinking is essential to staying in relationship within this, uh, this much, this beautiful ecosystem, which makes my life so much better when I can stay in relationship with that.
Meg-John:
50:17
And that's the challenge of this kind of thinking as well because it goes so far fit for me beyond sexuality or gender. It's like we cannot, for me, I, I really think non- binary about those things and not start to see all those other areas as well. And that really challenges me to relate differently to other, other species, to the planet, to people who I might think of as the other different to me. So I think it's kind of at a challenging journey as well as a really rewarding one though, the same journey towards the, towards less individual suffering but also towards being implicated, hopefully in less suffering from a kind of social justice perspective. Yeah. And then that's a good segue into the question that we were going towards, which is what is the main point that would like readers to take away from the book? And I mean, I think that will be the secret point that we've had and it's just the answer to life, the universe and everything. And we've, we've hidden, it carefully in the book so that you'll have to read the whole thing. Right. That's it. To get that point.
Alex:
51:23
Isn't that the answer, 42? [laughs]
Meg-John:
51:26
Yeah, I think Douglas Adams already came up with that one.
Alex:
51:29
But yeah, I mean I think, I think it's said what one, the main point is for us for this kind of this yeah. This for me it's this relational, we're part of an ecosystem and non binary thinking really helps us move in that direction. Um, collectively. Individually.
Meg-John:
51:48
Yeah. Which means that the implication of that is that we have to learn to value or bodies or lives all of these things. We need to value them all equally rather than having these kinds of binary hierarchy is which value some over others. Right, exactly.
Alex:
52:07
Exactly. And we need to do that without bypassing the fact that we live in kind of oppressive. Yes. Cause I think often there is this kind of form of social justice or spiritual bypassing where we want to be at the, at the end goal you know, where it's this paradox where yes, we want to value all of that and we need to acknowledge that at the moment that's not where we are. And so centering more marginalized and oppressed voices is actually essential to that process of kind of, um, yeah. All lives and all bodies.
Meg-John:
52:45
Good segue to the final question, which is if, if people want to shift their thinking in a more non-binary direction, what's the first thing they should do? So I guess that's seeing it as a kind of stepping stone approach rather than you could just leap into some non-binary utopia overnight.
Alex:
53:02
I was going to be really terrible and self-promoting. They should read our book. [both laugh] I'm a terrible person. I hate capitalism, but we're living capitalism.
Meg-John:
53:17
Playing out right now, right now between I think, um, I guess compassion, kindness would be my first thought. Like that's pretty much the first step on every journey in this realm. Like you can't get very far until you're kind to yourself. Um, that's a lifelong journey. That's the struggle. I think we, still struggle with that, but um, yeah, that would be my first stepping stone on the way to non binary thinking.
Alex:
53:39
I completely agree. I, you know, I often say that if I had a magic wand and there's just one thing that all of my therapy clients could take away from annual. The work we do together is the capacity for self-compassion because it's such a such a challenge. And I know for me what I've experienced this, that acceptance for me, it needs to come before the, comes before compassion. So that piece of that Buddhist piece around radical acceptance, so radical acceptance itself. This is who I am, I'm a human and this is my history and this is what happened to me. And I really want people to understand though that acceptance, it's not resignation. Resignation is passive acceptance as active. I think that acceptance is what moves us towards the possibility of action and compassion but if I don't accept who I am and what my legacy is in terms of intergenerational historical, cultural legacy. Um, what I carry within me from my ancestors, both in terms of trauma but also in terms of wisdom. And if I can accept that any effect and accept others for where they're at, um, then there is the possibility for action and compassion, which is much greater than if I tried to deny what is, if that makes sense.
Meg-John:
55:01
So much sense that's. Yeah, that's spot on. And I guess just always want to underline to listeners how much that's an ongoing struggle for everyone that is not an easy. It's a stepping stone and also the last stepping stone cause like it's kind of, it's taken awhile to get there or if you even get there fully, but like it's a good thing to be aspiring to and try and to practice in daily life and then not beating yourself up when you find it hard.
Alex:
55:24
No, just being really kind and the journey and I mean it's called a practice for a reason, which is I had to do this every day and I'm nowhere near that level of acceptance that I longed for for other folks as well as for myself. For sure. So that, that was quite a bit, but is there anything else that would like to discuss? We'd been asked, is there anything else?
Meg-John:
55:48
I think that gives a pretty good sense of the book and what people are going to get and we really hope that people enjoy it and want to engage with it. They'll have to have people like if you want it sweetest when you've read it, oh yeah. That would be great.
Alex:
56:01
I mean, that's definitely one of my great joys in life to know how my content is landing for people. You know, that I really, really love about writing more, uh, outside of academia and not being in academia anymore. It's just really how is this a landing for people and being able to have that level of vulnerability and kind of weave the more personal and theoretical and kind of just put out there and see if it resonates for, of folks. Really.
Meg-John:
56:29
Definitely. That's all about connection,that interconnection you were talking about for me, that's what I, that's what writing is for is like the joy of like some words I've written, connecting with somebody else and maybe enriching their lives a little bit or soothing them a little bit. Like that seems to be the point to me. So yeah, it's great to hear from people. Um, and to see I live, I love it when people tweet like a picture of the book and scribble notes in it and it's like, oh, that's the best. Yeah.
Alex:
56:57
Yeah.
Meg-John:
56:59
They can listen to your podcast, listeners who are not familiar with your podcast can listen to Gender Stories.
Alex:
57:06
And listeners are not familiar with your podcast. Listen to the Meg-John and Justin Podcast, which I think it's very fabulous.
Meg-John:
57:14
Yes, I think yours is too. I think they're amazing and complimentary and awesome.
Alex:
57:20
And we love having each other on each others' podcast. So you'll find some episodes of Gender Stories. One episode already has Meg-John as a guest and it's a wonderful episode, so check it out. Writing vulnerably living vulnerably. If I remember the title correctly and I'm an a couple of episodes of Meg-John and Justin and you can also read our books as many books that you can find on their website rewriting the rules. Together we have "How to Understand Your Gender: a practical guide for exploring who you are" as well as "Life Isn't Binary" coming out in May. But remember you can ask your library, your favorite independent bookseller or pre order it online and yes. And then watch out for a wonderful workbook on self-care coming out in 2020 with Jessica Kingsley Publisher and then talking about sustainability, Gender Stories now has a Patreon that you can find at patreon.com/genderstories total shameless plug for sustainability in relationship.
Meg-John:
58:25
Nice. I'm also going to have a Patreon very soon as I'm going to be self employed. So I'm going to need that as well. So yeah, that's a, it's a great thing.
Alex:
58:30
That's real. We need to support to ourselves and each other. So I will look forward to letting everybody know you have a Patreon as you have one.And we would also like to thank Jessica Kingsley Publisher as um, as our publisher for "How to Understand your Gender" and also for "Life isn't Binary" and amazing work of really promoting trans or nonbinary voices and see supporting, um, authors both new and experienced the others. Um, so thank you Jessica KIngsley. I think, yeah,
Meg-John:
59:05
They keep sending me new ones to read and they're just fantastic. I just read an amazing one for on therapy for trans and nonbinary people by Sam Hope, which is coming out in the next couple of months, which is just brilliant. Um, and yeah, there's so many in that, like just go and look at all of their books on trans cause there's just so many wonderful ones in that. Yeah.
Alex:
59:22
They have really wonderful kind of gender diversity lists. So I really encourage you check it out and, um, until we meet again for our next episode, take care of yourselves and one another and try to hold as much of your thinking with open hands and see how that goes.
Meg-John:
59:43
Bye now.
Alex:
59:44
Bye.
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