An Enby in Women's Spaces
So, here's a thing...
When I opened up ConTessa's doors to expand our mission, I did so based on a number of things I read across the internet about how odd it can feel to be invited to a women's space when you're not a woman as well as a lot lot lot of content I read on intersectional activism.
One of the things that stood out to me were a couple of impassioned Facebook comments (I wish I could remember where and who so I could thank them, too) and blog posts by enbies (that's an easy - and fun - way to say 'non-binary people') frustrated that they were often thrust in with the women instead of having their own space. They felt as if they were an afterthought, a third wheel, and like they were being forced into a binary space.
I felt empathy for them even though I didn't quite understand. This was before a friend opened Pandora's Box in front of me by asking me if I was sure I was actually cisgender, so I was still solidly in the 'trying to be a woman' camp. That empathy, combined with reading similar things in PoC and LGTBQ activist spaces, drove me to advance ConTessa's mission by opening the door wider without needing to know more about the details of why those people felt that way.
I believed what I read because I scream at the internet constantly that people need to believe women. I felt I owed it to all the other underrepresented people in gaming to read about how women-only spaces made them feel, and believe them, because they were asking for the same thing. To be heard. To be believed. To be validated.
That listening, empathy, and belief led me to make the change I did, and I couldn't be happier. Doing that not only opened the door for a lot of people who felt excluded, it also opened the door for my own epiphany. I don't think I would've come out at all if ConTessa were still a women's organization. I don't think I would've felt like I could even despite the fact that ConTessa was open to enbies as well as women.
I've been in therapy for 7 years on and off (mostly on). My last therapist (who I think I grew out of) had a file on me that was a good few inches thick. There were many times when I sat down on her couch and said:
"I feel like if men are from Mars, and women are from Venus, I'm sitting alone on Pluto begging to be recognized as a planet."
Fuck, I had no idea how accurate that was until recently, spending the last few months unpacking my entire life to look at it through a different lens while I was literally packing and unpacking our house. The thing about accepting myself as who I am is that I've realized, hey... I'M NOT ALONE ON THIS PLANET!
I've spent nearly every morning for the past few weeks going through enby support groups and enby coming out stories because I could've penned most of them, myself, and it would've been nearly the same story. I've spent all my life feeling that I have some experiences in common with women and some experiences in common with men, but I don't come away from meetings with either group feeling like I belong. I often come away with warm, fuzzy feelings, but that's not the same feeling of belonging you get when you find your people, you discover your planet's not barren of all life save for yourself. These stories were my lifeline, my connection to people who were actually like me. I needed them like water.
By the way, my therapist had a beautiful response for my planets metaphor. After several sessions of me explaining again and again and again that I don't feel like I belong, she said:
"A lot of idealistic people feel that way until they realize they have everything they need on their planet."
Everything they need. In other words, a lot of people who don't fit into those categories feel like they're on another planet and it totally sucks until they realize they have everything they need and don't need to go to those other planets to get anything else. It was such a profound statement to me that I play it back in my head every time I start getting those "fuck, I don't belong here" feelings, which happened many, many, many times before I accepted my reality and allowed myself to be the person that's been inside of me all this time.
I mean, I ran an organization specifically for women. I kept putting myself into this position time and time again in an attempt to finally 'fit in'. I kept doing the same thing over and over again hoping for a different outcome, but always ending up with the same outcome. I loved hearing about women's experiences and sharing those that we had in common, but I never felt like I belonged, and every bump in the road drove me into deep depression and a great deal of suicidal ideation that I'm still shy to talk about and embarrassed to face.
Conversely, in the last few months, as I've been more and more accepting of my own non-binary status, I've been happier. So much happier. Divorcing myself from the idea that I need to fit in on Mars or Venus has been extremely empowering. I fought for my whole life to do what people told me, and "be my own kind of woman" only to find myself hating myself deeply and constantly feeling isolated, alone, and like I was the only one in the group who didn't get it. These feelings started in elementary school, and continued complicating my life all the way through middle school and high school and into adulthood. I'm 41. That's a long time to feel isolated.
As an aside, I love what my therapist said to me about planets so much I want to make a series of pendants that look like planets. A reminder that your planet has everything you need on it. I started that as a project before we moved, and once I get to where my jewelry making supplies are still packed up from the move, I might well get to finish it... but I'm getting off track. The point here is that there is an enby planet, and finding it saves lives.
It's sure as hell saved mine.
Since coming into myself, I've run into a few instances where the people involved are described in the same way that ConTessa's old mission statement was described. Women (sometimes written as 'people who identify as women') and non-binary folk allowed, but most often 'women' takes the forefront and 'non-binary' is only included in the expanded detail or on every other share or maybe not at all. It's felt weird to be in the non-binary category instead of in the women category. I understand the lengthy comment I read on Facebook that factored into expanding ConTessa's mission on a personal level, now. I feel the same way. I don't want to go to Venus. I like Planet Enby.
In fact, Planet Enby is keeping me (and I suspect others) alive. It's drowning all the bad feelings of isolation and loneliness and not belonging. I have an indescribably profound sense of relief. Yesterday, the day after I came out to the world, I had a wellspring of confidence in me that I haven't felt in a really long time. Really, REALLY long time. As I've been inching closer to this over the past few months and letting go to my ties of being a woman, I've felt a peace, comfort, and belonging that has been absent throughout most of my life.
Don't get me wrong, I don't hate women. They often frustrate me - moreso lately than ever for reasons that go above and beyond my own gender revelation, but I don't hate them. I identified as one for a large portion of my life, and parts of me will still continue to identify as one until I die, but that doesn't mean I'm wholly a woman, and it doesn't mean I want to hang out in spaces that were clearly created for women, specifically. The biggest freedom I've gained by aligning my gender more properly is the freedom to not feel the need to interact in women's spaces or perform at being a woman all the time.
I'm sure there are enbies out there who don't share this thought, and I'm also sure that it'll change for me as time passes and who I am becomes more ingrained and less shiny and new. The desire to get away from women's spaces and into my own space won't be so profound when I've had enough time to feel more secure in my new skin. Then again, maybe not. Maybe Planet Enby will remain the most awesome place I can possibly be to be my most true, authentic, accurate self where I don't have to perform a part to feel like I have any chance of fitting in with the group.
The point of the matter is, I get it, now, personally and deeply, that thing I had to trust and believe before. I'm not from Mars, and I'm not from Venus... please, stop trying to shove me into your binary planets.
If what we mean to say is "no cisgender heterosexual white males allowed", we need to actually just say that. There's a lot of beating around the bush because no one wants to go negative or be exclusionary or poke the wasp's nest that is a bunch of insecure cishet white males, but here's the thing... those assholes show up even when we do beat around the bush. They decide that's what we mean even when that's not what we mean. Whose feelings are more important to protect? Cisgender heterosexual white males, or every other underrepresented, harassed, attacked, and mistreated group in gaming?
That's a heavy thing to think about and a heck of a target to put on your back, but I, for one, am sick and tired of having to write long paragraphs about who's welcome to avoid hurting the feelings of some dudes who are going to attack us anyways. We need to start putting the feelings of the underrepresnted above the feelings of those who keep us underrepresented.