Why the future is intersectional and the past has always been nonbinary
Leo Hosp’s project created during the module “Infographics II: Gender” in the first semester during the second year of the Visual communication + Change program.
In 2019 and 2020 the magazine National Geographic argued for a female future1, which is all about women’s rights, bringing their voices into the conversation and discussing their oppressions and accomplishments. It is also about being correct and showing that there are women in politics or science just like men. I do believe that this is an important step, however, with this design project I criticise the binary juxtapositioning of women and men. I argue that to be fully correct we must move away from the gender binary and take an intersectional perspective instead. That means embracing the complexity of the gender spectrum and discussing the oppressions that nonbinary and gender non-conforming people face, and how these are connected to other social categories like race and class.
Gender non-conforming and nonbinary people have always existed. Our voices need to be at the table too, to acknowledge life in its full, beautiful complexity.
I suggest a way for National Geographic to move further by writing a fictional informational article for them that addresses the fact that the belief in only two, distinct, opposite genders and sexes is an outcome of racism, that was and is used to maintain the power of white people2. In the scenario I create, National Geographic is announcing a year-long series on nonbinary identities, introducing the concept of intersectionality, and showing how oppressions are multi-layered and must be addressed in their full complexity. Life is simplified illustrated as climbing a mountain where people have different starting points, putting privilege and oppression into context.
The terms gender binary, nonbinary and gender non-conforming are explained, pointing out that, while the terminology is new, nonbinary and gender non-conforming people are not. They have always existed – for example muxe (Mexico) or waria (Indonesia) – but “have been erased to make the Western gender binary seem like the only option”3. The future is not female, as National Geographic writes4, but intersectional, and the past has always been nonbinary.
An important reference for this project was the wonderful book “Beyond the Gender Binary” by Alok Vaid-Menon5. They explain why “[d]rawing attention to issues facing nonbinary people does not erase the struggles women face”6 and that it “is not about erasing men and women but rather acknowledging that man and woman are two of many–stars in a constellation that do not compete but amplify one another’s shine. Gender is a story, not just a word. There are as many ways to be a woman as there are women. There are as many ways to be a man as there are men. There are as many ways to be nonbinary as there are nonbinary people. This complexity is not chaos, it just is”7.
- Michele Norris, “Why The Future Should Be Female,” National Geographic, no. 11 (2019): 10–26.
- Kyla Schuller, The Biopolitics of Feeling. Race, Sex, and Science in the Nineteenth Century (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2018).
- Alok Vaid-Menon, Beyond the Gender Binary (New York: Penguin Workshop, 2020), 39–40.
- Norris, “Why The Future Should Be Female.”
- Vaid-Menon, Beyond the Gender Binary.
- Vaid-Menon, 46.
- Vaid-Menon, 60.