Op-Ed: No More Policing Who ‘Gets’ to be Queer

On July 12, local political consultant Jordan Eldridge posted a veiled attack on Ali Sapirman, a queer, non-binary candidate for the San Jose-Evergreen Community College Board. Mr. Eldridge consults for Mx. Sapirman’s opponent, Omar Torres, and serves on the board of the Rancho Rinconada Recreation and Park District.

Without mentioning Mx. Sapirman by name, Mr. Eldridge, who is a gay man, asserted that they are not “actual non-binary” because they are in a relationship with a man. In a Facebook post responding to one by Sapirman, he wrote:

I get so annoyed when people say they are LGBTQ+ when they are not.

This may sound controversial, but I don’t believe everyone who says they are non-binary are actual non-binary [sic].

I do believe that there are people who are in fact non-binary.

But I also believe that those who claim to be non-binary and are in heterosexual relationships have not had to face the same trauma that LGBTQ+ people face when they start coming out of the closet.

Coming out of the closet was traumatic for me, and for many other LGBTQ+ people. It is just not the same burden.

This kind of non-binary erasure made a particularly dismal start to International Non-Binary Week last week. Gender identities similar to what we now call non-binary have existed throughout history and throughout the world.

They are not some kind of passing fad. One of the core tenets of the queer movement has always been that people have the right to define their own identities.

That means, and we can’t believe we actually have to say this, that cisgender people don’t get to decide who is non-binary.

These comments are also biphobic.

Talk to anyone who identifies as bi- or pansexual, and they will invariably have a story about the invalidation they face from gays and lesbians when they’re dating a partner of the “opposite” gender. Bi+ men get told “Bi today, gay tomorrow” by gay men, bi+ women get treated as “tourists” by lesbian women, and bi+ non-binary folks get to have both their gender and their sexual orientation questioned.

Unfortunately, those of us in the bi+ and non-binary communities too often face rejection not just from straight people but from gay people. We seek refuge in queer spaces, only to be told by cisgender gay people that we’re not queer enough. We don’t dress right, we don’t date the right people, we don’t count. Maybe we’re just experimenting, or we haven’t made up our minds yet, or we’re just trying to be cool.

Mr. Eldridge even implies that non-binary people haven’t suffered enough to be in the queer community. Since when has suffering been the yardstick by which queerness is measured? Do we tell gay kids who are lucky enough to grow up open and unbullied that their identities are invalid? Of course not.

This double invalidation comes with deadly consequences. Bi+ people consistently consider or attempt suicide more frequently than either gay or straight people.

Forty-five percent of bi women consider or attempt suicide vs 30 percent of lesbians, as do 35 percent of bi men compared to 25 percent of gay men.

These numbers track with sexual assault, rape, and domestic violence frequency, which are again considerably higher for bisexual men and women than their gay and straight counterparts. Another study found that nearly 42 percent of non-binary adolescents had attempted suicide—a number far higher than that for their cisgender peers. And note, too, how statistics compiled by sexuality invariably seem to exclude non-binary people!

Mr. Eldridge owes Mx. Sapirman an apology, yes. But his no-good, very bad post is just a symptom of deeper problems in the LGBTQ community, problems we as a community must address. No more tests, or yardsticks, or invalidation.

No more policing who “gets” to be queer.

And most of all, no more gay-tekeeping.

Tonya Barajas is a local QTPOC liberation activist, caretaker, and community worker. Rizzo Barajas is a QTPOC activist, artist, mentor, and community worker in the Bay Area. Alysa Cisneros is a queer woman, and is running for Sunnyvale City Council D2. Ra Hopkins is a non-binary, asexual, and aromantic activist living in Sunnyvale. Richard Mehlinger is a bi man and community activist living in Sunnyvale. Alex Lee is running in D25 to become the first openly bisexual man in the state Assembly.

Opinions are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches and letters to [email protected].

5 Comments

  1. If I had to pick sides between this op-ed and Jordan’s FB post, I’d pick this op-ed by a mile. But try to have some empathy for Jordan’s perspective. He grew up facing discrimination for years, living as a gay man when homophobia was pervasive in society. All of a sudden it’s not only fine to be gay, but now we celebrate the achievements of LGBTQ+ as being harder-won than the achievements of Cis individuals due to the greater discrimination they face. If we have two candidates for office and all we know about them is that one of them is gay, I think I and most voters around here would pick the gay candidate, because there have already been plenty of straight people in office and young people need examples in leadership of people like them – and there’s nothing wrong with voting for someone LGBTQ+ for that reason! Those are good reasons! But it’s indicative of the fact that LGBTQ+ identity can be advantageous in our local political sphere, even while paradoxically attracting discrimination in other spheres. I don’t think Jordan is entirely wrong for being suspicious about individuals attempting to coopt the LGBTQ+ struggle for political advantage, in the same way that Rachel Dolezal coopted the struggle of POC when she assumed the identity of a black woman. Of course, we can single out a white person who has convinced themselves they are black, but we can’t single out a cis person who has convinced themselves they are non-binary – because there’s no way to distinguish between a “real” non-binary person and a “fake” non-binary person, and in part because the self-convincing is relevant to LGBTQ+ appropriation and not to POC appropriation. We’re more likely to believe something if it aligns with our interest, and so if we are living in a time when some voices are considered more “authentic” than others and individuals see some path to acquiring that authenticity, some portion of the population, particularly those who don’t have to exist in spaces where LGBTQ+ individuals face discrimination, is going to take that path.

    I think where Jordan really went wrong is that it’s clear this post is about a specific person, and as much as I believe everything I just wrote, it still doesn’t mean that I’m in a better position than someone else to know what their gender expression should be. Even if you suspect that some individuals may be appropriating LGBTQ+ identity for clout, that’s an accusation that can’t be proven and doesn’t help to be made.

    But you twist his words when he mentions “trauma.” I don’t think Jordan is saying that individuals should experience the same suffering he did, I think he’s making a legitimate point that the writers of this op-ed should try to empathize with, even if they decide they don’t agree with it. There is an “LGBTQ+” experience in the same way that there is a “white” experience or an “African American” experience, shaped by the way you are treated by other people. Our tendency to celebrate diversity today is a reaction to this experience, a recognition that the discrimination was wrong and the individuals who have persevered through it have displayed heroism in doing so. I don’t want to talk about anyone specific, but just hypothetically speaking, I think we can acknowledge that there is going to be a tremendous world of difference between the experiences of a gay man growing up in the 90’s and the experiences of an attractive biologically-born woman growing up today who identifies as non-binary but in all other regards lives life like any other cis woman by adopting a feminist appearance and dating a man. Those are both perfectly legitimate lifestyles, neither is better than the other, but I think we can assume that the former experienced a far greater deal of discrimination, and Jordan’s point is that he is concerned about people who have not walked in his shoes trying to appropriate his own struggle.

  2. I like Omar, I don’t like Jordan. I feel that Jordan’s presence on Omar’s campaign may be more damaging than beneficial. Jordan has a nasty habit of running his mouth in ways he shouldn’t. I once said him and Omar are buddies (adj. Friends, allies) and he got bent out of shape over it.

    That being said, Omar I hope you win.

  3. Wait… so Alicia Sapirman is non-binary?
    If Alicia said she was a non-binary woman, that wouldn’t make sense.

    Non-binary is supposed to mean that you are neither gender, so saying you are a non-binary woman is a bit off.

    It’s clear she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. How about we uplift true non-binary people instead of pretend you are part of the LGBTQ+ community.

    I honestly don’t see how Jordan’s post came across as phobic.