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.