Discussing “I Am They: A Non-Binary Love Story” by Fox and Owl Fisher
Over the years, gender commonly considered in two forms – male and female – is often aligned with the physical sex of the person. However, in reality people can identify as both male and female at one time, as different genders at different times, as no gender at all, or could also dispute the idea of gender altogether. They may also use terms such as genderqueer or non-binary to identify themselves.
“‘I Am They: A Non-Binary Love Story,’ is a feature-length documentary that explores non-binary and transgender issues through the personal accounts of the filmmaker’s Fox and Owl Fisher.”
“I Am They: A Non-Binary Love Story,” is a feature-length documentary that explores non-binary and transgender issues through the personal accounts of the filmmaker’s Fox and Owl Fisher. Through their personal narratives, with their love story as the focus, Fox and Owl voice the struggles of non-binary people who often face rejection from society. In their documentary, they also include the voices of other non-binary folks from across Europe in order to put forward their shared experiences. It explores issues and challenges such as legal recognition, language, health care, and social acceptance.
Non-binary transgender individuals are at a heightened risk of negative mental health outcomes. In the documentary Fox explains: “It’s like always having to prove who we are, always having to prove our identity. We live this day in and day out, and it’s just become this big news about what non-binary is and how threatening it is to society or whatever. What a joke.” This sends out an extremely powerful message and insight into the constant struggles of non-binary people.
Fox and Owl appeared on a popular morning show Good Morning Britain (GMB) hosted by Piers Morgan. The social media hate and abuse that Fox and Owl were subjected to even before the show reflects how the society views non-binary people. What should have been a few minutes on GMB for questions about Fox and Owl’s story, the conversation about gender turned into race when Piers Morgan asked them if he could choose to identify as a Black woman. What could have been questions to understand them turned into an attack by Piers Morgan. This highlighted how intolerant even “well-educated” people are towards non-binary people and how their rigid mindsets about the binary nature of gender prevent them from seeing beyond it.
“In another video that Fox and Owl created to talk about their non-binary identities and words to call each other, there were over 7,000 abusive comments in less than 24 hours.”
In another video that Fox and Owl created to talk about their non-binary identities and words they use to refer to each other, there were over 7,000 abusive comments in less than 24 hours. This once again highlights the intensity of hate that is instilled in the minds and hearts of the society towards non-binary folks. This also demonstrates how non-binary people are constantly policed and are under the scrutiny of society. A comment that particularly stood out was from a transgender person that said, “they give transgender a bad name and we already have it rough with people.”
This shows how non-binary people also face a lack of acceptance from transgender communities. A study conducted by Harrison et. al. showed how individuals who see their gender as hybrid, fluid, and/or rejecting the male-female binary are subject to significant anti-transgender bias and in some cases are at higher risk of discrimination and violence than their transgender counterparts. In an interview, Fox says that “No one makes room for us and we constantly have to try and make our own space.”
“Non-binary people are not recognized legally and socially and are denied basic human rights such as healthcare and marriage. The English language also lacks gender neutral terms and language to describe the experiences and identities of non-binary people.”
Two other challenging socio-political issues faced by non-binary people that Fox and Owl discuss are the barriers in language, marriage rights, and healthcare. Marriage is a beautiful bond of love and commitment. It is something that individuals shouldn’t be denied based on their gender identity. Moreover, while transgender individuals in the UK have access to health care, allowing them to be themselves socially, physically and legally, the same does not apply to non-binary individuals. Non-binary people are not recognized legally and socially and are denied basic human rights such as healthcare and marriage. The English language also lacks gender neutral terms and language to describe the experiences and identities of non-binary people.
The very definition of the term non-binary means that these individuals fall outside the binary, outside what is culturally deemed appropriate. Since cultures across the world are embedded with the binary boyfriend, girlfriend, husband and wife terminology, non-binary people also have a hard time finding words to describe their partners. Social media too plays a major role in making these problems worse. While on one hand Owl was voted the sexiest “woman” in Iceland, on the other hand, as mentioned above, they received over 7,000 comments of hate for their identity. Thus, by peddling all sorts of misinformation about non-binary individuals, media in the UK facilitates a culture war on trans rights issues, instead of addressing them with evidence-based discussion.
“Fox and Owl decided to get married in protest of the laws that do not permit non binary people to get married. This wedding was a step to raise awareness about the fact that not everyone can actually get married in the UK. It was an attempt to highlight the lack of gender recognition for non-binary people.”
While there are a multitude of issues faced by non-binary people, other than their inability to get married, the fact remains that everyone should have the same right. Fox and Owl decided to get married in protest of the laws that do not permit non binary people to get married. This wedding was a step to raise awareness about the fact that not everyone can actually get married in the UK. It was an attempt to highlight the lack of gender recognition for non-binary people.
The results of the study conducted by Liu and Wilkinson in 2017 show that married transgender individuals, especially trans-women, experienced lower levels of perceived discrimination in various life domains than their unmarried counterparts. The lack of research on marital status and perceived discrimination for non-binary people makes it harder to conclusively generalize these results for them. However, given the societal attitudes towards them, their absolute inability to marry and even be recognized as gendered beings in the UK, it can be deduced that the levels of discrimination faced by non-binary people will be higher, if not similar than that faced by their transgender counterparts who share legal and social privileges.
“Fox mentions that the audience for their film was a wide range of people, but they especially wanted to reach out to those people who are confused, unsure and want to know more.”
In their interview with Parsons, Fox mentions that the audience for their film was a wide range of people, but they especially wanted to reach out to those people who are confused, unsure and want to know more. However, it is hard to assess how this documentary would be perceived by the transgender and cisgender communities. The film shows a large proportion of cisgender and transgender people speaking against Topshop’s policy to have gender-neutral changing rooms. In multiple other instances, as seen in the film, both these communities also spoke against the non-binary gender identity. While certain cisgender folks, such as Piers Morgan, lashed out and abused non-binary people, calling them all sorts of names, even transgender people posted comments of hate claiming that non-binary individuals ruin the transgender name.
“Further, seeing the support offered by people for the hashtag #ThisIsWhatNonBinaryLooksLike, I hope that this film sends out the message that they are not alone in their struggles.”
Thus, it is not surprising that a portion of these communities responded negatively to a documentary trying to educate people about what it means to be non-binary. However, I hope that cisgender and transgender people are able to open their eyes to educate themselves and empathize with the struggles and challenges faced by non-binary people. Further, seeing the support offered by people for the hashtag #ThisIsWhatNonBinaryLooksLike, I hope that this film sends out the message that they are not alone in their struggles. By hearing the personal accounts of non-binary people, I hope that people are able to get a deeper understanding of the systemic brutality, ignorance and oppression faced by the non-binary community.
My identity as a cisgender female, born and raised in India greatly influenced my desire to learn about the non-binary community. Like many others, I was socialized to consider gender in terms of its binary form – male and female. Even today, discussions with my parents make it evident how this concept is ingrained in their brains like a habit that is hard to change. However, moving to the USA for college, studying in a women’s college followed by wanting to pursue counseling psychology made it increasingly important for me to educate myself about gender. This stems out of a desire to not only be culturally competent but also to be a conscious citizen in the 21st century. This documentary truly made me self-reflect on my privilege as a cisgender woman.
“In Fox’s words: ‘Non-binary people are not here to erase anyone’s identity. On the contrary, it’s more about wanting everyone to be able to be themselves and be respectful of it’.”
“I am They- A Non-Binary Love Story”, by Fox and Owl Fisher takes the step to educate people about the various issues faced by non-binary people with the hope to overcome the outrage and fear-mongering. In Fox’s words: “Non-binary people are not here to erase anyone’s identity. On the contrary, it’s more about wanting everyone to be able to be themselves and be respectful of it”.
Watch the documentary here
Vidhi obtained her undergraduate degree in Psychology and International Studies from Bryn Mawr College, Philadelphia. She is currently pursuing her MA in Mental Health Counseling from Teachers College, Columbia University in New York.
Design by Simran Mehta