Where Are the Non-Binary Identities in Films and Books?

by Annie Kapur 3 days ago in industry

Dear Hollywood, Do Better

Where Are the Non-Binary Identities in Films and Books?
Masha Gessen

I may not be a non-binary person, but I sure as hell know them. They are teachers, they are commentators, they are scientists and engineers, they are students of degree courses, and they should be writers and filmmakers. Why am I saying 'should be'? Well, because I see a severe lack of films made by and including non-binary people and I see literature severely lacking in non-binary representation. Is this a problem? Yes it is. Everyone else is getting representation and I think non-binary folks should do too.

Ever since I was a teenager my favourite journalist and one of my favourite writers was Masha Gessen [and still is by the way, they are awesome]. They are a Russian journalist who speaks on subjects such as LGBT rights, Russian Politics and most recently, autocracy under the Trump Administration vs. autocracy under the Putin Administration. They once wrote this book entitled "The Brothers" and it was about the Boston Marathon Bombing. Masha Gessen is basically one of the best journalists in the world and you can see that from their book "The Brothers". It is basically just "In Cold Blood" by Truman Capote, just for our generation and a lot scarier. Their journalistic style and narrative style blend amazingly and honestly, I did not even know that they were non-binary when I read them first. But honestly, when I got more into the LGBT movement and made sure I was being an ally, their non-binary identity became more important because this was why they were commenting on the way in which Russia is still controversially against the LGBT folk.

Masha Gessen goes far beyond their pronouns and the non-binary experience and I am sure that others do too. But the one thing I noticed about this issue is that I knew that I was into investigating the non-binary experience of literature and film as I became more defensive of the non-binary identity. Last year, I came across someone on Twitter who misgendered Masha Gessen, using the word 'she' to title them. I calmly corrected them and stated: 'excuse me, but please use the terms 'they/them' when referring to Masha Gessen as these are the pronouns they use. Thank you and have a nice day.' I was angered that someone did not know, but I did not lose my shit. It is important that we all recognise that non-binary people have different pronouns to the ones they were born with most of the time. So just putting this out there, if you want to contact me about my love for Masha Gessen, please use the they/them pronouns when referring to them and be respectful, thanks in advance.

As I was learning more about the non-binary experience, I was looking at non-binary people talking about them online and on television. But the one question I had was:

Where are the non-binary characters in books and films and why are they not covered as a part of the trans-experience even though they are too, transgender people?

The answer has everything to do with Hollywood.

When it comes to the trans-experience, Hollywood seems to think it is okay to dramatise the stories of transgender folk into sob-stories of sadness and depression. As if this realisation will destroy your life, even though trans-people have actually said that the exact opposite is true and it would psychologically life a heavy weight of gender dysphoria from their mind. This is to make us feel pity for them.

If they are kicked out of their home and disowned by their family, yes this is a reason to feel for them and give them empathy. If they are excluded from societies and lose friends because of their transition, I will be there to hug them. But their transition being the core substance of their sadness is inaccurate and just plain wrong. Someone's transition should be celebrated and the more we and transgender people keep seeing these sad, depressing stories on the trans-experience, the less likely younger trans-people are to come out. The younger people will see these films and honestly think they are going to turn out depressed and upset all the time, which just is not true.

Now, where do non-binary folk fall in this?

That's the thing: they don't.

Many non-binary folk don't undergo medical treatment [but some do] and therefore, do not have these 'dangerous depression stories' that Hollywood almost fetishises. The non-binary experience has been deemed not to be as interesting as a male-born person becoming their true self: a woman. However, 'the female-born person becoming their true self of a man' story has not been as widely covered - the only one I can think of is 'Boys Don't Cry' starring Hillary Swank. Why? The male to female experience is a fetish to Hollywood. They seem to not understand why this happens and admittedly, it is harder to pass as a male to female than a female to male so, it becomes almost like a bad joke to them.

They make films of MTF experiences and they are really upsetting and depressing because they believe it to be a man losing his manhood rather than a male-born person becoming their true self and then say 'look at us, we understand LGBT people.' But it is completely counterproductive to the actual cause. However, the identity after treatment is not really treated as very important and there are rarely serious characters who start out as transgender and have their own story unrelated to their gender transition. It shows that Hollywood only understands one type of story when it comes to the trans-experience and non-binary folk do not fit into the kind of story Hollywood wants to fetishise. It's yet another misunderstanding by the disconnected folk of Hollywood who want to virtue signal that they too, understand things - even though they are actually harming the cause a lot more than anything else.

An example of this is when Hollywood found out in the early 2000s that African-American filmmakers and actors exist and so started making slave narratives left, right and centre. There are more narratives than just this and yet, they still make just these sob-stories and then give themselves awards for doing so. It's a terribly disconnected factor Hollywood possesses and it makes the rest of us annoyed that these are the people who have the loudest voices in society when it should be the people who experienced it themselves. Trans and Non-Binary folk should be the ones talking and teaching their experiences to Hollywood and not the other way around.

So, do you want to read non-binary characters and watch non-binary characters in literature and film?

Here are some films you can watch that contain non-binary characters:

  • John Wick 3 - Parabellum
  • They
  • Upgrade
  • The Kings of Summer
  • Good Omens [TV]
  • The Umbrella Academy
  • The Good Place
  • Good Trouble

Here are some books you can read that include non-binary characters:

  • Good Omens by Neil Gaiman
  • When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore
  • All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
  • Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  • I'm Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya
  • And obviously, if you want to read some great journalism by a non-binary person - you can read Masha Gessen, they are awesome.

    Annie Kapur
    Annie Kapur
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    Annie Kapur

    Film and Writing (M.A)

    Focus in Film: Adaptation from Literature, Horror Filmmaking Styles and Auter Cinema

    Author of: "The Filmmaker's Guide" series

    Email: [email protected]

    Interests: Film, Literature and Bob Dylan

    See all posts by Annie Kapur