I Don’t Exist

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UK law currently only recognises male and female, in the eyes of the law non-binary people simply do not exist. This leaves holes in our society where there should be people, mere shadows walking among us. This idea has given birth to the I Don’t Exist campaign, run by CUSU (Cambridge University Students’ Union) LGBT+, which aims to highlight the gaps these people leave and to say that it is not acceptable to ignore their existence any longer.

Tourists are pretty much a fact of life in Cambridge, forming great swarms in the street and even more so in the summer. With this comes the inevitable fact that you will appear in at least several photographs simply by walking through the city centre. I’ve always wondered what people think when they look at a picture of me, a single snapshot of my gender expression for that day. Maybe I’m just an inconsequential part of the background, no more important than the old stone which helps Cambridge to maintain its giant name. If asked to point out the non-binary person in the picture they probably wouldn’t know where to start. Where do we really fit into this society?

Everything is geared around our non-existence, no decisions are ever made having considered how we’ll be effected. So we applied this to the pictures, simply erased our own existence to see what the world really looked like without us. The result is simple yet striking, a black silhouette against a famous landmark, one in the middle of a crowded street, a chunk missing where there should be a person.

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photos of black silhouettes in front of famous Cambridge landmarks, each figure holds a sign saying ‘I Don’t Exist’

It’s an easy idea to get people to remember and that’s what this campaign is primarily about. We want people to know about this issue. It’s surprising how much you can achieve with a whiteboard, a camera and someone who doesn’t really know how to use photoshop. Almost everything said about non-binary people is toilets or pronouns or passports, very little is given over to basic legal rights.

With the end of the trans inquiry this opportunity to talk about our needs could easily fade away. We shouldn’t have to have our issues shifted over to some secondary inquiry which might just say that it’s too difficult to recognise us while gender recognition reform goes ahead and leaves us out in the cold. Anyway they’re giving us gender neutral passports surely that’s us covered.

Things like #specificdetriment left us with more questions than answers; how can we truly know we’re protected by equalities law if we aren’t recognised in the first place. Legal recognition is an absolutely key step for us, with it we’ll have to be explicitly included in equalities laws, passports and other ID would have to be available as gender neutral and most importantly organisations at every level will have to start thinking about how non-binary people are affected by their actions.

For this to be a reality we need more than just intentions we need people to know about this issue and we need them to support us. We set out to put this issue into people’s minds which will help give activists a base of support to move forward. As a secondary goal we’ve also encouraged people to contact their MPs to get the ultimate decision makers on board and locally we’ve had great support from Cambridge’s MP Daniel Zeichner, whose predecessor Julian Huppert was consistently a strong supporter of non-binary people.

We’ve been delighted by the response we’ve had for the campaign as it’s found its way across the country but still we want more. We hope that you’ll help share the pictures so that we can reach as many as possible and also encourage binary people to send in selfies with a ‘I support non-binary legal recognition’ sign. We’ve also had several other student unions get in contact hoping to run their own variant and we’d love for other organisations to get involved and keep this running.

We shouldn’t view legal recognition as some pipe dream, resign ourselves to another decade in limbo. We can make this a reality and hopefully this’ll bring us one step closer.

 

Check out the I Don’t Exist campaign. If you’re interested in getting involved then get in touch with lgbt-president@cusu.cam.ac.uk. Please share the pictures on social media and help support the campaign. People with binary gender identities send us pictures of yourself with a sign saying ‘I support non-binary legal recognition.

 

Words by Sarah Gibson
CUSU LGBT+ President 2015-16
Beyond the Binary Assistant Editor
Photos by Sarah Gibson, Em Black and Em Travis

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