The 14th of July is International Non-binary People’s Day, and it celebrates the wide range of people worldwide who identify as non-binary. Here’s what you need to know.
LET’S START WITH THE BASICS – WHAT DOES NON-BINARY REFER TO?
Non-binary is an umbrella term for people whose gender does not sit comfortably with ‘man’ or ‘woman’. Under that term, people can have more specific identities. For example, someone whose gender varies over time might use ‘genderfluid’, and someone who does not feel any sense of gender might use ‘agender’. Some non-binary people look androgynous (which is they don not look specifically masculine or feminine), but many do not.
WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH PRONOUNS?
Not everyone necessarily uses ‘he’ or ‘she’ pronouns. It is important to be respectful of people who use different pronouns, because getting it wrong can cause people a lot of distress. The most common gender-neutral pronoun is the singular ‘they’ (they/them/theirs). Using people’s correct pronouns shows that you respect them and who they are.
GENDER IDENTITY VS GENDER EXPRESSION
In order to understand non-binary gender identities better, it is important to understand the difference between gender identity and gender expression.
Gender identity refers to a person’s clear sense of their own gender. This is not something which is determined by a person’s physical attributes.
Gender expression is how you express yourself, and just like the rest of society, non-binary people have all sorts of ways to express themselves and their identity. They can present as masculine, feminine or in another way and this can change over time, but none of these expressions make their identity any less valid or worthy of respect.
WHAT CAN I DO TO BE AN ALLY TO NON-BINARY PEOPLE?
There are many ways to be inclusive of everyone, regardless of their gender identity. Our language and the way we speak is often embedded with hidden gendered cues.
Once we start to notice them, we can move towards using language that is inclusive for all. Here are some ways to make your language more inclusive:
- Introduce yourself with your name and pronoun. Stating your pronouns reminds people that it might not always be immediately obvious what pronoun someone uses.
- Instead of addressing groups of people with binary language such as ‘ladies and gentlemen’, try more inclusive alternatives such as ‘folks’, ‘pals’ or ‘everyone’!
- Use words that define the relationship instead of the relationship and gender. For example, use ‘parents’, ‘partner’, ‘children’ or ‘siblings’.
- Using the pronoun ‘they’ is very useful when someone’s gender or identity is unknown. You will often already be using it without realising, i.e. ‘somebody left their hat, I wonder if they will come back to get it?’
Like any new thing, it takes practise to get it right, and mistakes happen! If you get it wrong, the best thing to do is say ‘sorry’, correct yourself and keep the conversation flowing.
And finally, remember that you don’t have to understand the complexities of nonbinary genders to be respectful.