Today is the last day of Non-Binary Week, but we need to keep supporting non-binary people every day.
Many parts of our society assume that everyone fits into the gender binary. You can help change that.
From public bathrooms to sports to school uniforms to clothing stores, a lot of our society is built around the assumption that everyone is entirely and exclusively a woman or a man. That assumption leaves very little room for those of us who don’t fit in either, or fit in both, or only partly identify with one or the other.
Think about the language you use- if you’re saying ladies and gentlemen or brothers and sisters, you’re leaving out a lot of people. Similarly he/she does not cover everyone. Try more neutral terms like everyone, folks, people, distinguished guests, siblings, and they.
Look at what places you have a connection to. It might be your workplace, or your school/uni, or a club you’re part of or venue you visit often. These places are often more willing to listen to people who are already part of their community, and you can use whatever access you have to work out the best people to talk to.
So if you’re connected with a school you could encourage that school to have a gender neutral uniform policy. That means listing all aspects of the uniform, including pants, shorts, shirts, dresses, and skirts, as options for all students and not labelling any clothes with a gender. You can something similar for any place you interact with- think about when they assume that everyone fits into the gender binary and talk to them about how that discriminates against non-binary people.
Don’t expect non-binary people to all be academics and activists
A lot of non-binary people are activists, but plenty aren’t too. Being openly non-binary can sometimes feel like people expect you to have a PhD in gender studies and be an expert at educating everyone from young children to staunch conservatives to people who have never thought about gender before.
Not everyone will be able to explain their experience of gender in simple, relatable terms and that’s okay. Lots of cis women and cis men wouldbn’t be able to explain their genders to someone who had never heard of them either! If someone tells you what gender they are, or starts going by a different name or pronouns, or wants to affirm their gender in other ways, just listen to them and accept them. You don’t have to know exactly how they feel and think about gender to respect and support them.
Don’t assume that you know what gender someone is
No matter how someone dresses, what kind of body they have, or what you think about their voice or name they are the only person who can determine what gender they are. Use gender neutral language until they tell you how they like to be referred to, and don’t argue with them about who they are. Having to defend our identities every time we introduce ourselves gets pretty draining pretty quickly.
Trans activism must include non-binary people
This one is specifically for other trans people and allies involved in trans activism: fighting for trans people must always include fighting for non-binary people. While some individual non-binary people don’t use the term trans to describe themselves a lot of us do, and we are and always have been part of trans communities.
Non-binary people have been told that we “aren’t trans enough” and excluded from trans spaces too many times for too long. Seek out non-binary perspectives on trans issues, listen to and work with non-binary activists, and don’t rely on simplified narratives that ignore non-binary people when educating people on trans topics.
Donate to trans organisations and to fundraisers by non-binary people. Non-binary people face intense levels of employment discrimination and our communities are drastically under-resourced. If you can afford to support the work that many non-binary activists are already doing that’s a great way to make a big difference.
Don’t tokenise non-white cultures
When we talk about non-binary people, or trans people more broadly, we often point out that the gender binary is not universal. And that’s true! Acknowledging that many cultures have different approaches to or understandings of gender is important. But some people treat these examples as a useful talking point and nothing more.
Cultures that recognise more than two genders are not just points of historical interest, we exist today. Talking about how the gender binary erases many cultures is an important part of trans activism, but no culture should be treated as just a tool for one cause. If you’re talking about gender in a culture that’s not your own think about what you really know. Have you looked at sources from those cultures? Are you thinking about how people who actually are those genders view their identities? Are you considering how what you’re saying could support or tokenise them, or are you just thinking about what’s useful for you?
Help educate people
There are a lot of ways that you can make information about gender diversity more accessible and available.
- Request books by non-binary people at your library
- Donate a book by a non-binary person to a school
- Share articles and videos by non-binary people
- Organise a talk or workshop on gender for your school/uni/workplace/group
- If you speak multiple languages offer to translate short resources by trans people
Work with non-binary people, don’t try to reinvent everything
There are a lot of non-binary activists, educators, and community organisers already doing great work. If you’re thinking of a project, event, or resource the first step should be to reach out to non-binary people or groups and find out what work is already being done and how you can support and work with our communities.
This week was just the start. This post has just a few ideas. Actively look for more non-binary people you can hear from and keep thinking about how you can contribute.