Supporting Our Non-Binary Buddies

Some words on why we should be allies to non-binary people and a few ways we can go about this super simple task

A friend recently “came out” as non-binary. For anybody still in the dark about what it means to be non-binary (or genderqueer, bigender, genderfluid, or agender) then please watch this short and sweet video from 15-year-old Micah.

Clued up now? Kays, let’s get this show on the road.

So, after years of society-induced confusion, my friend ventured out of the closet, past all the ruffles and ruches of their old gendered clothing. They did so with some trepidation though, concerned about what kind of reception might await them on the other side of the door. And I’m unsurprised really, given that much of the public still thinks non-binary people are simply seeking attention.

But they needn’t have worried. My friends and I are a kind, open-minded bunch, more than happy to get educated, tackle learned behaviours, and shun cultural assumptions. We also want to make sure we always use terminology that makes one of our own feel loved, accepted, and comfortable being themselves — and only themselves. It’s just part of our job as good pals. End of.

Not everyone will encounter a friend who has a similar “aha moment,” finally realising they don’t exist within the standard male-female binary, but does this mean the world shouldn’t adjust its attitude towards gender in general? No. Why? Because it’s about not being a total dick, that’s why — something most of us are capable of, even if we don’t all quite get what’s going on around us.

Non-binary folks are experiencing an often painful tension between their true identity and one of two cookie-cutter identities society expects of them. Imagine how difficult that must be, especially for anyone presenting as more typically masculine or feminine when they feel neither or both.

It doesn’t matter if we don’t understand their struggle either. What does matter is realising that our thinking (and our verbal and written expressions of that thinking) can make the biggest difference to how valid and respected another human being feels.

We just need to look at stats on depression and suicide in the genderqueer community to realise something’s gotta give here. A study published earlier this year by The Trevor Project found that 28.6% of trans and non-binary young people (aged 13–24) had attempted suicide, while 54.2% had seriously considered it. 82.2% of those surveyed reported depression, and 78.2% said they’d experienced discrimination because of their gender identity.

These number are not ok, and it probably wouldn’t take much to reduce them fast.

For a start, as standard, we can ask people the pronouns they want us to use when speaking to or about them. If they request gender-neutral pronouns — whether it’s more common pronouns (they/them/theirs), pronouns created for the sake of equality (ze/hir/hir), or simply using their name — then we should honour their wish. Simples.

It probably won’t come naturally at first. And mistakes, of course, will be made. As far as I’m aware though, non-binary people aren’t absolute monsters and don’t bite heads off. I’ve slipped plenty of times myself — each time, I apologised (even if the person in question wasn’t present) and quietly told myself to get my shit together.

On top of this, we can use our own pronouns, either in reality or on social media. For example, I identify as a cisgender male, and I prefer to use the pronouns I’ve been using all my life: he/him/his. And that’s ok too.

I choose to share these on Medium, Twitter, and Instagram because this shows support not only for my friend but also the genderqueer community as a whole. It demonstrates that I know non-binary identity is real and not some fad of the day, as many a Reddit troll would have me believe. And it helps to spread the message that gender-neutral pronouns are just as valid as gender-inclusive pronouns.

Social media can be useful in another way too. It’s a brilliant place to get behind genderqueer-friendly policies allowing humans who identify as non-binary to live however they please.

Anyone should be free to wear whatever the hell they want, so we should advocate for policies (like those on school uniform) that reiterate this idea. It’s nuts that we, as a species, are so preoccupied by what materials someone throws over their body to stay warm and keep their bits covered.

And they should be free to get those bits out to pee and poo in private wherever the hell they want too, so let’s help bring an end to gendered toilets. What’s up with separate male and female toilets anyway? We don’t have them in our homes, and I fail, for the life of me, to see why we should in public.

One thing’s for sure: I won’t be looking to J.K. Rowling for clarity on the issue. Although it’s mainly the trans community that’s somehow rattled the Harry Potter author’s cage, her bathroom politics piss me off beyond belief.

Ultimately, gendered clothing and gendered bathrooms — gendered anything really — are nothing more than human constructs. We created them for the wrong reasons, and we can destroy them for the right reasons. An inclusive world, after all, is a happy world.

There's no doubt humans are innately curious beasts, but one other thing we need to get on top of is daft, invasive questions like “what sex were you at birth?” and “what toilet do you use?” Designed, they may be, to satisfy such innate curiosity, we don’t have an inherent right to have it satisfied. The answers to questions those questions really are none of our bloody business.

Here’s a few more questions and statements non-binary people would love never to hear again. If anyone’s ever tempted to come out with any of this, they need to stop and ask themselves, “am I about to be a twat?” The likely answer is “yes,” which means all there is to do is think of something more supportive to say.

Because, at the end of the day, that’s the shape our end of the bargain takes: being supportive. We have it in us to reassure a marginalised segment of society that we’ve got their backs, that their existence is no less important than anyone else’s. So let’s not waste this power. Let’s use it to be the good humans we know we can be and prop up those having a tough time. Wouldn’t you hope for the same if you were in their position?

London-based freelance journo (mainly film & TV), content writer & editor, ghostwriter, and blogger. Also currently studying to be a UX writer.

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