Many people are raised to believe that gender and sex are the same thing. There are two options available to us male or female. But where would you place someone who identifies as non-binary?
Non-binary is an umbrella term to describe people who identify outside of the gender binary. Some can be categorized under the trans umbrella term, although not all non-binary people identify as trans. Other identifiers include genderqueer, agender, bigender, and more. None of these terms mean exactly the same thing — but all speak and relate to an experience of gender that is not simply male or female.
Being someone who is non-binary and who’s pronouns are they/them, I always struggled with fitting into a box when it came to expressing my identity. But after taking LGBTQ+ courses in college, learning about the community, and realizing that others shared my feelings, things changed. I felt comfortable simply being myself — despite any parts that I may have been born with. Being non-binary to me means that I can always be my most authentic self and that it doesn’t matter whether I’m a man or a woman, because I am neither. On a daily basis, I don’t confine myself to a gender, even when confronted by someone’s assumptions of my gender when approaching me or referring to me.
Using pronouns is familiar to my workplace colleagues. Everyone understands what pronouns mean and how to use them when referring to the basics — she/her and he/him. But what about they/ them? There are also other pronouns, such as Ze/hir, Xe/Xem that some use, but are less familiar. I often get asked about the usage of they/them pronouns. The most interesting question I get is “but how do I say you’re here?” (when using they/them as a pronoun). The answer is, “they’re here.” This is a popular question because we are familiar with using the word ‘they’ to describe more than one person. The traditional definition of “they” is, to refer to two or more people or things previously mentioned or easily identified. Now being introduced to another meaning used to refer to a person of unspecified gender, can take some time to get familiar with.
What if I mess up?
Every now and then people do mess up — and that’s okay. We’re all human. What matters most to me is how you move forward from that moment. In my experience, a way of reacting after misgendering someone or using the wrong pronoun is to correct yourself and move forward with the conversation. This brief reaction will show your acknowledgment and consideration of that person. Remember, that this might be something minimal to you but it can be huge to others.
Keep it moving!
While working in college, I dealt with that awful feeling of being spotlighted. I was just getting comfortable with letting people know that my pronouns were now they/them. I decided to share this with my new manager, and luckily she was very understanding. A few days later, she misgendered me, but I was too busy to notice and had no idea she had even made a mistake. She apologized and we moved forward with an “it’s okay,” and kept working. Shortly after, it happened again. This time I did hear the mistake, but I didn’t expect the apologizing to escalate to an explanation of how she was trying to use the correct pronoun.
Time stood still while she apologized, and I could feel everyone’s eyes on me. What appeared to be an effort to make herself feel better, actually made me feel worse. Later that day my coworkers who overheard the lengthy conversation asked me about my pronouns and wanted to learn how to use them correctly. The conversation was quick and respectful. But in reality, I began to have second thoughts about sharing my pronouns. The attention was overwhelming and I feared that I was going to be seen as a burden when it came down to basic interactions.
I knew this uncomfortable moment would happen every time I worked with my manager, causing me to not enjoy going to work and wishing I had never said anything in the first place. I was just starting to feel comfortable with letting people know how to reference me. And telling people my pronouns at the time was always uncomfortable because I was fearful of how others might react and treat me. While I did appreciate her effort, a change in her actions would’ve been better. Thankfully, I’ve had better experiences navigating as a person with they/them pronouns since moving on to new career opportunities. I learned so much from this experience, and afterwards I was determined to be a better champion for the non-binary community and for myself. I became more vocal in not assuming one’s gender, really trying to perfect getting pronouns right for others and being a resource for others.
I’m always on the lookout for learning events that align with my experiences, are inclusive to how I identify and relate to my career interests. One event captured my attention — but it was specifically for women. I knew this would be an opportunity I would want to experience and decided to apply for a sponsorship scholarship. It wasn’t until I got to the end of the questionnaire that it was clear to me that I would not receive the scholarship because of the final question, “how do you identify?” While I am thankful that non-binary was included as an option, I was rejected because I didn’t meet the requirements, even though I have been on the receiving end of gender bias. I attended a previous event that centered around gender equity as well, and was able to access so much useful information. The environment was very pleasant and I felt comfortable at the event. They had gender-neutral restrooms, and pronouns visible on attendee badges. I know that spaces like these are so needed in the community for women, but as someone who identifies as non-binary, I was hoping to be included due to my lived experience. I battled with the issues, as I don’t want to take away space from women. But where does that leave me?
Why does it matter so much?
It seems like I’m constantly asking myself to check a box just to exist in society. Not identifying with a gender can be hard because everyone is so used to conforming to the two options. When I was coming to terms with myself and realizing that there was more outside of male or female to identify with, I felt a huge sense of relief of not needing to conform to either and just wanted to be myself.
I wrote this piece to share my experiences in being non-binary to encourage others to pause and reflect on how we treat one another. With that being said, I want us to really take a moment and think about how we address people we don’t know and using gender-neutral terms until the moment of being introduced to someone or becoming aware of a person’s pronouns. It’s not always to treat others how you want to be treated, but can also be “treat others how they want to be treated.”