There has been an increase in visibility of non-binary people in recent years. This is not because non-binary people are a new phenomenon. In fact, many cultures around the world recognise more than two genders.
Most people – including most transgender people – identify as either male or female. But some people don’t neatly fit into the categories of “man” or “woman,” or “male” or “female.”
Some folk have a gender that blends elements of being a man or a woman, or a gender that is different than either male or female. While some people don’t identify with any gender at all and some people’s gender changes over time.
People whose gender is not male or female use many different terms to describe themselves, with non-binary being one of the most common. Other terms include genderqueer, agender, bigender and more.
If you’re new to the whole non-binary experience it can, for some, feel like an overwhelming task at first, but the key to it is simply understanding a lived experience that is not your own. Which you’re already probably pretty good at.
Here is your top 9 checklist to being a great non-binary ally!
1) Learn to get comfortable with introducing yourself using both your name and pronouns where possible.
In the same way you might feel nervous about getting a new persons pronouns wrong, they may be having the same worries about yours. A quick intro where possible will help reduce any anxiety and get it out the way.
2) Pop your pronouns in your email signature and social media profiles.
This is a huge one, even if you’re cis-het and think your own pronouns would be blatantly obvious to others. Adding pronouns shows support to non-binary and gender non-conforming folk and helps normalize the practice of setting out your pronouns socially. Doing so, much for the same reasons we fly Pride Flags, also helps show other LGBTQ+ people that you are ‘safe’ and not likely to be discriminatory, abusive or threatening.
3) Switch binary language such as ‘ladies and gentlemen’ to something more inclusive like ‘folks’, ‘pals’ or ‘everyone’.
This is such an easy step, but also powerful one, once you get used to it. Switching to words like ‘everyone’ does exactly what the word was intended for… includes everyone. In the same way you wouldn’t want to enter a room and exclude only women or only men, flipping to ‘folks’ ensures that you’re not excluding a single person.
4) Use words that define the relationship instead of the relationship & gender.
Another powerful one that is so simple to adopt and makes a huge difference. For example, instead of ‘Mom’, ‘boyfriend’ or ‘sister’, use ‘parents’, ‘partner’, ‘children’ or ‘siblings’.
5) Use the singular ‘they’, ‘them’ and ‘their’ instead of ‘his/her’ in letters and other forms of writing.
Rather than assuming solely based on a name or other attributes, go with ‘their’. This, like so many of these points, is something you probably already do a lot more than you think. So, for example, “I forwarded it to their boss”, “If they’re going to the Christmas party then I’m out” (lol).
6) Go for ‘they’ as a pronoun when uncertain.
If you already know that someone uses he/ her/ they, then great. However, if you’re unsure of someone’s gender or identity because you forgot to do point 1, just air with caution and go with ‘they’.
7) If you get it wrong: correct yourself and move on. Don’t make a big fuss about it.
It can be tempting in these situations to try and compensate too much after you use the wrong pronouns. A bit like any situation, labouring the point will only make things more uncomfortable. Shit happens, basically. Just correct yourself and move on.
8) Don’t refer non-binary identities as “complicated” or “difficult” or anything like that.
Words like that often carry negative connotations and being non-binary is not a negative. For example, if you’re a cis-gendered gay male or female, you’d struggle with someone constantly referring to your existence using any of those negative words.
9) When in doubt, ASK.
When in doubt, always ask! That doesn’t mean that a non-binary person is going to want to spend an entire night discussing the topic, it just means most folk would rather offer transparent interactions and guidance than not.
Honest and open conversations are – now as they always have been – crucial for all LGBTQ+ people.