Think about the term non-binary, with respect to gender. Does it seem rather like it hinges on the idea of an existing gender binary by being defined as genders outside of it? If so, that’s because it is. Because the gender binary has repeatedly been enforced, society has often come to view binary genders as the only valid ones. The term ‘non-binary’ subverts the gender binary but at the same time, reinforces the fact that it exists.
For this reason, some gender-diverse people prefer not to identify with the term. Similarly, some reject the label ‘third gender’ as it has roots in western colonial reinforcement of the gender binary in some countries. Western colonization has, at many times, enforced the gender binary on people of various cultures who do not identify within it. Some such ethnic identities that fall outside of the gender binary include the Fa’afafine of Samoa and the Hijra of India.
I will also bring to notice the fact that all gender is socially constructed, including binary genders. Gender identity is merely how one feels they identify as, and one could say there are as many genders as there are people; the number of genders that exist is infinite. It’s not just non-binary gender that is ‘made up’, the concept of gender as a whole is a societal construct, but that does not make the experiences people have of gender any less real. We do not live in a societal vacuum; people of a society influence and are influenced by the way the society works. However, it must also be acknowledged that in our society there are marginalized groups who are given less societal power, and therefore their voices need to be amplified in an equitable way.
But how can we, as people of this society, make the world a more accepting place for non-binary, gender-diverse, and trans people?
1. Respecting the gender and pronouns of all people:
Everyone deserves to have their gender identity and pronouns respected. Not just cis people and trans people who ‘pass’ as cis. All gender identities, including non-binary and gender-diverse ones, are valid, and no gender should be subjected to ridicule. This naturally extends to newly created labels, and what are sometimes called ‘tumblr genders’ by people with binarist views. Any gender is valid in its existence if someone claims it is their gender, that’s all there is to it. Kingenders, xenogenders, and neurogenders, among other lesser-known gender identities, are worthy of being respected as the true genders they are. Additionally, pronouns do not always match with gender identity, so don’t expect them to do so.
Similarly, one’s personal pronoun preference should also be accepted and given respect. If someone asks you to use certain pronouns for them, please do so. It doesn’t hurt anyone to be respectful. While I understand that some people see using pronouns other than the standard ‘he’ and ‘she’ as requiring cognitive effort, there is a line between cis people complaining about the ‘effort’ they need to make to respect people and people who actually have a difficult time with using pronouns in language. Even if you mess up a person’s pronouns, correct yourself and move on. Don’t place the burden of emotionally comforting you on the person whom you used the wrong pronoun for.
The singular ‘they’ is recognized as grammatically correct, and even if it weren’t, the pronoun preference of a person who uses it should still be respected. It also doesn’t matter if you can’t see that person as their true gender, at least respect their gender and pronouns. You don’t have to fully understand someone’s gender in order to respect it. Some people also use the pronoun ‘it’ for themselves and that should be respected; this is different from transphobes calling trans or non-binary people ‘it’ in a hateful or derogatory manner. Neopronouns, or newly created pronouns in a language (for example ‘Xe/xem’, ‘Mer/merself’, ‘Ey/em’ in English, ‘iel’ in French, ‘avam/ivam’ in Tamil(created that last one myself), etc.) are also valid, and the pronouns of someone who uses neopronouns should be respected.
Other people may have no pronoun preference and be fine with people using any pronouns for them or be comfortable with more than one pronoun, some will prefer to have no pronouns used for them, and still others find that their pronouns change or fluctuate over time. All of these preferences are valid, and it also okay to not want to reveal your gender or pronouns. Reasons why someone may not want to share pronouns or their gender identity may be safety, personal preference, because they are unlabeled, or because they are closeted or questioning their gender identity, among other reasons, and nobody should be forced to be open about their pronouns or gender identity. Therefore the best approach is to view pronoun sharing as a voluntary thing, respect people’s pronouns when they disclose them, and avoid making assumptions about gender or pronouns.
2. Gender-neutral language usage in common parlance:
Where gender-neutral language is applicable, for example when one’s gender is unknown or the person prefers gender-neutral language to be used with reference to them, it is advisable to use gender-neutral language. If gender neutral words exist in your language, great! But if they do not, and you are in a situation that requires gender-neutral language, there are workarounds:
- Using a gender-neutral usually-plural form in the singular form (example: pronouns ‘you’ and ‘they’ in English, and ‘avanga’ in Tamil’); if needed, precede or succede the plural form with words meaning ‘all’, ‘many’, or a numerical signifier, to disambiguate the singular and plural forms
- Create new terms or word classes that are gender-neutral; when there is a need for gender-neutral words, a language can evolve to the task. Even if the terms don’t become common, they can still be useful to those who wish to use them; it’s perfectly fine to create neopronouns in any language you are a speaker of when the need arises
- Use no gendered terms and use other similar, existing gender-neutral terms or use no pronouns
Those are a few ways to make language more inclusive of gender-diverse people, and there are simple ways of incorporating this into everyday language. Use gender-neutral words when referring to groups of people such as ‘humankind/humanity’, ‘firefighter’, ‘parent’, ‘person’, and so on. This goes a long way towards normalizing gender neutral language, and is more inclusive than defaulting to masculine words as gender neutral, as that approach tends to ‘other’ feminine words and therefore also people who identify with feminine genders or use feminine pronouns or terms for themselves.
3. Normalize Non-binary people and their gender:
Educate yourself, as well as people who are willing to understand and be respectful, about non-binary identities. This goes a long way towards increasing support and acceptance of non-binary, trans, and gender-diverse people in society. Learning about identities you are unfamiliar with allows you to better understand the diversity of who people are, and help make society more respectful of diversity. The bottom line is that all genders are to be respected and seen as valid.
Chances are, having lived in a binarist and cissexist world, you have absorbed or perhaps internalized(if you’re a non-binary person such as myself, or otherwise trans/ gender-diverse) societal biases when it comes to how we view gender. Even I have to remind myself at times to avoid assuming the genders of strangers or people I interact with. Educating yourself is a good starting point, but it can take time to actually be able to put this information into practice. Nonetheless, it’s a much better option than being steeped in societal ignorance and letting it make you biased.
If you don’t do so already, question the ways in which society has made you view gender. This will uncover any biases you have with respect to gender, and allow you to think critically about how society deals with the concept of gender. Additionally, media that affirms trans and non-binary people and has gender-diverse representation is helpful in educating people about non-binary identities. LGBT+ identities can be explained in a kid-friendly way as well, despite what some skeptics think.
If kids are told to follow gender norms and are exposed to heterosexual relationships, why can’t they understand gender diverse identities or non-heterosexual identities? They can, some people are just irrationally convinced that it’ll make their children ‘deviant’ or unlikely to be ‘normal’. First of all, if one is of a certain identity, they will likely benefit from acknowledging that than not having a vocabulary to describe it, especially in this allocishet-normative society. Secondly, some children come to identify as LGBT+, just like how some children identify with their AGAB or conform to gender roles.
It is important to make people understand that it is okay to be different from what’s expected of you, because trying to be someone you’re not can and will hurt. While nobody is obligated to be fully ‘out’ as LGBT+, especially given the dangers of being out, we should also do our best to be accepting and supportive to those who are out to us as LGBT+.
4. Combatting internalized transphobia:
Although internalized transphobia can it make it hard for non-binary people to accept ourselves, there are ways to cope with it and reduce its hold on our minds. It may help to examine the views you consciously or subconsciously hold about gender, and how those views make you feel as a non-binary or gender-diverse person, and figure out how to counter these views.
Another thing that can counter internalized transphobia is consuming trans-affirming media or content created by trans or nonbinary people, as this provides positive representations of gender-diverse people. In addition, remember that while you do not need to ‘look like’ or ‘act like’ your true gender identity in order to be valid, it’s also okay to want to look or act different than you currently do or conform to gender norms.
Also keep in mind that you do not need to experience dysphoria to be ‘truly’ trans. But if you experience dysphoria, I know it can be hard, but here are some coping tips, and information about dysphoria, both of which can make it a bit easier to deal with.
While at present, our world may not always be accepting of non-binary people, it can become more accepting of us, and that is cause for hope.