Non-Binary Awareness Week
In recent years, the United Kingdom has witnessed a significant increase in the recognition and celebration of non-binary identities. Non-Binary Awareness Week, an annual event which commenced this past Monday, plays a vital role in promoting understanding, inclusivity, and visibility for individuals who identify outside the traditional gender binary.
Being non-binary opens up possibilities for those who wish to exist outside of the rigid confines and expectations associated with gender. There is a common misconception that being non-binary is a ‘third’ option to male and female, or that it fits somewhere in between the two. As Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin puts it – “ your gender might occupy many different spaces in a large colourful circle around the linear binary existence, it might shift and change daily, or it might feel non-existent”.
Another point of confusion for many is that being non-binary is the same as being transgender. While both are umbrella terms and may overlap and encompass each other, not every non-binary person sees themselves transgender and vice-versa.
Non-binary people do not have legal recognition in the UK which means having to select ‘male’ or ‘female’ or official documents such as passports, licences and marriage certificates – and on Gender Recognition Certificates for those who medically transition. This is in addition to the fact that places like bathrooms and changing rooms present their own challenges which lead many to feel like they are merely an inconvenience.
What can you do to be a better ally?
There are plenty of things you can do to validate the people around you, such as when you address them.
Making the effort to move away from binary language when addressing a group of people can go a long way. Most people would not bat an eyelid if you chose to say “everyone”, “folks” or “colleagues”, but it is very noticeable and invalidating to non-binary people when terms such as “ladies and gentlemen” are used.
Normalising pronoun use in email signatures and on social media is a simple but meaningful way to show solidarity with gender-diverse and gender non-conforming people and help create safer spaces for all.
If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, it’s always safe to use “they”. This has historically been a common way to identify a person whose gender was indefinite and was regularly used in medical texts throughout the 1600s, long before the notion that the singular “they” was grammatically incorrect was adopted by linguists. For example, “the Project Assistant will be here in two hours, I’ll make sure the venue is set up for them”. Gender identity is internal – you are unable to know a person’s gender and their personal pronoun just by looking at them or learning their name.
Everyone makes mistakes, but it is how you respond to them which is key, while accepting that mistakes are part of the learning process. As a general rule of thumb: apologise, correct yourself and move on.
It may take a bit of getting used to, but it causes you no harm and it will make people around you feel acknowledged and valid.
13 July 2023
Image courtesy of Trans Lash