So, you have a friend, partner, family member, or coworker who has shared with you that they are non-binary. First of all, damn you are so lucky! Not only are you blessed that someone in your life has invited you to participate in knowing them more deeply and honestly, but you get to know a non-binary babe! And yes, all non-binary people are babes. Facts.
The term non-binary refers to an experience of gender that exists outside of a binary system of gender.
(Like, you know that system where either you’re assigned “boy” or “male” at birth because you have larger external genitals (i.e. penis + testicles) or you’re assigned “girl” or “female” because you have smaller external genitals and an extra hole (i.e. vulva + vagina))? Oh, and if you have genitals that are some combination of the two, then the doctors decide which binary category your genitals seem “closer” to, and assign you the corresponding gender (sometimes with an added genital surgery)?
Yeah, so non-binary people are like, “you know THAT system? Doesn’t apply to me.”
Since humans have existed, there have been non-binary people. When white people colonized the Americas and much of the world, many cultures and traditions that included and venerated non-binary people in their ways of life were murdered and intentionally erased.
The genocide of indigenous communities in the United States has formed our culture of gender, and a false conception of gender as inherently binary.
Because of the work of Indigenous, Black, and Brown activists, there has been a societal shift in the past fifty years to acknowledge, accept, and celebrate LGBTQIA2+ experiences more publicly. Still, the process of coming out for non-binary people can be long, painful, traumatic and disorienting, as well as pleasurable, exciting, affirming, and powerful.
The magical thing about being non-binary is that it includes an infinite number of ways of being. Some non-binary people are trans, some are femme, some are masculine, some are a combo of both, some are neither. Some non-binary people take hormones or get gender-affirming surgeries, others don’t physically change anything about their body, pronouns, or name when they come out.
The non-binary secret that I will now tell you: we do whatever we want, we look however we want, we feel however we feel, and we’re perfectly non-binary when we do it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The best way to support a non-binary person in your life is to listen attentively to what they share about their experience & support their decisions wholeheartedly.
When a pal comes out to you, it is okay to ask, “what pronouns do you use these days?” or “which name and pronouns are right for you?”
Then, you use their pronouns and name. I know, it can be hard. It can be hard to use a different name. It can be hard to use different pronouns, or pronouns you’re not used to.
If you care about someone, you will practice. You will walk around your house saying “Jade is coming over for dinner, they are bringing chicken noodle soup,” over and over until it’s second nature. You are smart and caring, I believe in you to learn this new thing even if it’s hard!
It’s always better to ask, rather than assume. There are so many ways to be non-binary that it’s IMPOSSIBLE to know exactly what being non-binary is like for the person in your life, unless you ask them (and then listen).
(hot take: it’s actually impossible to know exactly what anybody’s gender is like for them unless you ask them (and then listen)).
If the non-binary person in your life does feel safe to share some things about their experience (again, lucky you!) then it’s your job to advocate for your person in the future. Ask your non-binary pal what would be most supportive for them. Do they want you to speak up if you hear someone use the wrong pronouns, name, or other gendered terms for them? Would they rather you don’t say anything at all? Get specific with them about how you can support them in public.
If you are speaking up for a pal, try this...
“Tuck uses they/them pronouns actually!”
“Tuck let me know recently they prefer Mx. rather than Mr.”
“I’m not sure if Tuck likes being called a dogmom or a dogdad or something different. Let’s ask them.”
Sometimes when people come out, it can feel really special and powerful to share their process and their experience. If someone you care about shares their experience with you, listen attentively and without judgement.
AVOID questions & comments like:
“Don’t you feel like it would be easier to just stay like you were before?”
“Using your pronouns is just too hard for me.”
“You looked so much more attractive before”
“Why did it take you so long to come out?”
“I just don’t understand, it doesn’t make sense.”
“But you’ve always been so masculine, how did you end up liking dresses all of a sudden?”
If you are a cisperson, expect to make mistakes. If you make a mistake, acknowledge it, apologize, and do better.
If someone in your life comes out to you, know that you have the power to immensely impact their experience. Having the support of one’s community can be life changing, even life-saving.
If someone comes out to you or you want to know more about your pal’s gender, you can say something like this!
“Thank you so much for sharing. I really appreciate you telling me about what it’s like to be you.”
“This is something I’m learning so much about, I’m so grateful to have you in my life.”
“Would you be interested in sharing what being non-binary means to you? No pressure, but I’d love to know more about what it’s like to be you.”
“Would it be okay to ask some questions about your experience of gender?”
“I googled a bunch of stuff about being non-binary, could I share with you what I learned and hear your thoughts?”
If you got to the end of this, yay for you! Thanks for taking the time to learn just a little bit more about how to support the non-binary babes of this earth. Keep learning, listen carefully, and support your non-binary pals just how they want!