Is it a boy or girl?
The first question that excited parents-to-be are asked.
Because if we know, we can buy blue for a boy or pink for a girl.
“Awww, look at her. She is a beautiful little thing!”
From being a teeny tiny baby you hear yourself referred to based on the sex you were assigned at birth. And that, is decided from your genitalia.
“How is he doing? Is there anything else I can get for him?”
There is a presumption that you are going to identify with the associated gender you were assigned at birth.
As parents, knowing if you have a boy or a girl you can apply the rules assigned to that gender. For instance through the clothes they wear, the bathroom they should use and what role they will go on to play in society. You have gender norms that can be enforced and ‘guidelines’ to follow on how to socialise your child in society.
Unless you as parents intervene, your child’s gender identity is decided for them based on societal norms and the people surrounding them. Collectively, we tell the child what they are and how they should be.
I wonder how that impacts on us as we get older.
Does it limit our ability to experiment with gender expression and identity?
I would say so.
From an early age, I remember not being totally comfortable with being labelled a girl. I rejected the dolls, pink was a DEFINITE no go and dresses? Oh my word. You have no idea what a struggle that was.
I preferred playing outside with my brothers. Going out on bikes, playing in the stream at the bottom of the garden and playing hide and seek, dressed as a tomboy.
Yet, there was always this pressure when I was in the public eye or at social engagements to have my hair a certain way, to present myself as a femme young adult and to tone down my mannerisms and natural movements. To conform to the societal expectations of being ‘a girl.’
It may seem that being non-binary is a new concept, a phase, a gimmick or a fad. Non-binary has hit the mainstream media in recent years and people seem to think this is a recent phenomenon.
Let me set you straight.
Non-binary is a real identity that has existed for thousands of years.
What Is Non-Binary?
First, we need to understand gender and the gender binary.
Gender is often referred to as a binary – meaning two. The term binary may take you back to your maths days at school. 1s and 0s… Don’t worry… Maths lesson over.
This is a concept or belief that there are only 2 genders (boy and girl) and that your sex assigned at birth will align with traditional social constructs of masculine and feminine identity, expression and sexuality.
This is an internal sense of being male, female, neither of these, both of these or other gender(s).
This is the physical manifestation of someone’s gender identity. It is about individual preferences, how you look, how you wear your hair and your clothes. It is about your demeanour, your voice and the way you speak. It is about your mannerisms and movements.
It is an innate feeling from deep inside about who you are.
Non-binary people do not identify with traditionally understood gender binary. In other words, they don’t identify as a boy or a girl.
My experience of gender binary highlights the inability for individual gender expression or fluidity.
Being non-binary to ME means expressing the fullness of who you are. Being authentic and real. It is about not feeling the need to fit into preconceived ideas of ‘who and what I am’ and the sense of freedom and liberation that comes from that.
Being non-binary isn’t a choice. It is a deeply ingrained personal identity.
Other common terms you will hear to describe non-binary are genderqueer, genderfluid, gender neutral, agender, bigender and androgyne.
Non-binary is considered to fall under the Transgender umbrella. SOME, not all, non-binary people will also identify as trans.
If You Identify As Non-Binary You Need To Know This
This is the world most people of my generation and older generations have grown up within.
Boy or girl.
Conditioning from a very young age of only two genders – male and female. Everything we have experienced up to today has been based on knowing only these two genders.
Our beliefs were formed with the basis of there are only two genders.
Our life has been experienced through the eyes of either male or female.
Blue for boy, pink for girl. You get the idea…
Over the years we have learnt to gender based on how people present themselves and how people have been socialised over the years. It is an ingrained response, subconsciously embedded within us from years of experience, observations and conditioning. Male and female pronouns are heavily ingrained in us to describe an individual.
We weren’t taught about being gay. We didn’t have lessons about what it means to be a lesbian, bisexual or what it means to be transgender. We most certainly didn’t explore being intersex, non-binary or anything outside of being cis-gendered and heterosexual. I can still remember the embarrassment oozing out of my Sex Ed teachers talking to us about heterosexual relationships.
Conversations about gender, sexual preferences and identity were not heard in the playground, the lunch halls or even in our friend’s bedrooms as we relaxed in the evenings.
You need to know.
It isn’t that we are being rude. It isn’t that we are being obstructive or hurtful or unkind. It isn’t that we are being judgemental, transphobic or resistant in any way towards you.
It IS that we don’t understand. Because we haven’t experienced it personally. We have no reference within us for what it is to be non-binary.
Rest assured though, we WANT to understand and see YOU living the fullest expression of yourself.
And we will do whatever we can to support you.
The Biggest Challenges Non-Binary People Face
- Talking to people in day to day life about being non-binary
- Feeling comfortable to come out as non-binary at work
- Bringing all of who you are to work, being your authentic self and expressing yourself fully
Gender binary is so ingrained in our culture, language and expression that it can be incredibly difficult to challenge the status quo.
I don’t know many people that would like to stick their head above the parapet and challenge the status quo…
How to Support Your Non-Binary Employees, Colleagues and Friends
- Firstly, don’t assume everyone identifies as male or female. They don’t.
- Be aware that not everyone will want to come out. There are people around you that are non-binary but they may not want to come out. Why? It could be they may not know what is going on within them but they know something isn’t ‘right’. It could be that they may not fully understand it themselves yet. It could be they are not comfortable with talking about it because of fear, rejection, questioning, judgement etc. Respect that. You don’t ask your heterosexual or cis-gendered individuals to declare or discuss their sexual or gender identity in the office…
- If someone has come out to you, that doesn’t mean they are ready to come out to everyone. Don’t ‘out’ them to others or share information they have told you in confidence. Let them be the one to tell who they choose to tell and when they are ready.
- Creating an inclusive environment where everyone feels safe to be their true and authentic self is essential. Establish a working environment where your non-binary, trans and LGB colleagues can be comfortable to bring all of who they are to work. Encourage authenticity at work where all individuals feel safe to express themselves fully: with colleagues and customers/clients, through their choice of clothing, the use of preferred pronouns and name etc.
- Be aware that many non-binary individuals feel uncomfortable asking cis-gendered and heterosexual individuals to use they/them pronouns. They don’t want to appear difficult or different or to stand outside of societal norms, with many choosing instead to not be open about their gender identity. Raise the awareness of inclusivity by asking people what their preferred name and pronouns are. This is good practice for everyone in the organisation – not only for your non-binary and transgender colleagues! Non-binary people can have and use a variety of pronouns. The only way to know is to ask! Examples are he/him, she/her, they/them or a combination of these.
- Be aware of misgendering and using the incorrect pronouns. If you hear it, challenge it.
- Be proactive. Continually ask yourself – what more could I do to be ahead of the game and to be a supportive and inclusive employer? Include non-binary, trans and LGBT+ issues in your on-going awareness training: including use of preferred pronouns and name, what questions to ask and not ask etc.
- Don’t wait until someone comes out to figure out what you need to have in place. And don’t wait for your LGBT+ employees to point something out to you that you need to be aware of. Anticipate it and do something about it now.
- Educate your customers, clients and suppliers.
- Challenge any stereotypical or gender-based language, clothing (including uniforms) and expectations.
- Provide gender neutral bathrooms. You use one at home… It isn’t good enough to expect people to resort to using the disabled cubicle. Toilets without a sex assigned to the door are a clear sign that gender is a non-issue.
- Don’t assume anything about their private life, such as the sexual preference or gender identity of their partner. Their private life is just that. If they want to talk to you about it, great. If they don’t, respect that.
- Be their ally. Make the effort to educate yourself about non-binary issues – so your colleague doesn’t have to and so you can be a better ally. If someone is having an inappropriate conversation about them, speak up. If you notice any form of discrimination, report it. If someone is asking them inappropriate questions, tell them.
- Provide staff training and workshops on LGBT+ issues, mental health and self-care (vitally important).
- Be tuned into the issues LGBT+ individuals face. Educate yourself about body dysmorphia, substance abuse, mental health etc. Know what to look out for and the steps to take to support a colleague.
- Create opportunities for peer support amongst your LGBT+ staff.
- Get your record keeping and personal information documentation up to date. Gender information is present on application forms, surveys and monitoring forms. Most application forms force people to ‘out’ themselves with the use of traditional gender binary options. Ensure you are not ‘outing’ people by the language you use on your forms. Use inclusive gender options and have pronouns listed to select from.
- Review your existing equality and diversity policies. Are all of your employees ‘covered’ by the current policies and procedures? Re-visit them to ensure they encapsulate LGBT+ issues and detail the support available.
- Ensure you have a Transgender Support Policy and a Non-Binary Support Policy in place. LIVE these policies – don’t just let them sit there gathering dust.
- Raise awareness of the support available for all colleagues – what support is in place for them, who they can talk to confidentially and signpost to specialist support where appropriate.
Being Non-Binary At Work
Stay present as often as you can. Get out of memories of things that have happened in the past or what ‘could’ happen in the future. Stay in this moment right now. Staying present will naturally mean you are being authentic and real and expressing yourself fully.
Be visible at work, if you feel able to. Let’s work together to normalise being LGBT+. How do you do that? Talk about your life openly. Don’t think twice about saying your girlfriend/wife (…insert here). Show up as the real you. Don’t be afraid to express yourself fully at work. Bring ALL of yourself to work.
When you don’t do that, here is what is going on. You are subconsciously worried about what the other person thinks of you and the judgements they are making of you. You won’t need to officially come out if you are open and transparent in this way.
Set boundaries of what you will and won’t talk about at work.
Seek allies, senior champions and role models. They are there to support you.
Be active in your LGBT+ network group. This is a safe space where LGBT+ colleagues can go to discuss LGBT+ successes and issues, receive support, guidance, peer mentoring etc.
Educate people whenever you can. Use of pronouns, your name, things you want to talk about and things that are off limits.
If you are cis-gendered, being non-binary may feel different to you. It may set your mind racing and bring up lots of questions you want answering. But I am guessing (if you are heterosexual) it would feel the same for you to imagine yourself as a lesbian. Or being transgender. Or being from a different race or from a different culture.
Remember, gender is a spectrum.
How different would the world be if we all stepped outside of what we have been taught and conditioned to believe and opened our mind to other possibilities and ways of being?
We are all one.
We are all connected.
We are all human.
And we all want the same thing.
To be loved. To be accepted. To be true to ourselves.
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