Non-Binary People Like Me Won’t Fit In Until We Change Our Exclusionary Language

From online forms that only let me define as male or female to waiters calling me ‘sir’, every day I’m reminded of my otherness. Here’s what needs to change.

The problem with gender is that it doesn’t really exist. It is a construct that has changed multiple times throughout the course of history – we all know those throwaway facts like high heels were invented for men or blue was originally a feminine colour! So why have we suddenly become so militant when policing the gender of others? And what does it feel like to be policed in this way? The first question, you’ll have to ask an anthropologist but for, the second I feel qualified to offer an answer... or 15.

You see not only am I non-binary and use both they and she pronouns, but I’m also very visibly non-binary. Seeing as I don’t conform to any specific gender stereotypes, lots of people are confused and often, strangely, offended by my appearance. I wrote a whole damn play about being non-binary but to put it simply, and to bastardise the iconic (yet Trump-supporting) Shania Twain, ‘So you’re non-binary? That don’t impress me much’ is pretty much how it feels to go about my everyday life openly and visibly.

It’s a unique, yet not new, phenomenon that thousands of non-binary people like me around the globe face when trying to do the most basic of tasks to not be able to record their true identity. It can range from the dramatic and financially damaging fact that that in the UK, in order to get a basic background check to ensure someone has no prior offences or history that should prevent them working with children, you have to categorise yourself as either male or female, meaning non-binary teachers, artists and facilitators have to either actively lie or misgender themselves in order to accept work and earn a living, to the more trivial fact that when signing up for Little Mix tour tickets, I had to identify as either male or female. Seeing as I’m neither, I couldn’t complete the online form and so I missed out on presale tickets for my favourite girlband. Quite why they needed to know my gender at all is beyond me!

“I’ve lost count of the amount of job applications I’ve given up on because they don’t include an Mx prefix option, or where my only gender choice is ‘prefer not to say’.”

Even within individual organisations, policies can be so confusing and irregular that it’s impossible to know the rules. One friend of mine took their deed poll to two separate branches of their bank to change the name on their account – the first insisted that the deed poll was not valid as it was not enrolled, while the second did it instantly and with no fuss. On Tinder, I can list my identity as non-binary, but then have to chose if I want to be visible to people who filter for male or female, making the definition of my own identity irrelevant anyway.

When you don’t know where or how you’ll be accepted, it can be hard to fit in – or even want to. I’ve lost count of the amount of job applications I’ve given up on because they don’t include an Mx prefix option, or where my only gender choice is ‘prefer not to say’. The thing is, I don’t ‘prefer not to say’ – I want to say. I want to shout it from the rooftops, display it on my passport, be legally recognised as non-binary. But I can’t.

This means that, at every single step of my life from an online form to a waiter referring to me as ‘sir’, I am reminded of my otherness. I’m well aware that these are rarely acts of malice, but regardless of their intention, the effect is always detrimental to my mental health. We need to make the world a more inclusive place for trans and non-binary people, and a very simple way to do this is by adapting our language to be less binary. When 48% of trans people have attempted suicide, and 84% of us have considered it, this seems like a no brainer.

A basic example of adapted language you could use yourself is to use “folks” or “gang” or “team” instead of “guys” or “ladies and gentlemen” when addressing a group of people, using the ‘they’ pronoun when you’re unsure of someone’s gender identity – or even better, specifically asking all people indiscriminately what pronoun they’d prefer you to use for them. I’ve never met a trans or non-binary person who doesn’t appreciate this. It shows that you see us, but also that you don’t see us as different.

Teddy Lamb is a non-binary writer and performer. Follow them on Twitter at @TheTeddyLamb

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