More and more people are beginning to identify as non-binary. In case you are unfamiliar with the term, it just means that you don’t strongly identify as either a man or a woman. You identify as you and that’s all. Gen Z, and millennials to a lesser degree, are the primary generations that are expressing this new identity category. While I do know older people and baby boomers that are respectful and accepting of this neutral gender expression, the majority seem to be personally offended by it for some reason.
In high school, I was crestfallen to discover that so many of my liberal friends were uncomfortable with bi-racial dating. Now once again I am finding out that concepts I thought were openly accepted by all my political allies, are not accepted nearly as much as I had assumed. I am also learning that people that define themselves as “liberal” are not nearly as liberal as I am. Honestly, I would consider them moderates at best.
In the few years that I’ve worked at my child advocacy center, we have met a lot of kids that have expressed that they identify as non-binary. For me this is just valuable information so that I can make an effort to make them more comfortable. However, it always seems to be a point of contention for basically all of my coworkers. Whether or not they claim to even believe non-binary is a thing, they all seem to disregard a child’s wish to be identified as such. It hurts my heart so much to hear people that have literally just met this child act as though they know who they are more than the child themselves. I mean, sure, there are probably a percentage that are just confused and still working to figure themselves out, but how is that anyone else’s business? Our job isn’t to decide what gender a child should identify as. Our job is to be loving and supportive and respect whatever they decide, wholeheartedly and without judgment.
I’ve been thinking about this issue even more recently because we happen to have a non-binary intern at our sister office. Upon finding this out, I was rather excited. I have never had a non-binary friend and I was eager to get a chance to practice using they/them pronouns and be an ally for them. I was even more excited yesterday when I found out that they were going to be transferring the rest of their internship to our office. Unfortunately, I hadn’t realized just how uncomfortable that would make basically all of my coworkers who I had assumed would be kind and inclusive.
My boomer friend at work, whom I love dearly, immediately started cracking hurtful jokes about them. Even though I know he isn’t coming from a place of hate, he was still being alarmingly inconsiderate and offensive. He was laughing, calling them an “it”, and saying that he would just refer to them as their actual name every single time rather than using they/them pronouns. Even our therapist and other intern who are much closer in age to me seemed just as disturbed to share our office with them. We do a secret Santa every year and our primary intern was petrified to discover that she had pulled the name of our non-binary intern. (Why that is, I genuinely have no idea. It’s not like these gifts would be gendered anyway, and we make a list of things we like to help whoever pulls our name.) I quickly realized that it was going to be solely up to me to help them feel welcomed, respected, and understood. I plan on offering to switch with our intern for secret Santa if that would make her more comfortable.
I cannot express how sad it makes me to consider how hard it must be to be a non-binary person even today, especially in my small, rural, conservative area. I’ll never understand why people feel so burdened by interacting with these people. Literally all that is required of you is to try to use they/them instead of she/her or he/him. Why is that so hard? It irritates me even more that these people who complain about it don’t seem to ever consider just how difficult it is for the non-binary person. Oh poor you, you have to alternate ONE SINGLE WORD, whereas they have to be misunderstood, excluded, targeted, and disrespected literally everywhere they go just for being honest about who they are.
Maybe it’s just because I am so used to being the misunderstood weirdo, but I am more than happy to make accommodations for others. I’m also quite familiar with having to deal with people making “harmless” jokes about core aspects of my identity and expecting me to just smile and take it, lest I be considered “uptight.” For all of these reasons and many more, I am honored to consider myself an ally to all those who need social support. I know how awful it is to have to decide whether you want to be untruthful about who you are or be criticized for it.
Even after two years of working at this office, my coworkers are all unaware how many times they have openly made fun of or dismissed aspects of my identity that I haven’t shared. Each time they make comments about people who are pansexual, polyamorous, or atheist, I am reminded why it is unsafe to fully disclose who I am to most people. They also consistently make comments about “when I have children” despite me openly saying I don’t plan on having children many times. Each time this happens, I am that much more reluctant to ever mention I’ve had my tubes tied. God only knows how they would react to learning that, even though it does not affect them at all.
So many people will openly share their disdain or disregard for different types of people without even stopping to consider that they don’t know everything about the personal lives of the audience they are sharing these opinions with. And maybe that’s another reason I feel such a strong sense on kinship with other social outliers. In their presence I feel safe enough to be my full self. And I am eager to offer them that same sense of acceptance and comfort, which I know is so rare.
At the end of the day, we are all just human beings who deserve dignity and respect. That is what we should remember above all else. Even if you are someone who doesn’t understand, accept, or support these newly expressed identities, at the very least you can try to keep your opinions and judgments about it to yourself. I’m not asking everyone to like it or accept it. All I’m asking is for people to be decent to other people whether you understand them or not. Yet I am constantly reminded that even that is too much to ask.