Understanding Non-Binary People: How to Be Respectful and Supportive

By Reniel

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Last Updated: February 24, 2022

In the traditional view of gender as binary, you could either be male or female. Non-binary is an "umbrella" term with which people define themselves when they don't feel comfortable with mainstream gender labels. 

Having a non-binary identity does not mean you reject entirely any aspect of being 'male' or 'female.' Rather, it means you don't fully define yourself with either. Hence, you take what suits you best from each and create a unique identity for yourself. 

 

 

Is There a Difference Between Gender Identity and Gender Expression?

Having a gender identity means you have a very clear understanding of who you are and certainty in what characteristics define you.

Contrary to the conservative belief of many, your gender identity is not tied to your physical attributes. 

For example, just because society considers you as a biological male doesn't mean you have to behave in a masculine manner. 

Gender expression is the way you carry yourself around other people. It's more fluid and more adaptive based on your current preferences and how you currently feel. You can present yourself with feminine or masculine characteristics, but that doesn't put into question the identity you've chosen for yourself. 

 

 

Is There a Difference Between Being Non-Binary and Being Trans?

Trans people consider that the gender they were assigned at birth is not the gender they are comfortable with living for the rest of their lives.

Although the concepts may sound similar, not all non-binary people define themselves as trans. Many trans people consider themselves as male or female, the problem they have is that society has assigned them the wrong gender at birth. 

The inclusivity of the trans movement has given people the freedom to define themselves to make them feel the most comfortable and valid. Some of the many fluid terms used are transgender, gender-fluid, gender-queer, genderless, non-binary, nongender, trans male, trans female, trans man, trans woman, etc. 

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How To Use Gender-Neutral Language & Be Supportive Towards Genderfluid People 

Your identity is how you define yourself and present yourself to the world.

The importance that we give to our identities makes it vital that others respect them. 

The way we speak and the language we use to address others is one way, if we are not careful, to offend people by making presumptions about their identity even if we have no intention to. 

 

To ensure you are mindful of the gender preferences of people, take note of the following tips:

1. Make it a habit to introduce yourself with your pronouns and ask others for their pronouns.

This way, you will always come to understand how people prefer to be addressed. 

2. When describing social relationships, use gender-neutral alternatives.

For example, use 'parents' instead of 'mother' and 'father' and 'sibling' instead of 'brother' and 'sister.'

3. When you are not talking to an individual but a group of people, use gender-neutral language.

Use words like "everyone" or even "folks" instead of 'ladies' and 'gentleman.' 

4. In formal settings, the etiquette is very often to use 'Mr.' or 'Ms.'

Still, you can opt into using gender-neutral alternatives such as 'Mx.' Sometimes, this is not the norm within the organization you are working. If so, you can take active steps to raise awareness and lobby for a change. 

5. Non-binary people often don't use the 'he' or 'she' pronouns.

Although there are many variable pronouns you can address after asking the person specifically, it is acceptable to use 'they.' This is important not only for in-person communication but also as a tip to implement in your writing. 

6. People are creatures of habit, which is very accurate for how we speak and address others since this is an action that gets repeated daily.

If you wish to be supportive of non-binary people, make it an effort to be conscious of the way you speak. Actively seek feedback from friends and relatives on whether you've had any gender bias in your speaking. 

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Helping non-binary people is not just about treating them with the respect they deserve. It's also taking small and meaningful steps to make the world more accepting of them.

Aside from the tips above, joining social movements, campaigns, protests, and lobbying for structural changes in your workplace are all great ways to support non-binary people.    

If you want to learn more, The National Center for Transgender Equality has some great FAQs and answers for anyone who wants to better understand how to be inclusive and respectful. 

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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7 comments on “Understanding Non-Binary People: How to Be Respectful and Supportive”

  1. Normally I like these articles. However, I can see the agenda being pushed with this one. Non-Binary and Binary both need to be inclusive, as that is where the love is.

    1. We understand that not every story will resonate with every reader. But at the end of the day, we think it's important to be positive and open-minded to all kinds of personal development stories, and to learn about all types of people, cultures and communities. At the end of the day, we are all human beings. We support everyone who is on a journey to being a better person. Whatever that looks like.

  2. This doesn’t actually help anyone. Sticking with science, there is a way to love people by showing them if they really want help finding out more about themselves vs going along with a label.

    We don’t need more labels.

    Some people really feel like a cat or really feel think they are paralyzed but they aren’t at all. It’s loving to show them the truth while still being compassionate and kind. It’s evil to go along with what they think without any guidance towards giving them true help.

    It’s like a kid who thinks there’s a monster in the closet and think they are prey. We don’t succumb to their world to make them feel better and lived in fact, in reality that’s making the situation worse. Instead of being relative we ask questions and use reason to help them see the truth.

    Acceptance of the truth is really when someone has finally gotten to a point of loving themselves. Not rejecting it.

    The monster isn’t there and no child you aren’t prey. I won’t call you prey and I won’t live in that world because it’s not true, not because I don’t love you. In fact my child, because I love you, I will be here with you while we discover mentally and emotionally and physically what is the real truth. Come look on the closet with me and you’ll find there’s nothing there. It’s a story your mind created. It’s a fear that’s holding you back from yourself.

  3. We are all a ‘they’. We are all a mixture of many things. It is sad that we have to resort to these silly language rules. Call yourself whatever you want, but life might be less confusing if we own whatever body we were born in, male or female, and erase gender stereotypes.

  4. This is a nice basic article for gender identity education. Do you have recommendations for further reading and self education?

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