In celebration of International Non-binary People’s Day, July 14, Transformation Journeys Worldwide has invited our colleague, non-binary author Dalia Kinsey, to share some important insights.
Last year, I recognized that just using my name felt the most authentic to me, so I stopped using pronouns for myself. This was not an easy decision, as it went against years of conditioning and socialization. However, when I began owning my truth, I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.
But the day-to-day experience of that decision has been far less positive. Being misgendered is an everyday occurrence for me and many other transgender and nonbinary people. It happens most often at work and in professional settings, where there are often power dynamics at play, and constant pressure to not seem difficult, and to not create or identify tension.
Because you care about creating an inclusive environment, here are 5 things this nonbinary person would like you to know and steps you can take to create a culture of belonging for nonbinary clients and employees.
Sharing your pronouns and asking people about their pronouns should be standard practice to avoid misgendering.
Nonbinary is an umbrella term that describes a wide array of gender identities. People that are genderfluid, agender, bigender, demigender, and pangender all fall into this overarching category. There are no one size fits all rules for respectfully referring to non-binary people.
Less than a month after I made the identity-affirming decision to stop using pronouns, I was called out in a business meeting for being hostile to the LGBTQIA+ community for listing no pronouns beside my name on our Zoom call. While I’m sure this person was striving to advocate for LGBTQIA+ people, their advocacy attempt resulted in attacking and undermining a member of that community in a crowded room.
As we move beyond the confines of binary language and continue to reimagine ways for English to more accurately describe genders that fall outside of the binary, flexibility, sincerity, respect, and kindness are our greatest tools.
Some nonbinary people use they/them, some use gendered binary pronouns, some people use both, some use neopronouns, while others use none at all. The only way to know how to respectfully refer to a nonbinary person is to ask what words they use to describe themselves.
Instead of assuming pronouns, create opportunities for employees to share their pronouns by first sharing your own. You can do this when meeting people face to face and by including your pronouns in your email signature and profile for virtual meetings.
Special note for Southerners – The honorifics we’ve been trained to use to show respect for our elders and people that we don’t know well can be another way we unintentionally misgender nonbinary and transgender people. Remember that ma’am and sir are gendered and not always appropriate.
We have always been here.
There have always been people who exist outside of the binary and identify as other than “man” or “woman.” Examples of this include the hijra in South Asia, fa’afafine in Samoa, māhū in Hawaii, muxe in Mexico,wíŋkte, nádleeh, ininiikaazo, and two-spirit in some Indigenous and First Nations communities.
In the 1980s and ‘90s, I would have described myself as a tomboy. In the early aughts, the then commonly used terms “genderqueer” and “genderfluid” captured my gender identity.
In 2020, I transitioned away from using pronouns because it felt like the most comfortable way for me to identify with my gender fluidness. Gender fluidity is a term used to describe someone whose gender identity does not conform strictly to the male or female binary. For some people, this means that they can sometimes feel more like a woman or more like a man, but at other times their gender feels more fluid and undefined. Since the term “nonbinary” has gained more prominence in recent years, it has come to refer to a range of things for different people. Some nonbinary people identify as a part of the transgender community while others do not. Some associate their nonbinary identity with their gender expression but not their gender identity.
There is no one way to be nonbinary.
Some people have gotten accustomed to linking masculine and androgynous gender expression to nonbinary identity. In reality, nonbinary people present their gender in many different ways. There is no one “correct” way to be nonbinary. You cannot determine whether or not someone is nonbinary simply by looking at them.
Some nonbinary people continue to wear clothing that has been socially coded as connected to their assigned birth gender. Some opt for gender-neutral clothing only. Some nonbinary people use hormones and/or surgeries to affirm their gender expression, others do not.
As some people explore their gender identity and expression, they may temporarily use new sets of pronouns. Just like other aspects of a person’s life, someone’s gender identity and expression may evolve over time. In the workplace, it is important that we continually respect our nonbinary colleagues and clients, which might mean occasionally changing the pronouns we use for them.
Not everyone is out at work.
Though it’s uncomfortable and invalidating to be misgendered during the business day, being out and having to navigate power dynamics at work can be even more uncomfortable. Nonbinary people are tasked with weighing out the pros and cons of being out. While gender-based discrimination isn’t legal in organizations that employ more than 15 people, it happens all the time. So the onus is on the nonbinary employee to decide, “Do I say something and risk retaliation, hostile treatment, or being conveniently let go the next time there’s a downsizing, or do I just tough it out?”
Even if the leadership team is making strides to make the work environment safer, some nonbinary employees will not feel comfortable sharing their pronouns or being out. Forcing employees to either out themselves or pretend to be cisgender is not the goal. Take care to frame pronoun usage as an invitation and lead by example to avoid making gender-diverse employees feel pressured to be out before they are comfortable.
The singular they is grammatically correct.
I continually hear the argument that people simply cannot accept the singular use of they because it is grammatically incorrect. Language always evolves in response to common usage, and that is what has happened with this word. Presently, the singular they appears in many dictionaries and has been adopted in all leading style guides, including APA, MLA, and Chicago Manual of Style.
Steps to Create a Culture of Belonging for Nonbinary Colleagues and Clients
Non-binary people face unique challenges in the workplace. But there are several things you can do to create a safer experience for us.
1. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone in your workplace to understand everything about nonbinary inclusion right away. That’s why it’s critical that you provide ongoing cultural competency training.
2. Be proactive in ensuring that all employees are aware of your nondiscrimination policies, and especially what is and isn’t allowed when it comes to conversations around gender identity or expression.
3. Ensure that all employees have equal access to facilities and other resources. Provide some gender-neutral bathrooms.
4. Provide name tags that include the option to list pronouns.
5. Include multiple options for pronoun identification on employee paperwork and meeting registration forms.
6. Update your dress code to make it gender-neutral.
7. Recognize that, despite your efforts, power dynamics at the office can make it challenging for some non-binary individuals to speak out. Create opportunities for employees to express their concerns anonymously so that problems can be identified and addressed without personal risk.
It’s hard to know everything there is to know about supporting all identities in the workplace. That’s why I encourage you to reach out for help from those that have both lived and professional experience creating safer spaces. Partnering with an external consulting or training team like Transformation Journeys Worldwide can alleviate stress and bring ease into your efforts to create an inclusive environment.
Dalia Kinsey is a queer Black Registered Dietitian, keynote speaker, the creator of the Body Liberation for All podcast, and author of Decolonizing Wellness: A QTBIPOC-Centered Guide to Escape the Diet Trap, Heal Your Self-Image, and Achieve Body Liberation. On a mission to spread joy, reduce suffering, and eliminate health disparities in the LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC community, Dalia rejects diet culture and teaches people to use nutrition as a self-care and personal empowerment tool to counter the damage of systemic oppression. Dalia works at the intersection of holistic wellness and social justice, continually creating wellness tools and resources that center the most vulnerable, individuals that hold multiple marginalized identities. Dalia’s work can be found at https://www.daliakinsey.com/.
To learn more about how to continue this conversation in your workplace, reach out to us at https://transformationjourneysww.com/contacts/.