A shout out to all the non-binary people and their allies out in the world. It’s international non-binary people’s day tomorrow 14th July and I’m here in my Pride cave surrounded by all the colours.
“What does being non-binary mean?” “Why do we need more than two pronouns?” and even “But there’s only two genders, I don’t understand!”
All very meaningful, and often very respectful questions. Being open to questions that come from a place of wanting to understand is part of what Chrysalis and I do. We are that safe space where you can come to ask, because no one should ever fear asking a question to further their understanding but for many trans and non-binary people answering those questions all the time becomes tiring and eventually they get empathy fatigue. It’s hard to always understand someone else’s point of view when it appears as if no one wants to understand yours. Too easy to conflate those innocent and kind place questions with the venom and antagonism that is stirred up on line and seems still to be on the rise, because it makes good press.
So I will endevour in my few blog words here to put some answers around those questions, if you want to know more, if you want to explore these topics more deeply, or indeed if you have your own understanding that you’d like to discuss with me then get in touch, I’d love to hear from you. My thoughts and words are built up from my understanding of myself, my observations of others and the reading I do on the subject. None of these are a substitute for individual lived experience.
What does being non-binary mean?
Just like everyone has their own understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman, and a lot of theory and societal, lingustic and culture pressure goes into defining and controlling those definitions, every non-binary person is going to have their own experience of what being non-binary means to them. For me I know that “I never felt like that [a woman/girl], but I know I’m not that [a man] either” those of you who have seen me speak know there are hand gestures to go with this! I don’t feel like I’m “in the wrong body”, this body is the one I have and I’m pretty used to inhabiting it. Sometimes I alter it because I want you to see the inner me that is the strongest, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I simply display the body I have in the way I know it looks best. It has taken me a while to get to the point where I don’t need either bra or binder to feel secure in my gender identity.
For others being non-binary is the freedom to express and explore all their feminine and masculine aspects, to play on the edges of gender expression, and for others it is deadly serious. Life changing. Sometimes being non-binary means being totally outside gender – no internal relation to either feminine or masculine (a-gender), for some being non-binary is fluidity (genderfluid or gender queer). For some being non-binary is being able to express their other, inner side, just enough to keep the balance. For some having been socialised in one way, like me, it’s easier to stick with that aspect showing most of the time because it means less challenge and threat from the outside world. For me my gender expression is often relational sometimes even situational but for others it is entirely internal.
So what being non-binary means is different for everyone. If you have a non-binary friend or colleague then you will gradually get to know what being non-binary means to them. Pay attention to your own experiencing. Do you relate to them differently on different days, do they present differently or is it something more subtle: a use of different words, a different emotional range?
Why do we need more than two pronouns?
When you’re on the inside it can be really hard to respond to this question non-defensively, to empathise with the questioner rather than to jump to “gah, not that tired old GCSE biology question again!” but it is a genuine question and deserves a genuine answer:
She / he work perfectly well for most of the population, but for a small number they just don’t fit with who we are. Pronouns are a way to express to you our internal reality and for you to show that you understand something about us. They/them/themself is the most common non-binary pronoun but there are others. If in doubt ask.
It’s worth noting that not all non-binary people use gender neutral pronouns, many are he or she, for some their pronouns will change depending on which aspect is most present.
But there are only two genders, I don’t understand!
That’s OK, you don’t need to understand. Perhaps you are part of the massive majority for whom it quite frankly doesn’t matter. You’re totally secure in your gender identity and that’s super OK too. We don’t need you to understand at a cellular level, just accept that we exist. I don’t understand cats but I totally accept that they exist and I value them for their beauty, not their seat stealing and mouse catching abilities.
If you are trying to understand because you want to relate to a non-binary person in your life, or your own non-binary identity then get in touch. Let Chrysalis be your safe space to explore understanding.
What’s going on in the world of work then?
Last week was all about planning and discussion. Dawn and I spent a large part of the week closeted together on Teams talking about Beyond Lockdown – how Chrysalis can coexist with Covid, are you interested in shaping the future of your charity, have you responded to your consultation invitation yet? If you want in and haven’t got an invite then contact Dawn firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have never come to Chrysalis but really want to then this is as much an event for you as for those of us who have been involved for years.
On Friday the team got together for a User Stories Workshop, thanks to volunteer Ross who is acting technical lead on our CRM project, it really does feel like we are genuinely on the path to having a fully integrated data management system that will keep us in touch with all of you, make it easy to raise money for us, and give me accurate data to show all of our activities. It’s no good me knowing how hard everyone is working if I can’t shout about it to you all.
Speaking of shouting about how good the charity is we’ve a Trustee Meeting this Wednesday and I’m looking forward to introducing two potential new board members. Chrysalis continues to grow and develop and a strong, talented board is essential to this.
Later today I’ve a meeting to talk about better healthcare support for trans people in our area, this is probably one of the most exciting developments of the year. Watch this space.
Tuesday I’m at an LGBT+ Foundation consultation event talking about the impact of Covid-19 and lockdown on trans and non-binary people as well as more work on our User Stories
Thursday Southampton Voluntary Services are hosting a Looking to the Future event which I am rather looking forward to and then on Friday I’ve a meeting with Caroline Dinenage MP for Gosport. Our letters have certainly brought us to the attention of more MPs and we have had several come back asking for more information about us, the work we do, and the impact of all the hurt, hate and discrimination on trans people.
And on that positive note I will bid you adeiu, and would you look at that, blog written before 10am!