Photo by Adam Hester, via Getty.

100 Ways to Make the World Better for Non-Binary People

Respecting people's pronouns, and 99 other easy things.

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Jun 22 2018, 6:28pm

Photo by Adam Hester, via Getty.

Non-binary identity is more visible than ever in the mainstream media, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to safety, support, opportunities, understanding—or any of the other things many non-binary people actually need.

In a world with governments hostile towards LGBTQ people, specifically trans and non-binary people (cough, U.S.A., cough), we need our cis allies to use their privilege to champion equality. And with an epidemic of trans and non-binary folks being murdered, specifically trans women of color, we need to examine the ways in which continuing to enforce a binary-gendered society is violent, and work to make it safer.

As a trans, non-binary advocate and educator, I’m continually asked: how do I be a good ally? Compiled via my experiences as a non-binary person and crowdsourced insights from my awesome friends on social media, here is a list of 100 ways to make the world better for non-binary folks. While the following is not the Definitive Cis Allyship List, it’s a great place to start.

1. There is no one non-binary experience. Celebrate and accept nuance. Embrace the contradictory and confusing. Be comfortable with not knowing everything.

2. Accept that a non-binary person’s identity is about them, NOT you. (Feel uncomfortable? That’s for you to reflect on. Not to express to your non-binary friend who you’re using as your therapist.)

3. I know I just said it, but let me say it again: there is no singular non-binary experience. So, no sweeping generalizations, please.

4. That means, if one non-binary person says something—like using multiple pronouns for them—is OK, that doesn’t mean it’s OK for everyone.

5. On a related note: don’t make assumptions. Not just about non-binary folks. But about EVERYTHING related to gender.

6. Accept that you can never know someone’s gender by just looking at them. Yes. Take it in. Until we can read minds, we can just never know.

7. So, when you don't know someone’s—anyone’s—pronouns, default to “they/them”! Even the people whose gender you think seems obvious. See #5.

8. Recognize how often you may attribute a binary gender to everyday things: holding doors open, paying for the check, housework, buying flowers… Take those stereotypes and throw them into a deep, deep, abyss where they will be swallowed up forever.

9. Completely erase the phrases “all men…” and “all women…” from your vocabulary.

10. In fact, burn any remaining copies of “Men Are From Mars, Women are from Venus.” Seek them out if you must.

11. Accept that “girl” is not gender neutral. Yes, even among queer folks! Even if you know non-binary people who are OK with being called “girl,” that doesn’t mean we all are.

12.“Dude” is not gender neutral, either. Even if you—or they—ride a skateboard.

13.We’re taught that “sir” and “ma’am” are polite, especially to strangers and in customer service. But actually, these words misgender and hurt people all the time. You can stop using them and still stay polite.

14. Stop saying “the opposite gender/sex.” There aren’t only two genders (or sexes!).

15. Also stop saying “the two genders,” “either gender,” etc. I hope you’re recognizing a pattern here.

16. Not only are there not just two genders, there aren’t just three genders. There are literally infinite genders. As well as people without gender. The limit does not exist!

17. Don’t ask individuals to be the spokesperson for all non-binary people. (Bonus tip: This goes for every marginalized identity!)

18. Non-binary people can identify as non-binary men or non-binary women. If you’re confused, that’s OK. Remember: It’s not about you! It’s about respecting individuals’ identities! Yay!

19. So, don’t freak out when non-binary people don’t use “they” pronouns. Non-binary people can use any pronouns they want. Some use “he” or “she” or “ze.” Some non-binary people don’t use any pronouns, and only want to be called by their name.

20. Research the history of non-binary identities across cultures.

21. Particularly, the history of colonialism by Western Imperialists. Maria Lugones' The Coloniality of Gender is a great place to start.

22. Expand your understanding of non-binary identity beyond the English language. Many other languages don’t have a singular “they.” Listen to non-binary folks who speak languages other than English—they’re experts on their own experiences.

23. Immediately stop reading and watch this video of an Argentine girl explaining why “les” is an important gender neutral pronoun in Spanish. Watch your heart grow three sizes.

24. Understand that “non-binary” is both an umbrella term as well as a word one can identify as. One person may identify as just “non-binary,” other people may say they’re “non-binary genderfluid.” Reflect back the language that people use about themselves.

25. Learn that “cis-” and “trans-” are Latin prefixes and not new words from Tumblr. Oh wait, you just learned it by reading this just now! (You’re welcome.)

26. Also, it’s OK if you learned about what non-binary is from Tumblr. It’s valid to learn new things from the Internet. It’s lots of peoples’ first access to ideas that they’re not exposed to IRL. The learning is what matters.

27. Don’t make a big hubbub if a non-binary person dresses in a stereotypically/traditionally binary way. Dresses and bowties don’t have genders. It’s going to be OK.

28. Recognize that gender expression is not the same as gender identity, though they can be closely intertwined. Also, cisgender people can express themselves in ways that are non-conforming to binary norms. I know stores are broken up by gender, but guess what? They’re not the boss of you, or anyone else.

29. Recognize that, in addition to not knowing someone’s gender by looking at them, you can’t know a non-binary person’s sexual orientation (or lack of) just because of their gender (or how they look).

30. Also, recognize that non-binary people can be ANY sexuality—including straight, aromantic, asexual, queer, lesbian, bisexual, gay, and so on.

31. Don’t default to honorifics like Mrs., Ms., and Mr. Some non-binary honorifics include Mx. and M. I also enjoy “Your Highness,” personally.

32. Stop using your one non-binary friend as an excuse for your unsavory behavior, such as repeatedly insisting that “dude” is gender neutral. “But I have a non-binary friend that said that it’s OK…” is NOT a phrase you should ever utter.

33. This one goes for trans and non-binary people, too: Don’t use the term “two-spirit” if you’re not an Indigenous person, even if it is an option on OKCupid. Just stop.

34. Add your pronouns to your e-mail signature to normalize disclosing pronouns.

35. Add your pronouns to your social media and other bios, too.

36. In fact, just go ahead and do those things right now, since I know you’re online.

37. Correct people when they misgender your non-binary friend, not just when the friend is present. In fact, especially when they’re not present.

38. Correct yourself when you misgender someone.

39. Let your non-binary friends know that you support them. Explicitly. Regularly. Without expectation.

40. Share your resources with other cis folks. Become a teacher. Start a conversation. Use your privilege to take that burden off of non-binary folks—even if it’s in ways that aren’t on this list! Use your imagination.

41. Practice removing assumed gender descriptors from storytelling, particularly about strangers. Instead of “that man in the red,” use “that tall person in the red.” Question why gendering folks is important to your anecdote. (Spoiler alert: it’s not!).

42. Give your pet gender-neutral pronouns like “they.” This is awesome practice. (And ask me about my rant on how we can never know animals’ genders since they can’t speak to us…)

43. End the “gender reveal party” tradition. Have cake and balloons and a zodiac reveal party instead! In fact, just have cake and balloons whenever you want.

44. And when your friend is going to have a baby, don’t ask the gender. Like, why?

45. Relearn pink and blue as colors that do not have genders. And when you buy stuff for your friends’ babies, buy them in colors other than blue and pink.

46. Raise and interact with children with non-binary gendered language from the start.

47. Seek out extracurriculars for your kids that are not split up by binary gender, and if you’re a teacher, don’t split up groups based on binary gender.

48. Even for adults no longer in school: when your office puts on team building activities, don’t create “boys vs. girls teams.”

49. If you’re assigning singing parts, think of “low voices/high voices” verses “male voices/female voices.”

50. Bosses, teachers, and anyone reading off a roster: always include chosen pronouns when introducing folks and create an opportunity for people to share their pronouns when introducing themselves.

51. Put some all-gender terms in your back pocket. Here are some to start off your collection: customer, patron, folk(s), people, person, individuals…

52. Specficially, stop using the phrase “ladies and gentlemen.” I offer you instead: “distinguished guest” or “esteemed guest” which are both gender inclusive, and much fancier!

53. Instead of “boys and girls” use “children/kids.”

54. Learn the delightful phrase, “guys, gals, and non-binary pals.” Use it liberally.

55. In religious spaces, such as in church, replace “brothers and sisters” with “siblings.” For example: “Siblings in Christ.”

56. Use non-gendered terms for professions such as “firefighter” instead of “fireman” or “firewoman.” (The answer to your question about “postman”: use “mail carrier.”)

57. Push for de-gendered dress codes, even if gendered dressed codes don’t bother you personally. (One more time for the people in he back: It’s not about you!)

58. Ask your school and/or company to get trained on transgender and non-binary cultural competency.

59. Use “enby” as a shortening of “non-binary” instead of “nb.” “NB” is already used by the Black community to mean “Non-Black” such as in “NBPOC.” Respect that this usage came first.

60. Internalize that a doctor says you are, whether male, female, or intersex is a combo of one’s chromosomes and genitals. That has no bearings on what gender a baby grows up to be!

61. Also: Acknowledge the work of intersex folks when it comes to third gender advocacy, such as at InterACT.

62. Understand that some non-binary folks have gender-affirming surgery. They’re still non-binary.

63. Understand that some non-binary folks take hormones. They’re also still non-binary.

64. Understand that non-binary folks who never have surgery or take hormones are, you guessed it, still non-binary.

65. Reject the idea that there is a “non-binary look.” While the media feeds us images of skinny, white, androgynous/masculine, able-bodied folks, this is not representative of the breadth of the non-binary community.

66. Non-binary folks’ appearance/gender expression may depend on the access they have to the clothes, cosmetics, accessories, hormones, and medical procedures they want. Recognize that.

67. Non-binary folks’ appearance/gender expression may also depend on their safety. In a world that is hostile towards non-cis folks, particularly trans folks, particularly trans women of color, dressing in a “binary way” because of safety can literally be a matter of life or death. Got it?

68. Know that non-binary folks may present a different way on different days or all the time depending on how they feel on that damn day! Just like…everybody else.

69. Try to put yourself in the shoes of a non-binary person who can only choose between a multi-stall Men’s or Women’s rest room. Just take a moment.

70. If you see someone whose gender expression confuses you in a bathroom, don’t stare. Just mind your own business. It is a bathroom, after all.

71. Call out when single stall bathrooms have a binary-gendered label on them. The single stall bathroom in your home is all-gender. All bathrooms should be.

72.Don’t be afraid to ask honest questions, such as someone’s pronouns. It may feel awkward, but it’s more awkward and painful to misgender someone.

73. Haven’t asked someone for their pronouns before? That’s OK! Don’t get worked up about it, and just say “Oh, by the way, what pronouns do you use?” or “By the way, my pronouns are _____. Can I ask yours?”]

74. But also: become best friends with Google! Say it with me: “Google is my friend!” Take the initiative to look up the questions you have rather than asking for the emotional education and labor of a non-binary person.

75. Don’t expect praise for being an ally. Respect for others is a minimum pre-requisite for being human.

76. Learn how to make mistakes. For example, if you misgender someone, all you need is to correct yourself and MOVE ON. Do not extend the moment of embarrassment and awkwardness, do not berate yourself repeatedly about how “hard” using correct pronouns are or how hard you’re trying.

77. Just learn how to apologize. Gracefully.

78. Stop any invasive questions about peoples’ bodies that you may have. What’s under their clothes is absolutely not your business, just the same as for cis folks.

79. Be conscious of the words you use, even as compliments. Some non-binary people are OK with being called “beautiful” or “handsome” while others are not. Not sure how to tell your friend they look great? You can ask them what words they prefer!

80. Accept that non-binary people are not a fad or a new trend. Also accept that the increase of mainstream coverage of non-binary identity may have been a stepping stone for folks to understand their own identities—they’re not copying anyone.

81. Celebrate non-binary parents! Some parents may celebrate “Mother’s Day” or “Father’s Day,” and some may feel totally uncomfortable and erased. Check in with your non-binary parent friend to see what feels best for them. And heck, write them a Parent’s Day Card to make any day special for them.

82. Also celebrate auncles! (A word for non-binary siblings of your parents, aka an alternative to aunt or uncle! Alternatives include pibling, ommer, and om.)

83. And niblings! (A word for non-binary children of your siblings, aka an alternative to niece or nephew!)

84. Be specific and inclusive when you discuss bodies. For example: stop associating pregnancy solely with women. All kinds of people can get pregnant!

85. The same goes for periods, of course.

86. Advocate for third gender markers where you live (states in the U.S. like California, Oregon, and Washington already have them for birth certificates.)

87. And if you’re in a management position, make sure the paperwork at your company has them.

88. Read writing—not just books, but articles, blog posts, and interviews—by non-binary authors.

89. Listen to music by non-binary individuals, not just on streaming services, but indie platforms as well.

90. Follow enby folks on social media. (Like me!) It will broaden your worldview to have as many different enby voices on your timeline.

91. Support enby folks through sites like Cash App, PayPal, Venmo, Patreon, Ko-Fi. Being non-binary can hugely affect someone’s ability to make money. Redistribute that cis wealth!

92. Refuse to be a part of an all-cis anything: panel, showcase, listicle, etc.

93. And when you include non-binary folks in your event—don’t add on folks as an addendum or footnote. While some non-binary folks may be OK attending a “womens” or “women and femmes” event, not all are. When I see “women and non-binary people welcome,” I wonder about our masculine of center non-binary folks, non-binary men, and trans men. Are we welcome? Does it depend on how we look on the day of the event? Be clear and consider language carefully.

94. Stand up for non-binary folks when the trolls are trolling. (Which is basically always.)

95. Don’t erase non-binary folks from statistics. Challenge when facts and figures only count “men and women.”

96. Non-binary people can feel a certain kind of imposter syndrome by living in a society that continuously reinforces the idea that there are only two genders. Call out people who insist that there are only two genders—that can help!

97. Challenge when gender drop-downs say “Men,” “Women,” and “Transgender.” Good intent may be there, but yikes is that wrong. Remember that “transgender” and “cisgender” are adjectives, not nouns or genders themselves.

98. You know about spectrums, but think of gender as a galaxy. Not 2D or 3D, but multi-dimensional, ever expanding, ever growing, and infinite.

99. Audre Lorde once said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” Non-binary people are Black, Brown, Indigenous, people of color, sex workers, undocumented, immigrants, disabled, poor, incarcerated, elderly, and a number of other marginalized identities. Understand that non-binary people come from all backgrounds and life experiences; that non-binary people are real and valid.

100. Accept that there will always be more to learn. Be game to continue learning.

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