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How to Challenge Nonbinaryphobia.

For International Non-Binary Day, guest writer Dee Whitnell explores how nonbinaryphobia manifests across society and within the LGBTQ+ community itself, as well as what we can do to combat it.

A purple and cream duotone photo of Dee, a white nonbinary person with short black and pink hair. They are wearing a dark corset top with ribbon ties at the shoulders, large wire framed glasses and silver jewellery. Their arms and chest are tattooed.

This year's International Nonbinary Day (IND) feels different to me. Not only on a personal level but a global and legal one. In recent months I have been bombarded with Nonbinaryphobic comments on my social media. I have had my identity erased from people outside and also within the community. I have had to educate others on my identity daily. Legally in the UK, I have zero recognition or protection.

As IND falls in Pride season, you would think we would be celebrating our community, but this year I am struggling to celebrate when my identity is being attacked from all angles. As Nonbinary identities continue to be neglected, I am on a mission to ensure that future generations of Nonbinary folks don’t feel this way. If you want to join me in this mission, you must be an active ally.

Nonbinaryphobia within the LGBTQ+ community.

Nonbinaryphobia, or enbyphobia, is discrimination or prejudice towards Nonbinary individuals. Since coming out I have experienced a lot of hate from within the LGBTQIA+ community itself, particularly from Binary Trans individuals. As a rather fluid individual, my identity is frequently questioned, mocked or erased... ‘You’re mocking the entire Trans+ community’, ‘Nonbinary isn’t real, you’re a trans-trender’ are just two examples of real comments I have received from fellow Trans+ people. 

So why are Trans+ people attacking Nonbinary folks? One belief is that it is coming from a place of self-protection, validating their own identities through attacking other community members that our cisheteronormative society is still trying to get its head around. Generally, I believe it comes from a place of misunderstanding and/or a lack of Nonbinary people in that individual person’s life.

Nonbinaryphobia in the wider world.

I’ve also faced Nonbinaryphobia and erasure within the health system, when accessing reproductive care or mental health support. Sadly I’ve felt as if I have had to leave my identity at the door to ensure I receive the care and support I need from professionals. Enduring misgendering just to receive the medication I need because explaining my identity isn’t worth their time. And even though I end up receiving the care I need, I have to then unpack the misgendering and deadnaming, which takes a huge toll on my mental and physical health. I’ve left many doctors appointments sobbing from the intense misgendering or use of language which doesn’t affirm me.

With many Nonbinary people also identify as Trans, we are fighting the same fight. Barriers that Trans+ people face are similar or often the same as Nonbinary people. Toilet access, health and gender-affirming care, the pressure of passing, legal recognition, are a few areas where Trans+ and Nonbinary people's lives crossover. The infighting is taking energy away from what we should be prioritising: fighting for the rights of our entire community.

While much of the discrimination that Trans+ and Nonbinary folks face is the same or similar, there are some differences. One of the most common Nonbinaryphobic comments I have received is ‘you can’t be Nonbinary because you don’t look androgynous 24/7’ - and that’s true, I don’t look androgynous all the time and that doesn’t invalidate my enbyness. I am extremely fluid in my expression. I find on days when I am more fem presenting I am on the receiving end of more erasure. Since the term “Nonbinary” was coined many have developed the misconception that the only way to be truly Nonbinary is to be androgynous, to fit neatly in between how society views men and women but there isn’t one way to be or look Nonbinary. I may be fluid in my expression but other Nonbinary folks may be masc, fem or androgynous presenting, all ways of being Nonbinary are valid and we get to decide how we present ourselves.

Legally Nonbinary.

In the UK, Nonbinary isn’t a legally recognised identity. This means I can’t have ‘Nonbinary’ as my gender identifier on any legal documents, so what do I have to put? My assigned sex/gender at birth, which leads to unnecessary and harmful misgendering whenever I need to provide ID or complete documents. 

The lack of legal recognition for Nonbinary individuals means we are not only misgendered in life, but in death too. Many Nonbinary folks are dead named and misgendered on their death certificates. I fear that my gravestone will say ‘Daughter, wife, mother’ one day, alongside my deadname.

I also cannot marry as a Nonbinary individual. I would have to marry either as a woman/wife, or as a same-sex or different-sex civil partnership, which still misgenders me. This is something that previously didn’t bother me as someone who didn’t care about tying the knot. Since turning 25, the idea of marriage has become more appealing, but not if I would have to marry as something I am not. We too deserve marriage equality like other members of our community.

What can we do?

While many of the issues I have raised are legal ones which demands government input, there are things allies can do on an everyday basis for their Nonbinary peers or coworkers:

1) Challenge Nonbinaryphobia when you see it just as you would challenge Transphobia or Homophobia.

Just as we have seen a wave of EDI training and awareness around supporting our Trans coworkers and peers, we need to ensure that we are doing the same for Nonbinary individuals. Whether it’s a casual conversation where someone misgenders your peer, or someone actively discriminating against Nonbinary identities, it’s vital to challenge it when you see or hear it. Nonbinaryphobia is real and we need to tackle it just as we tackle other discrimination.

2) Call it what it is: Nonbinaryphobia.

There is power in naming something and I think it’s vital to call this what it is. By giving the discrimination that Nonbinary people face a name, we challenge it head on. If you see someone making a joke about gender neutral pronouns, call it out as Nonbinaryphobia, not just a tasteless joke. If you hear a ‘I identify as’ joke, call it out. If you hear someone purposely misgendering someone or making up pronouns to poke fun at those who use they/them or neopronouns, call it out.

On an organisation level, it’s important to address Nonbinaryphobia in your code of conduct, to hold employees accountable and to show true solidarity to Nonbinary and Gender-nonconforming folks.

3) Educate yourself.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been the only Nonbinary person in a workplace, and therefore have had to educate my employer/fellow employees, or even adapt inclusion policies because they did not cover my identity. Please do not rely on a Nonbinary person to come into your workplace and educate you or create policies, and please do not wait until you have a Nonbinary employee to do so. Check over your policies, processes, and systems to reduce bias and binary options. Things like using gender neutral language in documents, ensuring gender selection on forms allows for more than just man or woman, gender neutral toilets on site, and incorporating pronoun sharing in your company profiles before a Nonbinary person steps into your office go a long way.

To my Nonbinary siblings, know that you are valued, valid and loved - and I do hope you celebrate IND, even in times like this, we need moments of celebration and Trans+ joy.

A photo of Dee, a white nonbinary person with short black and pink hair. They are wearing a dark corset top with ribbon ties at the shoulders, large wire framed glasses and silver jewellery. Their arms and chest are tattooed.

Dee Whitnell (they/he/she)

Dee Whitnell is a nonbinary and queer sex educator and content creator. They are a qualified RSHE Educator through Acet Esteem and were previously a content creator and on-site sexpert for Pink News. They have collaborated with and created educational content for charities and companies such as Just Like Us, Brook, Durex, Lovehoney, Ohne and Urban Outfitters. Dee has an MA in Gender, Sexuality and Culture from Birkbeck University.


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