Photo by Jasmyne Ray.
The first thing you have to understand when learning about non-binary genders and people is this: gender is a spectrum, just like sexuality. So I’m going to start you out with some basic knowledge. Your gender and your sex are not the same thing. Sex is biological. It’s what we associate our physical parts with. Gender is what children are assigned at birth according to their sex.
There are two traditional genders, called the binary genders: the masculine and the feminine. Non-binary is the catch-all phrase for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine. These are the identities that exist outside the binary genders and cisnormativity. (The normal set by those who are cisgender, meaning those who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth.)
Everyone’s gender identity is different, and everyone has a different way of coming into themselves. For me personally, I have always known that I do not identify as my birth gender. I just never had a word or idea of other genders until I set out for college. From my experience, one discovers they are non-binary by first questioning what it is to be one of the binary genders. For me it was a lifelong series of questions. It was not until recently that I even considered allowing a more feminine aspect of myself to emerge. I found myself after an afternoon of digging through various sites and definitions until I found one that spoke to me: genderfluid.
Genderfluid is a gender identity which refers to a changing gender. At any given time, a genderfluid individual may identify as male, female, a neutral in-between gender, any other non-binary identity or a combination of several. Being genderfluid is very similar to the flow of a river. It is constantly changing and altering itself. Genderfluid is only one of many identities within the spectrum.
There are those who do not see themselves as having any gender, called agender. Others see themselves as both masculine and feminine and are called androgynous. Those with multiple gender identities are called bi or pan gender, depending, and those with weak connections to a gender identity are called demigender. I know, I know, this is all overwhelming. It really is. Coming into the gender and sexuality spectrums is very disorienting. We have a lot of terms and overlap. It’s okay to not understand at the first info dump. What you can walk away knowing is how to better accommodate those who are non-binary.
Educate yourself. If someone tells you their gender identity then ask them about it. You are not being rude. As long as you ask in a polite and interested way, I promise that the majority of non-binary individuals will be thrilled to explain it to you. We know that the best way for you to know is to hear it from us.
Ask for people’s preferred pronouns, and actually use them. A lot of people in the non-binary community have preferred pronouns. I personally prefer the gender neutral them/they/theirs. Some like a combination of gender neutral and their birth gender. (Ex. They/his, they/hers) While some prefer the opposite of their birth genders, or another non-gendered option. If someone mentions they like a certain set of pronouns, or asks you to call them by something other than the pronoun you are using for them then make an effort to use the preferred pronouns. It means a lot to hear people use the correct pronouns.
If you slip up, then remember immediately after and correct yourself. We’ll still appreciate the effort. If we correct you, then just apologize and make an effort in the future to remember. It can be hard to remember, but it isn’t as hard as calculus or a medieval research paper. The non-binary community really just wants recognition and respect, but then, isn’t that what we all want?