10 Things you Shouldn’t Say to a Non-Binary Person (and why)

08 Sep 2017

Non-binary people get a lot of stick on the internet and IRL for their perceived gender expression. The reasons behind these bullying behaviours can range from ignorance to aggression and often come down to fear. For some reason, the fact that gender is a spectrum rather than a binary (consisting of two parts) really pisses some people off to the point that they take to the internet to rant and rage about it in aggressive and sometimes violent ways.

In addition to this hatred online, non-binary people are often met with would-be allies, who rather than aggressively deny their existence, simply just don’t quite understand yet – and that’a fair enough, gender is a complex thing. In an effort to understand, they sometimes end up saying things that others might find hurtful.

Here are some examples of things, which if you’re gender non-conforming, you’ll probably find all too familiar. On the other hand, if you’re guilty of a few of these, take notes:

1. “That’s so in  right now…”

Facepalm. A persons’ identity isn’t a fashion statement. The reason you’re hearing a lot more about non-binary people these days, is because people are beginning to talk more critically about gender instead of brushing it under the carpet, and that’s a good thing.

2. “It’s just a phase”

Nope. Nope and nope. A phase is when you’re a toddler and you become infatuated with toy tractors for a few weeks before moving on to pink elephants and finally graduating to Lego – gender identity is not a phase.

3.”But, you have a penis, so you’re a guy.”

Wrong. Some people who have penises aren’t guys, some people who have vaginas aren’t women. Gender and sex are different. So the junk in your trunk does not necessarily have anything to do with your gender expression.

4. “Non-binary = Gay”

Think again. Gender and sexuality are also different. Gender expression is personal and not related to who you fancy.

5. “There are only two genders – end of story”

Negative. Gender is a spectrum. Despite how angry this statement unfortunately makes some people, it’s true. The idea that there are only two genders is reductive and polarising. It restricts people’s freedom of expression and is proven to be damaging to their mental health.

6. “Isn’t ‘they’   a bit confusing – like, are there two of you or something?”

Not really. If we can grasp the fundamentals of language before we hit 2, we’re pretty sure you can understand this. When you get a text from an unknown number and you’re mate says “did they say who they were?” You’re referring to one person, but you don’t know the gender – so you use ‘they’. Well, this is kinda the same thing. Instead of going by She or He, a non-binary person might opt for ‘they’, it ain’t rocket science – respect a person’s pronouns.

7. “You can’t use this bathroom.”

Srsly guys? Does your bathroom at home have those little symbols on the door to dictate which toilet your family members can and can’t use? 🚹🚺 …unlikely! 🙄

8. “Are you going to have ‘The Surgery?'”

👎🏽. Not all non-binary people hope to transition to male or female, some people are happy being non-binary. The point is that they don’t identify by either gender completely so by asking them this question, you kind of imply that they aren’t really ‘whole’ until they have the correct equipment and make the transition to one or the other, and we all know that’s silly, right?

9. “You look like a girl/guy”

C’mon this one’s obvious… You wouldn’t usually comment on someone’s appearance, its basic politeness 101. So, why would you comment on which gender they do or don’t resemble?

10. “So, what exactly are  you?”

Unless you’re faced with a half unicorn, half shark who’s striped like a zebra but has webbed feet and a lion’s mane who quacks like a duck and walks like an aligator, it’s totally, completely, universally, entirely, unreservedly, and categorically not ok to ask any person ‘what’ they are. End of story.

Got any more questions? The Ditch the Label community is a safe space to discuss issues surrounding gender identity – give it a try. 

Related: What it’s Like to be a Trans, Non-Binary Couple: We Interviewed Fox and Owl

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