Non-Binary People’s Day: Non-binary people aren’t “new” or “trendy”

Non-Binary People’s Day: Non-binary people aren’t “new” or “trendy”

July 14th is Non-Binary People’s Day – a day to celebrate and raise awareness of people who identify outside of the man/woman gender binary. While many people talk about non-binary gender as though it’s something “new” that young people are just doing “for attention”, the fact is that cultures around the world have had traditions of non-binary gender for thousands of years, of which Two-Spirit Indigenous Canadians are just one example.

Non-binary people are often accused of “cramming” our “made-up” genders down “people’s throats”. But our society’s strict gender binary makes it extremely hard for non-binary people to live our lives without constantly having to teach impromptu Gender 101 classes to everyone we encounter.

As a non-binary person who came out as transgender at the start of the pandemic, here are just some of the situations that I have encountered in past year that have forced me to teach strangers about my gender in order to conduct my daily business.

  • Getting misgendered by official documents like school and employment records
  • Being unable to get medical care without being misgendered because Ontario Health Cards do not have a non-binary option
  • Having to misgender myself while job searching because of lack of a non-binary option
  • Nearly always being misgendered by service workers, even while wearing a face mask featuring they/them pronouns
  • Having to choose between remaining silent or correcting a coworker in public when they don’t respect my pronouns
  • Getting left out of Mother’s and Father’s Day activities at my kid’s school
  • Being intentionally misgendered by a childcare worker at my kid’s school
  • Being unable to find therapists qualified to treat non-binary people
  • Having to pay out of pocket for transition-related care because my doctor didn’t know anything about transgender or non-binary medical needs
  • Having to opt out of extended family gatherings because virulently anti-trans family members would be at an event

That’s only a small number of examples. Unfortunately, non-binary people don’t so much “come out” as they become unpaid Gender Studies and Queer Theory professors for everyone around them.

So, what can cisgender (people who are not trans and/or non-binary) do to make it less exhausting to be a non-binary person in our community, you might ask?

  1. You can’t know someone’s gender based on their appearance, so don’t assume you know someone’s gender because of how they look. Being misgendered is painful, but fear of provoking emotional or physical violence keeps many non-binary people from correcting people who misgender them. So instead, avoid gendered greetings like “sir” or “ma’am”, and avoid making references to someone’s gender (IE. “can you help this lady” or “this man is waiting”).
  2. Don’t stare at people you think may be transgender, non-binary, or otherwise gender non-conforming. You don’t need to know the gender of everyone around you. Also, it’s often impossible to tell the difference between someone who is staring because they’re curious and someone who is staring because they’re about to yell at you.
  3. Use Google to educate yourself. There are a wealth of resources online that you can use to educate yourself about the basics of gender and issues faced by transgender and/or non-binary people. Avail yourself of those resources.
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IDAHOTB 2021: Together resisting, Supporting, and Healing

IDAHOTB 2021: Together resisting, Supporting, and Healing

Created in 2004, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia exists to draw attention to the violence and discrimination experienced by LGBTQ2+ people. It is observed on May 17th to commemorate the World Health Organization’s declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder, which did not occur until 1990.

While strides have been made with regard to equality for people with marginalized sexual orientations, LGBTQ2+ people still do not have equal rights. And while people have grown more accustomed to gay and lesbian relationships, discrimination against Bisexual and Pansexual people is still shockingly rampant. Bisexual people experience higher rates of violence and are less likely to receive critical health screenings than gay men and lesbians.

People attracted to multiple genders also have much lower social support than gay men and lesbians. Bisexual people are significantly less likely to be out to everyone in their lives. There is also still widespread distrust of Bisexual and Pansexual people as potential romantic partners, even within the LGBTQ2+ community. This inter-LGBTQ2+ discrimination means that Bisexual and Pansexual people both experience more severe marginalization and have less access to the social support needed to deal with that marginalization.

The escalation of hateful rhetoric over the “trans debate” in the United States and the UK is another painful reminder of how far we still have to go. Politicians fan the flames of transgender and non-binary hatred by “debating” their existence and pushing legislation aimed at banning them from public spaces and public life.

In the United States, more than 100 anti-trans bills have been proposed in 33 states banning things like trans participation in sports or even transition-related medical care. And while Canada, a notable haven for “rainbow refugees” and one of the first countries to legalize marriage equality, conversion “therapy” is still legal in half of the provinces.

There is no scientific evidence that a person’s gender or sexual orientation can be changed through “therapy”, and a wealth of evidence to support that people who experience conversion “therapy” experience lasting and irreparable harm. A third of men who survive conversion “therapy” go on to attempt suicide. And yet, there are federal MPs who are currently advocating against efforts to fully outlaw this outdated and unspeakably cruel practice.

This May 17th, LGBTQ2+ people need your support more than ever. LGBTQ2+ people have disproportionately suffered the economic and health impacts of COVID 19, and are doing their best to get by during a cultural moment in which it’s seen as acceptable to debate their very existence. So please ask yourself: what direct action can I take to support LGBTQ2+ people in my community, and what might that look like?

Whatever you decide, remember that silence is not an option if you truly care about the safety and well-being of LGBTQ2+ people in your community.

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Gender versus sexuality: the important difference

One of the issues that often comes up when discussing stories concerning the LGBTQ2+ community is confusion between gender identity and sexuality – two terms which refer to very different things but are commonly used interchangeably. In the last ten years, there has been growing awareness of the problems faced by transgender people. But the prevalence of negative responses to things like the coming out of Elliot Page highlight how far we still have to go.

What, then, is the difference? Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of self and the gender they feel like inside, which may or may not align with the gender they were assigned at birth. Sexuality, on the other hand, refers to the types of people someone is attracted to.

Doctors commonly assign infants one of two binary genders – male or female. But this overlooks the existence of intersex people (people whose biology is ambiguous) and erases the existence of people with genders outside the binary. Cultures around the world have included traditions of non-binary gender for thousands of years, of which Two-Spirit Indigenous Canadians are just one example.

For most people, the gender they identify as aligns with the gender they were assigned at birth and they experience attraction to members of the “opposite” binary gender. Because of the stigma against LGBTQ2+ in our society, this presumption of binary gender assigned at birth and heterosexuality is seen as the norm in our culture, while anyone who deviates from those norms of gender and sexuality is seen as deviant. The physical and emotional violence experienced by people with stigmatized genders and sexualities has long kept them silent, which only contributes to the illusion that such experiences are uncommon and abnormal.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible refute these assumptions with data. Governments are only just now beginning to consider the existence of LGBTQ2+ people in their data-gathering efforts. Statistics Canada recently concluded a consultation on the wording of a new question about gender identity and sexuality for the 2021 census, which would mark the very first time a Canadian census has gathered information about transgender, 2-Spirit, and non-binary people. But looking at smaller and more regional surveys of our region and Ontario as a whole shows that LGBTQ2+ people make up between 7% and 13% of the population.

And yet, many schools do not teach the difference between gender and sexuality until grade 8, well after the age in which most people have formed a firm sense of their gender identity and sexuality. And even then, parents have the ability to opt their children out of this curriculum, further contributing to the idea that even talking frankly about the existence of LGBTQ2+ is dangerous and an inappropriate conversation to have with children.

Sadly, the violence experienced by LGBTQ2+ people can never change as long as we continue to enforce ignorance of their experiences in our schools and community.

Basic resources to learn more about gender and sexuality:
Gender: More than just Pink and Blue
SPECTRUM’s LGBTQ2+ 101 Terminology and Reference Guide

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