We’re swinging back around into Summer again, and as we move into July, I feel the need to remind you that we’re a diverse population of people, and July 14th is International Non-Binary People’s Day.
Really not the right time of year for wearing a beanie, even a yellow one, but you won’t stop me! I’ve written about this topic before for the Institute of Acoustics, (https://www.ioa.org.uk/non-binary-peoples-day-14-july-2022) but it’s amazing to me just how fast it’s come around again! So lets discover together a little more about International Non-Binary People’s Day. Miller Goodall is proud to celebrate Non-Binary People’s Day and is committed to equality, inclusivity and safety within our organisation.
You may be wondering “Why is Non-Binary People’s Day on 14th July and not in Pride Month?” or something similar. Actually, it’s a very specific date that was selected to fall precisely between International Women’s Day on 8th March and International Men’s Day on 19th November.
I have previously written about acceptance of non-binary people and the distinct lack of support from the UK Government (spoiler alert: “Non-binary gender is not recognised in UK Law”1 and the UK Government is “Not aware that that results in any specific detriment…”1). I used the admittedly imperfect analogy of pets – you don’t have to be a cat or a dog person and it would be stupid to think those are the only two options. Maybe they are the most common, but birds, reptiles, insects, fish and arachnids all make great pets and shouldn’t be discounted. Yet gender identity is so often treated as an exclusively binary-only category – the news in March 2023 about Uganda instating the death penalty for LGBTQ+ peoples is a stark reminder that there is a long way to go.
However, I will stick to England and Wales because being British, it’s what I know it best. This is where roughly 45.7 million people responded to the census question “Is the gender you identify with the same as your sex registered at birth?” Most (93.5%) said that their gender identity was the same as their sex registered at birth, 6% declined to answer the question, and 0.54% responded that their gender identity was different in some way to that assigned at birth.
If we split that 6% of non-responses according to the same ratio as the national average i.e. 0.54% changed gender identity, we reach a conservative figure of approximately 277,660 people in the UK who do not identify with the gender binary. In case this is new terminology, binary gender is the view that one can only be “Man” or “Woman”.
This discounts well over quarter of a million people in the UK alone who do not identify with this binary gender.
In case you hadn’t noticed, humans LOVE to label things: If you think there are a lot of gender identities or collar-colours, I DARE you to do a web search for genres of metal music (I counted 70 on Wikipedia). For this reason, it makes sense to me that there are a lot of non-binary gender identities. Deep Purple is a great colour for a belt, and also overlaps with the heavy metal genre.
I know some people are wondering why any of this should matter because honestly, it is probable that you, the person reading this, are someone who identifies with a binary gender. However, humans are very sociable and can typically sustain up to 150 meaningful contacts, 500 acquaintances and recognise 1,500 unique faces. Statistically therefore, if you are binary, it’s highly likely that you are at least familiar with someone who isn’t. If that non-binary person is a friend of a friend, it would be good manners to respect their non-binary identity but if they’re a friend of yours or particularly if they’re a family member, it is vital that you accept and support them.
I’m not saying that you have to pay their bills for them, you don’t have to buy smart black trousers for them and I’m definitely not saying you should take responsibility away from them. Recognise instead that they likely face all of the same struggles that you face, but ALSO have specific problems that have never occurred to you. Something as simple as being a pre-op trans man and needing to use the bathroom can be incredibly stressful. For those who pass as binary (whether they are or not), it’s usually pretty simple but it’s a world of potential issues for someone who does not fit societal expectations of binary gender by appearance. Here’s a slightly exaggerated example, to highlight some of the potential issues that your non-binary acquaintances may face on a daily basis.
For today, our non-binary friend, let us call them Alex, needs to go to the bathroom. Alex was always a bit of a tom-boy growing up and liked to keep their hair short and do “boy things” like playing outside because obviously, going outside has to be gendered. Alex was early to puberty, and rapidly developed a large bust, with wider hips while maintaining a skinny waist – a perfect hourglass shape if we were to put a name to the description.
At 16, Alex is in the throes of puberty and now gets looks and comments when wearing flip-flops, board shorts and a vest – these are the same clothes as last summer but suddenly people are looking at Alex differently. Their body has changed, but they haven’t. The Doc Martens, cargo pants, black t-shirts and woolly hats last winter also started getting comments.
Alex lives, dresses, and often identifies towards the masculine which today, looks like a yellow beanie, a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a purple belt and black trousers. 100 years ago, this was very masculine-coded clothing, but thankfully, we’re able to accept that women can wear trousers. Now that they need to go to the bathroom though, Alex faces a cruel dilemma. Either, go to the male-coded bathroom (where they feel they belong today) or go to the “wrong” bathroom with the women and feel out of place.
Going in to the male-coded bathroom risks the awkwardness of trying to get a stall if it’s busy, or name calling, or the looks at “being a girl” in the “mens” room, or potentially being assaulted. After all, Alex isn’t a 6’ 6” rugby player able to prevent a fight with just a glance, Alex is 5’ 3” and often the shortest person in the bathroom. Personally, I’d be terrified in this situation. But the other option is for Alex to gaslight themselves and go to what feels like the wrong bathroom and face all the negative emotions around “failing” to be who they themselves or being “too weak” to just go to the right bathroom.
This may seem trivial, but it’s just one example of a very real difficulty faced daily by some (not all) non-binary people in the UK that you may not have considered before. For those who don’t identify with either end of the gender-spectrum, it can be even more challenging – writers Tyler Ford and Bogi Takάcs, law clerk Jennie June (born 1874!) and academic SJ Miller are all examples of agender / androgynous identity. This is without looking into the “freer” world of the arts where people are actively encouraged to explore their identity. There are myriad issues faced by non-binary people on a daily basis if not more frequently, and I won’t pretend to have considered them all. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to empathise with those facing other struggles though, we should be aware of our ignorance and gracious about it.
Privilege is not the giving of advantages to help individuals get ahead, it is the absence of barriers and obstacles preventing them progressing.
Before wrapping up, I’ve described Alex’s outfits numerous times in this blog post. While you may not have noticed it, the fact remains that it’s there if you look and you should be considered. I carefully selected the description for Alex’s clothing, it’s all clothing that I’ve worn, it’s possibly all clothing that you’ve worn. These are the colours of the Non-Binary Flag, yellow, white, purple, black, and I’d like you to remember that it’s not just a label, we are real people.
As always, I’m not a professional therapist or counsellor in any kind of way, but if you would ever like to talk, ask questions or discuss anything mentioned here, please feel free to reach out to me confidentially and I’ll be happy to talk to you.
1 Ministry of Justice response on 11 September 2015 to petition to “Allow transgender people to self-define their legal gender” https://petition.parliament.uk/archived/petitions/104639