It’s been a given for a very long time that most people, including some transgender people, identify as either male or female. But there has been a lot of discussion in this arena lately, pointing out that many people don’t easily identify with the terms ‘male/man’, ‘female/woman’. For example, some people have a gender identity that blends elements of both primary genders, while others have a gender that simply does not relate to ‘male’ or ‘female’. And, of course, some people don’t identify with any gender at all and other people’s gender changes over time.
How can allies support gender sensitive youth, and affirm their gender identity at the same time? New research from The Trevor Project that polled over 34,700 youth, with about 9,000 respondents all gave the same answer: by using the correct name and pronouns to refer to them.
Understanding the nonbinary terms
People whose gender is not male, or female use many different terms to describe themselves, with ‘non-binary’ being one of the more common. Other terms include queer, gender non-confirming, genderfluid, genderqueer, androgynous, agender, demigirl, demiboy, genderflux and bigender. None of these terms mean exactly the same thing – but all speak to an experience of gender that is more complicated than simply male or female.
Showing respect for diversity – affirming nonbinary youth
According to the report, one survey responder said, “It makes me extremely happy when people respect and use my correct pronouns, and I could literally happy cry.” Others mentioned feeling affirmed when people used gender-neutral compliments, or compliments not associated with the gender that youth were assigned at birth. One respondent described their friends calling them “thude” or “a mix of they and dude” as something that makes them feel good about their gender. Affirming relationships with parents, siblings, friends, and partners were also a frequently cited source of affirmation and happiness for nonbinary youth.
Researchers reported that more than a quarter of the LGBTQ youth polled identified as nonbinary. An additional 20 percent said they are not sure or are questioning whether they identify as nonbinary. Up to this point nonbinary identities have been largely lumped into the category of ‘transgender’, and half of the study participants nonbinary youth also identify as transgender.
How We Got to Nonbinary
Non-binary people have always been a part of society, in every culture. Contrary to what some may say, it is not a new fad and nonbinary people aren’t suddenly confused about their gender identity. When talking about two genders “gender binary,” means “having two parts”, and in this case male and female. The term “non-binary” is currently used to describe genders that don’t fall into either category, male or female. Non-binary identities have been recognized for millennia by cultures and societies around the world.
Suicide is a problem – respect for nonbinary youth is an answer
Nonbinary youth who reported that “no one” respected their pronouns had more than 2.5x the rate of attempting suicide compared to those who reported that “all or most of the people” they know respected their pronouns. Among those who didn’t have anyone in their life who respected their pronouns, 27% attempted suicide in the past year. The rate of attempting suicide in the past year dropped to 15% when a lot of people respected their pronouns and 10% when all or most people respected their pronouns.
How to Be Respectful and Supportive of Non-Binary People
It isn’t as difficult be supportive and respectful of non-binary people, even if it’s a new concept. It is not necessary to fully understand what it means for someone to be non-binary in order to respect them.
- Use the name a person asks to be used
- Don’t make assumptions based on appearances
- When uncertain what term to use, ask
- Get to know non-binary people to learn more about who they are
Researchers say the findings of the survey emphasize the need for policies that affirm nonbinary youth in their identities, including respecting their pronouns and allowing them to change their name and gender marker on legal documents like driver’s licenses and birth certificates>
“Being that something as simple as respecting pronouns can be life-saving, we must work to expand training and improve understanding of transgender and nonbinary identities among schools, medical facilities, and youth-serving organizations and adults,” said researchers.
LGBTQIA+ Affirming Therapy
Dr. Holland’s clients often come to therapy experiencing significant stress resulting from living under circumstances where their cultural, sexual, or gender identities are not fully recognized or validated. This is known as Minority Stress. Dr. Holland incorporates a combination of systemic, interpersonal and humanistic approaches to develop a meaningful connection with her clients. She also uses therapeutic approaches are validated by years of scientific and behavioral health study. The goal of these approaches is to help clients develop insight into the behaviors and relationship patterns that are causing personal issues. This leads to an exploration of new ways of being and expression.
Dr. Holland has personal interest and professional experience in this arena. Patients report feeling comforted by the LBGTQI A+ affirming symbols which are displayed in her office. If you are experiencing social rejection, discrimination, harassment, verbal and physical bullying or other daily stressors associated with living LGBTQIA+, you will certainly benefit from the work of Dr. Holland.
Contact Dr. Holland to learn more and to schedule an appointment or call 707-479-2946.
Article Sources: The Trevor Project
National Center for Transgender Equality – Understanding Non-Binary People