Education is the key.
Many people in society (cisgender and transgender) fall under the male or female categories of gender. However, non-binary people are different. Some non-binary people experience a gender that blends elements of being male and female, or a gender that is entirely different than male or female. Some trans or gender-diverse people don't identify with any gender at all. It’s also possible that someone’s gender identity or gender experience changes over time. There are many different gender identities that fall under the non-binary umbrella. Now that you know what non-binary means how you can be an ally to non-binary people in your community?
First off, learn, use, and respect pronouns! This not only applies to trans or gender non-conforming people, but it’s a great habit to develop whenever you meet someone new; Whether it's she/her, he/him, they/them, or Zie/Zim. (Hint: There’s a great GLSEN resource titled, “Pronouns: A Resource for Educators”) It’s a great idea to ask what pronouns students use in the beginning of the school year and share your own. This normalizes the usage of correct pronouns within the classroom and may make those using uncommon pronouns feel less estranged.
Another way to normalize pronoun sharing could be something as simple as putting pronouns into one’s email signatures. All pronouns are valid and don’t necessarily correlate with someone’s gender expression.
Remember, It’s alright to mess up, it happens to all of us! However, don’t feel the need to fall into a puddle of apologies when it happens. By drawing more attention to the situation, it may alienate the parties involved (and makes conversation super awkward). Instead of freezing, just correct yourself and move on in the conversation or lesson; perhaps apologizing in private. They key to allyship in pronouns is maintaining patience in practice.
A note having to do with pronouns and names. When referring to a student, remember that it’s possible they are not “out” to others. This may include other teachers, students, family, etc. It’s imperative to a students safety that you have a discussion asking them what they go by at home with their parent/guardian. Although extremely unfortunate, students do experience being ‘outed’ at home via teacher communication or meetings with educators.
Similarly, it is very important to respect all other aspects of LGBTQ experience such as expression, gender identity, name, and manifestation of dysphoria or discomfort. Being a true ally is not a passive activity. It’s important to not only strive to understand and support minority voices, but use your privilege to amplify the needs of the communities you care about. If you hear an educator or student make an insensitive joke or use a slur (accidental or otherwise) stop the conversation and correct them. This could not only save the speaker from future errors, but prevent an uncomfortable situation for queer people they meet later down the line.
For educators, allyship plays a very important role for students within the classroom. Often when discussions about race, gender identity, religion, and sexual orientation occur, those who share their experiences feel wary of possible hostility. As applies to all students, it’s important that LGBTQ students feel supported and validated by their teachers. This may include actions such as facilitating a conversation with a class about queer-related curriculum and allowing students to develop their own narrative. It’s also important to stress that LGBTQ students shouldn’t be expected to share within these conversations, it’s about the aspect of choice, not enticement or discussion of someone’s personal identity.
Lastly, to be an ally is to not only advocate for, but respect all gender bathrooms. Many non-binary people have no choice but to walk into a bathroom that does not reflect their gender identity or expression. This often leads to choosing between the lesser of two evils. Understanding this dynamic and making all gender bathrooms available to students can help relieve their discomfort. Making sure that these bathrooms are used properly is just as important. There shouldn’t be people smoking, leaving toxic messages or disrespecting a public space. It should be treated like any other bathroom. Just as non-binary students should be treated with the same level of respect as their peers.
Ella Martinez is a GLSEN National Student Council Member.