Him and Her. He and She. Two words that establish identities without the need of one’s name today, two words used by society to create gender roles, create a system of power that discriminates against those who exist outside the ‘binary’.
Non-binary or gender-queer encompasses a wide spectrum of gender identities that are not a part of the conventional male-female gender binary. It can be bi-gender( identifying with two genders) or genderfluid (fluctuating genders) or even agender. The wide number of non-binary identities out there is also telling about the wide number of people being cast out by the rigid, orthodox belief in just the male-female dichotomy.
People identifying as non-binary face a multitude of problems including the inability to access education, work, housing, or healthcare without misgendering oneself, apart from facing a downpour of harassment and hate-crimes in their day-to-day activities.
The fundamental reason this community faces these issues everyday is due to people validating the belief of cis-normativity alone, i.e. assumption that everyone identifies within the gender assigned at birth.
Limited public visibility, and unchecked shunning, of non-binary identities makes the identity realisation process all the more difficult and even harder for those who have to come to terms with their own identity.
The pronouns “he” and “she” comes with a level of societal expectations and gender roles that can leave those who identify non-binary feeling isolated, further adding to the stress of their being and mental health. Linguistics was developed to cater solely to cis-hetero needs, blithely rendering non-binary folk invisible by not acknowledging their existence.
Using the correct pronouns is taking a stand against non-binary discrimination by showing your support and acceptance. It is a way, you, the (possibly) cis-hetero male/female reader, can promote inclusivity for transgender and gender queer individuals. Simply put, using the right pronouns is a way of you telling the other person that you see them as someone equally deserving of respect and dignity.
“So if the pronouns are plenty, then how am I supposed to address someone who I think is genderqueer or non-binary?”
That question is problematic.
For one, you cannot assume a person’s gender. There’s no such thing as “looking like” a ‘he’, a ‘she’ or a ‘they’. The only way you can use the right pronoun (and I cannot emphasize this any further) is to ask what pronoun they preferred to be addressed by.
A rule of thumb: if you don’t know what gender a person identifies by and can’t ask them, use gender-neutral pronouns like ‘they’.
Conventional pronouns have the effect of assigning a non-binary person a binary identity. The wrong pronouns would make anyone uncomfortable, it’s your responsibility to prevent that. Instead, use gender-neutral ones. Gender-neutral pronouns used by gender queer people are “they/them/their”. Others include, ‘zie’, hir, hirs and the list just goes on.
So why don’t we take up the responsibility of correcting our old-school (read: primitive) grammar rules and be responsible allies to the LGBTQA+ community? Two decades into the 21st century, it’s high time we take collective responsibility for the systemic oppression of non-binary individuals.
After all, it takes an entire society to oppress or uplift a community.
Written by Robin Cherian
Image Credits (in order): Getty Images ( Nadia_bormotova)
Alison Czinkota (Verywell)