The day was first celebrated in 2012. The date was chosen for being precisely between International Men's Day and International Women's Day.
The term non-binary (NB) and the non-binary identity is one of the LGBTQ+ topics which is possibly known or understood the least by members outside of the community. This is surprising when you look back at history: non-binary and gender nonconforming identities have existed for thousands of years, with the 'third gender' existing in early century Hindu texts and religions, and being revered in Southeast Asia from the 15th century onwards. To this day, it is estimated that approximately 3 million third-gender people live in India. (As of 2014. Further to this, many indigenous communities have recognised 'two-spirit' identities throughout their history, an umbrella term for 4 different gender identities (feminine female, masculine female, feminine male, masculine male), along with a separate transgender and gender fluid terminology as well.
When it comes to Western Society, however, many folks don't understand the community, and most countries within this sphere don't recognise third gender identities on official documentation. This, along with the increase in hate crimes towards non-binary and gender nonconforming folk in recent years, exposes the importance of developing societies' understanding of the community, and what allyship means in context to the issue.
As part of non-binary awareness day, I interviewed a good friend of mine, El, on their experiences of identifying as non-binary in the UK in 2022, to bring light to their experiences and issues that are faced today:
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences today. To start, could you introduce yourself?
My name is El, my pronouns are they/them and I study Linguistics at the University of Sussex! I am also a full-time rabbit parent.
For those who may not know, what does the term 'non-binary' mean?
Non-binary means outside of the gender binary—not entirely male or female. People will identify differently underneath this term. Some will feel they fit one gender more than the other, some will feel they fit both simultaneously, and some will feel they fit neither at all! It is an umbrella term.
There is a rejection of the gender binary and prescribed gender inherent within non-binary identity.
What does being non-binary mean to you personally?
To me, non-binary works as it is non-committal. It means I am free to play with gender and my presentation of it. It means I can wake up in the morning and choose who I want to be! I go through phases—I like to present as femme, but for me, that is very much an identity that I enjoy creating and playing with. It isn’t my true self, but something I like to construct for the fun of it.
My true form is much more masc and laid back.
For me, although born a woman, I just never really felt like one. It really is as simple as that. Like say if women are daisies, I feel like a dandelion.
What was your experience of coming out as non-binary?
I was lucky enough that my friends in Brighton were very encouraging with my coming out. My partner is both encouraging and accepting! However, that has not been this response all around. Even my queer friends back in Leicester are not accepting—they do not understand it (or even try to) and therefore just ignore it.
Going to university in Brighton you very much get used to a lovely little queer bubble. At university, I just said my pronouns are they them and nothing more was ever said about it.
As an out non-binary person, how would you describe your day-to-day experience?
I would say my day-to-day experience as a non-binary person is being constantly misgendered but looking iconic whilst doing so!
What does non-binary representation look like right now?
Non-binary presentation is definitely almost non-existent! I did watch a very lovely cartoon recently called Owl House which is on Disney+ and had a non-binary character! Very awesome to see. I know of a few non-binary celebrities as well. Unfortunately, a lot of what I see about them is pages on Facebook with swarms of people complaining about it. I’m not sure I am the best person to ask though as I hardly have my finger on the pulse!
Why is non-binary representation important to you?
It would be pretty damn cool to see some non-binary representation. If I had had it growing up, it would have greatly affected my life and happiness. It is important for the younger generations. That being said, however, from my perspective at least get z is definitely way more up-to-date on this stuff. They seem to know who they are and are proud of it. That was definitely lacking for us—I didn’t even know what non-binary was until I was around 17 and compulsive heterosexuality had me so tightly that I didn’t even realise it applied to me until my early 20s—regardless that I spent most of my early years absolutely sure of the fact that I was a boy that had been born in the wrong body.
What can allies do to support non-binary and gender nonconforming folk?
Allies can empathise, educate themselves and educate others. Correct your grandparents. Fight for your friends. Tell off TERFS. (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) Gender isn’t real baby! It is one thing to accept someone is non-binary, but it is another thing to build that into your perception of them.
In your own experience, what are the main issues for the community right now?
The main issue is ignorant people refusing to accept non-binary identities, and thinking that they know more about the person in question than the person themselves. It's incredibly rude and horrible to experience.
Where would you like to see society go in regards to non-binary acceptance?
It would be awesome if we had a genderless society full of queer things and vegans but alas. It would be cool if kids could be raised without gender being forced upon them. There is lots of cool work out there about this which I would recommend checking out if you’re interested! I am not suggesting raising children gender neutral—more just be aware of prescribing gender and then enforcing it upon kids. Raise kids to know that they are completely free to choose to be whoever they want to be!
Obviously, there is a whole other conversation to be had about what else comes with prescribing gender and gendered expectations of the sexes.
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today El. Before we finish, what is one thing that you would like cisgender people to know and take away from this piece?
I would like the cis community just to lighten up a little bit. Who cares if Avery who works opposite you is non-binary? They look cool and they’re living their best life. Be happy for us that we are being brave enough to be our true selves.
Being queer is beautiful.
I don’t think cis people should be out there waving the non-binary flag. I think they just need some open and honest insight into what non-binary identity is, leaving preconceptions and judgement at the door, and from that will come acceptance and love.
If you would like to understand more about the non-binary community and find out what you can do to help, below are some resources on how to be an ally, gender diverse research and support group for trans and gender non-conforming folk: