Coming Out and Tripping Up: Why Non-Binary Pronouns Matter

Happy International Non-Binary People’s Day! 💛🤍💜🖤

I’m stoked that we have a day dedicated to us! In case you haven’t clocked it, I myself identify as non-binary (‘enby’ for short), and use they/them pronouns.

For those of you who don’t know, ‘non-binary’ can describe a person’s gender and/or sexuality. It can be a little tricky to explain, though, because each individual who identifies with it has their own personal interpretation. For example, my experience centres on gender, more than sexuality. But put as simply as possible, the label is a gender or sexual identity that’s not defined by binary oppositions, like male/female, man/woman, or homosexual/heterosexual.

Beckett looks confident with a buzzed haircut and in a leather jacket

I neither identify as a man nor a woman. Sometimes I lean more towards one gender’s characteristics than the other, or I feel no relation to gender whatsoever. Sometimes I feel it all. The key word here is ‘feel’. My gender is a deep, all-encompassing feeling. It’s a cellular-level, decade-old feeling that the body I belong to and the gender I was given just don’t quite gel.

In 2020, a combination of maturing and emotional support (i.e. a new boo) provided me with the perfect opportunity to do some proper soul-searching. And by soul-searching… I of course mean gawking at other people on the ‘Gram. Yes, Instagram was an enormous factor in my coming-out story, because it was there that I was first introduced to the term ‘non-binary.’ This discovery was my ‘eureka’ moment. ‘Either/or’ no longer applied. Finally, I had a name for this paradoxical place I found myself in: I was nowhere and everywhere and never felt more at home. Wow, Instagram should definitely sponsor me for this.

I came out to my partner first, and then very gradually to the rest of my social sphere, all online. I started with subtle hashtags like #Enby or #F**kGenderRoles on my selfies, getting progressively more explicit over the course of about 9 months. Finally, I shared a post on Facebook, declaring that I was Non-binary. The queer cat was outta the bag. I could live my enby best life, loud and proud.

Now I wanna be real with you folx: it’s taken some adjusting. Since then, I’ve misgendered myself more times than I can count. That’s forgivable, K? It’s bound to take time for me to adjust. Heck, I’m forgetful at the best of times. And sometimes, it’s taken friends and family time to adjust as well.

But when someone misgenders me, I do nothing. Or I do worse than nothing and say “hey, don’t worry. I do it all the time.” The thing is, even if it’s new and I pretend it doesn’t matter, it does. My pronouns matter. They really chuffin’ do. They’re symbols of how I want to be perceived, markers of my identity. Just because it’s taking time for me to adjust, doesn’t mean it’s not important, and I shouldn’t feel like I have to feign indifference about my own identity. Mistakes can hurt, even when you make them yourself too.

Thankfully, they/them pronouns are getting more awareness now and becoming more normalised. Big-name enbies like Demi Lovato are bravely opening up to the millions, and NB babes like RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Bimini Bon Boulash are seeing their careers reach dizzying heights. Creative industries are picking up on the demand for non-binary icons and commanding the attention of the masses. Non-binary is en vogue. With enbies becoming household names, the use of they/them is getting more commonplace, making all our missteps more noticeable

But there are still challenges left to tackle. We are still seeing, er, seemingly innocent blunders happening in the media, and it’s not a good look. Recently, Lizzo corrected paparazzi when they used the wrong pronouns for Demi Lovato. That could’ve been water under the bridge until a news article about that very blunder ended up misgendering Demi in the headline. Good. Job. Journalism.

I’m also not convinced the same amount of mainstream integration can be said for neo-pronouns (e.g. xe/xem, ze/zir, etc.) and I don’t have enough experience to speak on behalf of those who have adopted them. I guess entirely new words might take more time to acquire, but we really ought to get the ball rolling so that those who use them are as included as the rest of us.

And then there’s the legal stuff. 136,000 individuals (myself included) signed a petition to make ‘non-binary’ a legally recognised gender in the UK. Well… they said ‘no.’ Apparently it’s tough luck and “in UK law individuals are considered to be the sex that is registered on their birth certificate – either male or female.” Yep. We’re really up against it, huh.

Beckett shows off their dyed black hair, nose ring and retro black choker.

I wince at my own inconsistencies. Internally, I get mad at the folx that get it wrong. My heart goes out to those enbies who get misgendered willy-nilly in front of an audience, or on paper. When faced with my own misgendering, I’ve played it down in the past. But by deflecting the sting and internalising my own shame, I can’t help but think I’m just feeding into the confusion and holding us up.

We enbies are in a transitional phase, at one end informed by the patriarchal powers that be and at the other trying to shake up the status quo. Breaking history to make history, and all that. As such, the confidence we have in our pronouns depends greatly on how regularly exposed we are to non-binary lingo and who we count on to use it.

With that said, I ask that people who interact with enbies to gently acknowledge when you mess up, and actually, when we mess up. As I adjust, I’ve vowed to make a conscious effort to use my own pronouns in all arenas, and use them with conviction. Between us, it might require more mental gymnastics, and more than a couple of awkward corrections. But I have faith in our flexibility. While I’m sure some nay-sayers out there may argue, “why should we go to this trouble?” Honestly? I’m all outta reasons for why we shouldn’t.

A high-contrast image of orange on black shows Beckett with a moustache


If you’d like to learn more about us enbies, I highly recommend checking out non-binary reads like: 

Life Isn’t Binary by Meg-John Barker and Alex Iantaffi
In Their Shoes, by Jamie Windust.
They/Them/Their: A Guide to Nonbinary and Genderqueer Identities by Erin Young
Non-Binary Lives: An Anthology of Intersecting Identities, Edited by Meg-John Barker, Jos Twist, Kat Gupta, Benjamin Vincent

Sign the petition “Make non-binary a legally recognised gender identity in the UK” (deadline 21st October 2021)

For trans/non-binary support, check out the resources at GenderKit

Written by Beckett Lowe

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