Contrary to popular belief, non-binary people are not an invention of the 21st century. They have always existed.
Yes, some people easily fit into the gender binary (male or female), but some people do not. It’s not a fad or a trend, and it will not fade away just because you ignore it, or do not want to identify with such ideas.
As Nigerians, we tend to pretend that things that do not subscribe to our culture do not exist. For this reason, people in Nigeria who do not identify as male or female are subject to ignorant insensitivity at best and outright discrimination at worst, even by people who technically mean well.
We fail to remember that ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is relative, and society only redefined constructs based on assumptions by certain individuals and religious dictates. Fortunately, the concepts of freedom and human rights have been given deeper meanings.
So, it’s about time we learned to properly respect each person’s personal conception of themselves, whether male, female, both, or neither.
- Be open to knowledge.
Ignorance is not an excuse to disrespect a person’s gender identity, so, do proper research and educate yourself on the gender spectrum, how it’s evolving, how to address them and so on.
- Do not assume.
Understandably, the gender binary has coloured our lives for so long. When you see a person, you instinctively assess outward appearance or behaviour in order to assign the person to a category – either male or female. But, you must restrain yourself from doing this. Rather than misgender someone, just ask the person how they prefer to be addressed.
- You have a right to accept not knowing.
Sometimes, you do not need to know. If someone whose gender you do not understand walks up to you, you can ask questions. But if the person is not directly interacting with you, then don’t be nosy. The uncertainty can be unsettling, but raising dust cannot help that feeling. A person’s gender identity is about them and not you.
- Don’t question anyone’s choices.
If a non-binary person approaches you and informs you of their preferred gender identity, you have a right to respect it. Don’t ask them why or how or when. Such questions belittle their choices. You don’t have to understand them. You just have to respect them.
- Use inclusive speech.
When addressing a group of people, instead of using default binary language such ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ or ‘Boys and girls’, get into the habit of using more inclusive alternatives such as ‘Everyone’, ‘People’, ‘Guests’, ‘Friends’ and so on.
When addressing an individual whose pronoun you do not know, use their name or default to using gender-neutral pronouns such as ‘they/them/theirs’.
- Forget gender stereotypes.
Do not attribute binary gender to everyday things such as specific colours, clothes or actions. For example, women liking flowers or men holding the door open.
- Learn to apologize.
Mistakes happen. If you misgender someone, just gracefully apologise and correct yourself. Don’t stretch out the moment of embarrassment for you and whoever you have misgendered.