How To Be More Inclusive of Nonbinary, Genderneutral, and Trans* People in Your Spaces
The future is not female. The future is neither he nor she, but they, xie, ey, one, er, ne, ze, and thon. The future, my friends, is nonbinary.
When I came across #KidlitWomen, I was tempted to scroll past the article on SLJ entitled #KidLitWomen Seeks Solutions to Gender Inequity in Children’s Publishing.
It was another gender-modified tag, another opportunity to exclude those like me, another discussion about gender, not genders.
I stopped. Kidlit Women. Kidlit Women. Eyes closed, my nostrils flared as mixed feelings carved through my clenched chest. They burrowed deep into my psyche: feelings of confusion, of want, of need, of question, of antipathy.
I fully support the movement toward women's equality in publishing. For me, it’s not about climbing over anyone to gain equality, much less suppressing the voices of my female siblings, who have been denied equality in publishing for too long. However, the language used in movements such as #KidlitWomen revolves around binary genders—men versus women, male versus female. But—and I must shake my head here—gender isn’t binary.
Gender isn’t binary.
Gender exists along a wide spectrum, a spectrum that includes nonbinary, trans* (see also), and various genderneutral or third gender people such as myself: the genderqueer, genderfluid, genderflux, genderf*cked, genderless, agender, bigender, trigender, Two-Spirit, agender, gray gender, etc. We exist somewhere along a beautiful sub-ocean of the in between of the in between with no desire for a more concrete definition. My genderqueer self is proof enough that gender, my friends, was never binary.
I voiced my issues with the language used in Kidlit Women and how I felt excluded. I was heard. Grace Lin asked me to come into the private group and share ways they could be more inclusive toward nonbinary and trans* people. So, here I am.
Hello. My name is Dill and it's time to talk truth.
Discussion of gender equality should be inclusive of all genders. As a genderqueer person, I yearn to achieve equality within the realm of both men and women. If an equality movement is only open to cis women, trans women, femme presenting nonbinary people, and anyone who could be seen as “female,” then it is exclusionary and I want nothing to do with it. Take a look at why these boundaries are set and who is excluded: bi/tri/pan/polygender, genderfluid, Two Spirit, masc presenting, butch, genderflux, agender, no labels, enbys, genderneutral. The list continues. These people are my friends, my community, my siblings-at-arms. If I can stand by them, then I ought to leave now.
If a movement has a specific binary gender modifier, trans*, nonbinary, and genderneutral people need to know—with written and verbal cues—that we are welcome in the space. Even then, many non-cis people may choose not to enter. The wording will not feel comfortable and inclusion may seem more as an afterthought than a priority. The solution is to be proactive, think twice and consider, “Am I really being inclusive?”
If not, how might you be more inclusive? If you have the financial resources, reach out and pay a trans*, nonbinary, and genderneutral person for their time and education. Until financial institutions start taking manuscript drafts and agent notes as payments, we’re going to need funds. See if you can negotiate an exchange: time for promotion of services offered or works published. It’s not ideal, but word-of-mouth can equal big jobs in the freelance market.
Start with the language used. Personally, I find gender identifiers invalidating and problematic. They’re widely unnecessary and do nothing more than provoke dysphoria or lead to the exclusion of too many valuable voices. #KidlitEquality works equally as well as #KidlitWomen (thank you to nonbinary author Renée Reynolds for the name Kidlit Equality). It can be an uncomfortable conversation when cis gender people are forced recognize their privileges while in the fight for equality. But it's a conversation we're going to have.
Cis gender people have something called the cis gaze: a way in which cis people see the world and all things cis as “normal” or “natural,” (both problematic words that should be avoided). When viewed through the cis gaze, all things trans*, genderneutral, and nonbinary are placed on a lower level of importance than those cis. Because of cis gaze, cis people don't regularly take people of other genders into consideration. They don’t have to. The world is made for cis people, and they're accustomed to having everything tailored for them. It's much like the male gaze or the white gaze. It’s often not done with malice or intent. Cis gaze just…happens out of ignorance? Honestly, a cis person will never understand what it is to live as a nonbinary, genderneutral, or trans* person. They won’t.
And that’s okay.
We—those who do not fit into the boxes of he or she—are not asking cis people to fully understand our lives. We are asking them to take us into consideration in the fight for gender equality. Remember, there are female-only spaces where trans*, nonbinary, and genderneutral people aren’t welcome. Because of this, we roll our eyes heavily and run away when the conversation turns to “women.” It’s typically code for cis women. Often, someone will turn to me and say, “I assumed because of—” They motion, referring to the fact that I present as femme that day.
Please, don’t do this.
Again, this is problematic. It’s assuming. You’re assuming our genders, assuming our identities, assuming you know the internal struggles of fluctuating through a binary society that demands we must pick one or the other. Because we cannot be both or neither. Never both. Never neither. Pick one. Be one. Assume a gender cis people can comprehend.
On job applications, I must tick a box or select, “I prefer not to answer” when, in fact, I have my answer, “I am proud to be genderqueer!” Yes, I was socialized female. This gives me a different outlook on the world. It allows me to sympathize with women. I'm still not a woman and never will be. Does this make me lesser? Absolutely not.
Speaking from my personal experiences as a trans* genderqueer person, my nonbinary, genderneutral, and trans* peers and I are often grouped with cis women when asking for recognition. This isn’t fair. We want to be hired, published, read, paid, and seen as equal to binary gender people. Not as women and not as our assigned genders.
A person, cis or trans, who is binary holds privilege over those who do not identify with a binary gender. We’re no longer able to be listed on “Top Women Authors of…” or “Best Female Writers in…” Yes, it stings knowing there are so few lists which remember we even exist. We all know the “Top Author of…” lists require us to elbow past cis male authors, who have no lack of space. If you or someone you know posts lists with binary gender markers, consider changing the criteria to “Top Ten Women and Nonbinary Authors…” or “Top Ten Women and Genderneutral Authors…”
Nonbinary and trans* people don’t want to oust women from the market to make room for ourselves. This isn’t a war of the genders. There’s plenty of room for everyone. We merely want to be awarded recognition for our accomplishments. But we need to do it as ourselves, under our own identities, and set an example for the more than 30% of teenagers who—according to the most recent survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality—are nonbinary.
I’ll go into more detail about specific language and pronouns in my next post. For now, here are some easy ways women and non-cis allies can be more inclusive:
Until you are certain of a person’s proper pronouns*, use the pronoun they for everyone. Do not use s/he or he/she/they. It invalidates those who use other genderneutral pronouns (more to come in a further article). In this context, they is used as a blanket pronoun to encapsulate all pronouns and not just three.
*Yes, proper pronouns and not preferred pronouns. Never, ever say preferred pronouns. There’s nothing preferred about it. These are the pronouns we should have been using from the start but lacked the language or capacity to do so.
Remove all gender modifiers whenever possible. It’s no longer men and women or ladies and gentlemen. Say people. Individually, a person.
Most words have genderless options. As a warning, some people will get upset and say certain words are too PC. Honestly, if they’re upset over the difference between fireman and firefighter, then they need to turn inward and do some self-actualization on why they’re mad.
Be proactive. Make your space safe for non-cis people from the start by letting them know they’re welcome and included. If your organization only works with cis gender or allocishet white women, we see this and recognize patterns of behavior.
Allocishet is short for allosexual (not asexual), alloromantic (not aromantic) cis gender heterosexual, aka someone who is not at all queer. Straight is not the opposite of queer. Heterosexual is not the opposite of queer. Saying so erases the sexualities of people in the trans*, asexual-spectrum, and aromantic-spectrum community. Allocishet is the closest you’re going to get. More on this next time.
For more queer resources, information, links and further reading, please see my Queer Resources page.
If you learned anything from this article, consider donating $3 to my ko-fi name change fund.
Dill Werner is an author of queer fiction for adults and young adults and sensitivity reader. They graduated from the University of South Carolina with degrees in Creative Writing and German Language and Literature. They have taught ESOL in Germany and German in the United States, which wasn’t confusing at all. An advocate for trans* and nonbinary people, they have written about demisexuality for YAPride, have been interviewed on demisexuality for The Daily Dot, and were featured on Culturess’s 20 Nonbinary Creators You Need to Keep An Eye Out For. They live in South Carolina with their spouse and three-toed bunny. You can follow them on Twitter and Instagram. Come for the cute bunny pictures, stay for the discussion on gender and asexuality.