Being misgendered happens so often that it feels like living with a thousand paper cuts. It is painful and invalidating. Do not be one of those paper cuts.
Nonbinary phobia (aka enbyphobia) looks like refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns even when corrected. It is OK to make mistakes. However, if you won’t acknowledge and fix it, then it moves from being an accident to actually willfully misgendering the nonbinary person in your life.
Enbyphobia looks like making us feel bad for your mistakes. What is your reaction when someone corrects you on their pronouns? Too many people react defensively and attack the person correcting them. If someone calls you out on saying ‘she’ instead of ‘they’, do not shoot the messenger. Please do not get defensive, accuse us of policing you, argue or tell us it is too difficult. If you make a big deal out of someone correcting you, you make it more awkward, hurtful and uncomfortable for nonbinary people in your life. And that means that we are less likely to speak up, and more likely to live a life of silence where we accept being constantly misgendered.
Enbyphobia looks like centring your comfort, what gender norms you have grown up with and how you are accustomed to dealing with people. All of these things value your perspective over the lived experience of nonbinary people. Too many times, I have had to reassure someone for their discomfort about my gender. This takes constant emotional labour. Meanwhile, I continue to live in a world that invalidates nonbinary people, subjects them to threats, claims they don’t exist, or that they are making it up for attention. And all of these difficulties arise just because we will not play by the gender rules that society has dictated. We are not the ones making a big deal out of this. Just let us live. And give us respect. That is not too much to ask.
Enbyphobia looks like being too lazy to Google what nonbinary means and listen to their voices. Do not expect the nonbinary person in your life to do all the emotional labour for you and spoon feed you information.
Enbyphobia looks like asking us to prove it or explain ourselves to you. If someone tells you they are gay, what is your reaction? Hopefully, you believe them and take it at face value. Hopefully, you don’t make them jump through hoops and demand they offer ‘proof’ and explain themselves. However, when it comes to nonbinary identity, suddenly everyone else feels like they have the right to be the expert on our gender identity except for us. What we need you to do is listen to us and believe us. Respect us. Respect costs nothing.
Enbyphobia looks like expecting nonbinary people to look or act a certain way. Being nonbinary is about escaping the gender binary, not placing ourselves into another binary. Demanding androgyny then creates another false binary of gender which we are expected to perform.
Enbyphobia looks like saying someone isn’t genuinely nonbinary because they look too masculine or feminine.
Enbyphobia looks like insisting that masculine and feminine are fixed categories instead of made-up social constructs.
Enbyphobia looks like policing what language the nonbinary person should use. The nonbinary person is the best expert on what language feels right for them, and what language feels hurtful for them and makes them feel dysphoric. It is down to the individual and what feels right for them. And no it is not confusing – normalise asking for pronouns the same way it is reasonable to ask what someone’s name is. It is a simple mark of respect to use the right name and pronouns.
Enbyphobia looks like telling us we ‘should’ live in our assigned gender and then work to break down gender stereotypes from there. I am all for cisgender people pushing the boundaries and living outside the norm of what is expected from their gender. However, that does not mean it is my battle. Do not force me to live in a gender that I do not identify with for the sake of your comfort.
You do not need to understand us to respect us. Think how different the world would be if we took a that as a maxim. This is a big part of my world philosophy.
I believe you do not need to understand an animal as a pre-requisite for respecting them (this is in large part why I am vegan – I don’t respect only those who I can relate to). And you don’t need to understand all the different human experiences (race, class, ability/disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, etc, etc) in order to respect, value and fight for the rights of our fellow humans. Respect is a fundamental right of every being on this planet.
Thank you for listening and for helping make a more respectful, loving and open world for all beings to be who they are without discrimination. Change starts with you.
#respectourpronouns and make waves.
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Cover photo: Anaís Azul
Peruvian first-generation immigrant Anaís Azul (they/them/elle) is a Boston and San Francisco based singer-songwriter. You can hear their music here: