“Hey, I’m J. My pronouns are they/them - what are yours?”
It’s really that simple. It might feel weird to begin with, you might feel a little silly, and occasionally you will be met with a confused expression. Some people may even claim that they don’t use such silly things (spoiler alert - they do). But there will be times that someone’s face lights up. You can instantly make someone feel safe, valued and accepted with one simple sentence. Isn’t that absolutely worth it? Surely? OK, maybe being non-binary makes me a little biased here, but as a general rule if I know something will make someone’s life easier and safer and I’m capable of doing it, then there isn’t a question. I just do it.
If you’ve got this far and still have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll give you a super quick gender queer run down from my personal perspective.
You probably grew up thinking there were two genders: male and female. The doctor announced your sex to your parents at the moment of your birth and instantly your gender was assigned to that. For most people their anatomy is, in fact, an accurate correlation to their gender, but for some that isn’t the case. For some of us, life was very confusing being pushed into a box we didn’t quite fit in. As a child, I’d throw a tantrum before every ballet class, for 1. being there and 2. having to wear that stupid puffy dress. I wanted to be a turtle, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle to be precise, not a ballet dancer. But being a little girl should have meant that I liked dance, horses, pink, dolls and anything frilly, right? Guess I missed that memo. The fact is, I was never very good at being a girl, but I didn’t exactly want to be a boy either, so where does that leave me? Where do I fit? Who do I get to be? For a long time I didn’t know. Maybe I still don’t. But I never tried to make myself fit in and I never made myself small for the benefit of others. I have always been unapologetically myself and tried to carve a space to exist in authentically.
It’s important to note that genders outside of the binary of male and female are not a new concept. They may be new to you, but they have always been there. Across many cultures all over the globe, the idea that there are multiple genders has always been widely accepted. Whether that’s trans male, trans female, non-binary or gender fluid - it’s always been there, just perhaps not in such plain sight. How beautiful it is that we can exist so freely now, (almost) without judgment or fear. There are many wonderful resources online to learn more about different genders which I will link at the end for you, but let’s get back to the point of this post!
It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me that I’m now trailblazing my way through the professional world, making my presence known. I’ve always been this way. When I was 7, I wanted to wear shorts to school; I wanted to look like my brother did and I felt so uncomfortable in a dress. It was like I was wearing a costume. Yet, you can’t just turn up in whatever you want to school; there’s a uniform and, for whatever reason, it’s a gendered uniform. To make change, there is a process and my parents explained to me that if I wanted to do this, I had to do it properly. So, I wrote a letter to the governors of the school asking to speak at the next meeting. And I did. A little, wild-haired, fiery, 7-year-old J stood in front of a room of grown-ups and told them exactly what I wanted to wear and why. To this day, that school now just has a genderless uniform policy, so students can wear any piece that feels comfortable for them as an individual. I have heard stories of many children passing through those classrooms with the ability to explore gender and their identity. It brings me no end of joy to know I facilitated that change.
Fast forward two decades and I’m still fighting the same fight. Maybe it will be a lifelong battle. Maybe I will always feel a little lost in this world. However, things are changing, slowly but surely. They’re not only supported, but celebrated in my place of work, which goes a long way in making me feel a little less lost.
I was very unsure of how to approach the subject during the hiring process. I had my pronouns on my LinkedIn, my CV and cover letter which I submitted through Focus 5 to my now-current employer, KOMI, but up until now I had never felt that my queerness would be welcomed in a work environment. It wasn’t something I felt like I could bring attention to. I just hoped the subtlety of adding the pronouns would be enough for someone to notice and ask, which they did. My now-manager, Terry (who had never really come across anyone like me before), spotted my pronouns and approached the subject of how it was I wanted to be referred to. I can’t quite explain how relieved, safe and seen I felt in that moment. That feeling is still there for me at KOMI, everyday. I am completely encouraged to be my authentic self, to present how I wish, to be true to myself and to be proud. I feel privileged and so grateful to be in this position at such an amazing company and want to do what I can to ensure others get to feel this way too.
This may seem a little overwhelming and a totally new world, but that’s what humans do, right? We evolve. So, this is my advice on how to become more inclusive and accepting of gender identity, one step at a time.
I would encourage everyone, regardless of who you are, your position in your company or how you identify, to put your pronouns on your LinkedIn and email signature. This is a really subtle way of showing that you are a safe, inclusive space and will encourage those around you to do the same.
Just accept someone for who they tell you they are, not who you think they should be. If you thought I looked like a Sarah, but then I tell you that my name is Jodie, you wouldn’t turn around and tell me that I look more like a Sarah so that’s what you’re going to call me. That would be absurd. So, if you assume I’m female, then I tell you that I’m actually non-binary, don’t continue to refer to me as female just because that’s how you see me. It’s OK if you slip up, just correct yourself and move on.
It’s also important not to ‘out’ others because we never fully know someone’s personal situation. So, if they haven’t made it public that they identify a certain way, it isn’t your place to do it for them.
Allow people to change their minds. Exploring gender can be confusing and it might take a while for someone to settle on what feels right. Pronouns may change, so have regular conversations with your colleagues and employees to allow them to feel safe enough exploring this openly.
Be aware of gendered terms and how they may make someone feel.
Educate yourself. It is not anyone else’s responsibility but your own to be educated on what is happening around you. As much as many gender queer people are more than happy to have a conversation with you about certain topics, it is just good manners and a sign of respect to do a little of your own research first. Constantly being a human Google can be kind of exhausting.
Not all women menstruate and not all people who menstruate are women. Just remember that.
Call out any and all workplace bullying. No matter how trivial or irrelevant it may seem. If you overhear a colleague misgendering someone, politely correct them. We need you fighting for us too and change won’t happen without allies.
If there is someone who is non-binary in your team and you are meeting someone new, make the effort to introduce yourself with your pronouns. Even if you feel a bit silly, it will start to normalise that way of introducing yourself so your colleague doesn’t feel like the only person stating their pronouns all of the time.
Finally, encourage people to be as open, authentic and genuine as possible without singling individuals out. It’s important to ensure people feel part of the team, that you are all working together, and have mutual respect.
Make it clear that you welcome applicants from all backgrounds, regardless of how they identify; that you are a supportive workplace that encourages employees to bring their whole selves to work - not just what is deemed ‘professional’. Did my manager think he would be hiring a queer, non-binary person with a shaven head, facial piercings and covered in tattoos? Probably not. But I really hope he is happy that he did, because I sure am.
Terry, my manager and KOMI’s Head of Commercial, has been an amazing supporter since I started at KOMI. Never have I felt like I had to hide any of my true self from him. Beth, our Senior People and Ops Manager, has been a beacon of warmth and love since day dot for me, too; ensuring that everyday is a safe and inclusive environment. Sam, our Managing Director asks more questions than any human I have ever met, but he cares more about the people at KOMI than I thought possible. Company culture is vital to Sam and it keeps all of us in check. We really practise what we preach, which creates a supportive environment for everyone - especially non-binary people during the interview process, onboarding and every single day beyond. To be honest, the list of people I’m grateful for at KOMI could be a whole blog post on its own because, above all, we are good eggs here. Regardless of what flag may be wrapped around our shells, we are part of the KOMI tribe.
I used to caveat my introduction with ‘but anything is fine’ or ‘don’t stress yourself it doesn’t matter’, but truthfully it did matter. It was really disheartening to be misgendered. It made me feel so uncomfortable to be seen as a woman. So now, when my colleagues consistently refer to me as ‘they’ or call me ‘mate’, my little queer heart is bursting with joy. I feel seen. Isn’t that how we all want to feel?
It needs to be very clear that all of this is just my perspective, my opinion. it’s how I personally feel as a non-binary person. We are all unique and complex individuals and there isn’t a cheat sheet here, but this is a start. I’m opening the door for you to step through and explore gender identity and what it means for your workplace. The world is changing and together we are creating a safer, happier and more inclusive environment in which to exist.
If you’re reading this and anything I’ve said has resonated with you, or if you have ever been curious about exploring gender identity - even if you keep part of yourself hidden from the world - my advice to you is simple.
Be proud. Be you.
Creating inclusive workplaces - Stonewall
Resources about non-binary identities - Gendered Intelligence
Non-binary resources - PFLAG