This week is non-binary awareness week. On Wednesday, the Times released this mini-documentary about me. I am thankful to Kasia and the Times for this sensitive and beautifully-shot film.
Whilst this film focusses on a presentation of trans identities that is made uncontroversial for a particular target audience, it does introduce non-binary visibility to viewers. The film opens with the words, “I’m Alex Clare-Young, I’m a transmasculine non-binary minister. I believe that everyone has spiritual needs and spiritual wellbeing and that, to a certain extent, the church has failed some communities.”
At the end of the film, over archival footage of me playing the clarsach (folk harp), aged 15, I say that when people ask, “But how did you know?” I answer that, “It’s an internal sense of knowing. We just know. It’s something completely innate.” For some trans people, the juxtaposition of my speaking now as a transmasculine non-binary person with a video of me playing the clarsach and presenting in a much more feminine way may seem uncomfortable. Each of us has the right to see our past in the way that we choose and some trans people choose not to see, or have other people see, pre-transition images.
For me, this juxtaposition speaks powerfully to my own sense of being non-binary. In the TV series “Feel Good” Mae Martin explains that they don’t feel like a boy, or a girl, they just feel like Mae. That is my sense of myself, too. I’m just Alex. How do I know? I just do.
Non-binary is an umbrella term which is used by some people whose identity a) sits outside of, b) sits between, or c) contains elements of both male and/or female. Every non-binary person will have a slightly different sense of what that means for them. For me, being non-binary means that I am “just Alex”. I also use the word transmasculine to explain that I have transitioned towards male and am masculine-of-centre. My gender presentation varies a lot and I enjoy playing with gender and my sense of being queer more broadly when I can.
Here are some simple tips for creating more accessible and affirming work, community, and faith spaces for non-binary people. These are a starting point, if you would like help to audit your space and make meaningful changes, get in touch.
Names and pronouns
Use the correct name and pronouns for everyone (the ones they ask you to use), and make sure that there are regular opportunities for people to indicate their names and pronouns. For example, you might use table place-cards in meetings for this purpose. On video-calls, email signatures, and social media accounts, encourage all attendees/users to display their name and pronouns.
Make sure that there are safe, non-gendered spaces accessible to all. This should include secure, private, non-gendered toilets and changing spaces. This does not mean that all spaces have to be non-gendered. When someone asks for directions to a space, e.g. a toilet, give them directions to all of the spaces, not just the one that you assume to be most appropriate.
Do not have uniform or dress code policies that are divided by gender. Do not reject candidates based on gendered clothing norms. For example, a shirt and tie should not be required to indicate a ‘smart’ dress code.
Don’t assume whether a person is non-binary, male, or female based on appearance alone. Organisations often tell me that they don’t have any non-binary employees when I know this to be untrue. If in doubt, ask! “Hi, it’s great to meet you, could you let me know the name and pronouns you would like me to use, please?”
Celebrate, don’t problematise
If you only ever talk to a non-binary person to a) ask them questions or b) suggest that their identity is a problem, they will not feel comfortable with you. Celebrate a person for the complex, intersectional person that they are. For example, instead of saying, “Bob in HR really doesn’t understand non-binary people, so you’ll just have to be patient with him”, consider saying, “You are so articulate and creative, could you write something for our HR blog this month?”