CONTRIBUTORS

OP-ED: Make room for the nonbinary

Kiki Monifa
Progressive Media Project (TNS)
Demonstrators hold up a rainbow flag as they march outside of the White House during the  Equality March for Unity and Pride parade in Washington D.C., June 11, 2017. (Jose Luis Magana/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

I am a baby boomer, born in 1957, who grew up in a very binary world. Everything from party affiliation to music preference was simplified down into an “either-or” mentality. Most of the time, what this really meant was that either you fit in or you didn’t.

Until recently, every form I’ve ever completed had two boxes to check for sex: male or female.

Everywhere I go, a similar dichotomy presents itself. Nonbinary folks, whose gender identities are neither male nor female, are being erased and excluded from traditionally gendered spaces.

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I identify as cisgender, which means that my birth sex (female) and gender (also female) are the same. I’m a Blesbian — Black lesbian — too, and, as a member of the LGBTQ community, I want to help by being an advocate for non-binary people, both within and outside of queer spaces.

Since 2020, many folks now introduce themselves with their name and pronouns: he/him, she/her, they/them, etc. This might be in part due to a year and a half of Zoom calls, where awkward clarifications of one’s gender identity can be easily avoided by listing pronouns next to names.

For cisgender allies of trans and nonbinary people, stating your pronouns in your Twitter bio, office meetings, or the like is a way to help normalize the gender identities that exist outside of male and female. Gen Z-ers are leading this cultural shift towards tolerance of nonbinary people in classrooms, on college campuses, and in the workplace. But some things are still the same.

In the first broad-based population study of nonbinary folks, the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law concluded there are 1.2 million nonbinary LGBTQ adults aged 18 to 60 in the United States. That’s 11% of the LGBTQ population.

The study found that the majority of nonbinary LGBTQ adults are young, urban and white. More specifically, 58% of these nonbinary folks are white, 16% are multiracial, 15% are Latinx, and 9% are Black. Nonbinary people are also less likely to be straight than their cisgender counterparts; most identified as queer, bisexual, pansexual or asexual.

Nonbinary (abbreviated enby), gender fluid, and/or genderqueer are terms for gender identities that do not check the male or female boxes. They/them are often the pronouns they use, though some people use variations of she/they or he/they.

Among LGBTQ nonbinary adults, 82% reported experiencing emotional abuse during childhood, 53% were bullied and 11% were exposed to conversion therapy. Nearly 94% say they have considered suicide; 39% have attempted it, the study found.

We know that Black transgender women are being murdered at a high rate in the United States, with many of those deaths being underreported and those folks being misgendered. Of the nonbinary folks in the study, more than half reported being physically or sexually assaulted.

One can imagine the physical and mental health challenges that nonbinary people face when their identities nonbinary status are not recognized and instances assaults and abuse are underreported.

As our racial reckoning in this country continues, it should be inclusive of genderqueer and nonbinary folks, because not everyone fits neatly into a category or box. This lesson applies to everything, whether it be in discussions of race, gender, or other socially constructed identities that inevitably leave someone behind.

Healing should be inclusive. Here’s to more education and acceptance.

— Kiki Monifa of Oakland, California, is editor-in-chief of BlackHistoryEveryday.com. This column was produced for The Progressive magazine and distributed by Tribune News Service.