The first episode of Nonbinary Code is a recording of the speech that led to the creation of this podcast. It gives a brief overview of some of the biggest issues facing the nonbinary community and a few ways that people can help make the world a safer and more accepting place for nonbinary individuals. If you’d like to support us please become a patron on our Patreon here. Click “more” to read the audio transcription below.
Hello. My name is Chax Richter, and I am nonbinary.
If you are listening hopefully it is because you want to learn how to be a better ally to people like myself. Nonbinary people. Maybe that’s because you know someone who is nonbinary, or feel like you’re going to meet someone who is nonbinary very soon. Maybe you’re nonbinary yourself and trying to figure it out, or looking for a way to explain to other people how you feel. Regardless, I’m here to help. I want to help. However, I can’t speak for every nonbinary person out there, and I’m not going to try to. But I can tell you what most nonbinary people agree on and experience, and I can tell my own story in hopes that you might understand a little better.
My story starts, as many do, in a delivery room where little baby me was stirring trouble up for the first, but not last, time. See, I was eager to get out there and see the world, so I really didn’t have any time or inclination to wait around for some doctor to show up before making my grand entrance into the world. So I didn’t wait. I pushed my own way out and would’ve been in trouble if I hadn’t been spotted showing up fashionably early. The one nurse in the room caught me – actually had to catch me, and proudly proclaimed “congratulations Mr. And Mrs. Richter, it’s a boy!” she was under a lot of stress at the moment, So we’ll forgive her.
It took about five minutes for my dad to catch on. He was singing me happy birthday when he noticed a certain lack of any… Dangly bits. “this isn’t a boy,” he said. “this is a girl!” now, I don’t remember much about that day but I like to imagine there was a lot of calling for different colored blankets and white-out applied to birth certificates. I know for fact that my father felt very proud of himself though, because he still brings it up from time to time. And that pride is the reason why was very hesitant to tell him that he was just as wrong as that nurse.
I really can’t blame him, of course. It took me thirteen years to figure it out and I’m the one living in this body. But the first universal truth about the nonbinary experience that I want all people to know is that figuring out that you are nonbinary is HARD. It is not easy. We are raised on this idea that we have two options, and we have to choose one. There are so many more options than just male and female, though! Like, here, imagine this. You’re going to dinner with your family and they ask you if you want steak or salad. You don’t particularly want either, but you can’t put your finger on what you do want, and because you only have two options you just go with whatever is easier. But now imagine you’re at this restaurant with your idea set in your mind, the waiter shows up and tells you that today’s special is pasta. And it hits you! That was what you wanted the whole time! That’s kind of what it’s like to realize you are nonbinary. Suddenly you find the option that you never knew you had, and it’s just what you were looking for the whole time.
The main problem is that so many people are waiting to find out about that option, but the information just is not out there. All these nonbinary kids out there have no idea that they feel like they don’t fit in because the categories are mislabeled. I want you to think for a second. How many of you have ever seen a movie with a nonbinary major character? Aliens from genderless races don’t count. What about a TV show? Read a book? Listened to a podcast? Who can name an openly nonbinary celebrity? Not many of them, are there? There is such a lack of good nonbinary role models in popular culture. That bottom-of-the-barrel representation means that unless a nonbinary kid personally knows a person who out as nonbinary, they have no role model to look at, and worse, no evidence that neither-boy-nor-girl is even a thing they can be. Even once they figure out what they are, they still face that lack of role models or even experiences to relate to through media. Now I want you to think of a few of your favorite characters. Movies, tv, books, stage plays, whatever you enjoy. What do you like about those characters? Are they kind? Funny? Brave? Are they the kind of people you would want to be? Probably. That’s what people like in their characters. Now I want you to see if any of those characters are the same gender as you are.
None of mine are.
To see people like myself modeling the person I want to be, I have to squint. In the right lighting, if you ignore the way everyone treats and talks about so-and-so character, maybe they could be nonbinary. Maybe they could be like me. Maybe I could be like them. But every time we sit down for a movie, every time we take one of those stupid quizzes where BuzzFeed tells us which tv sitcom character we are preparing ourselves to be disappointed- to be subconsciously told that the things we experience as nonbinary people are unimportant- or worse- not even real.
This is perhaps one of the most crushing issues nonbinary people today face. Right now, only 6 countries and two states here in the U.S – plus DC have legal rights and representation for nonbinary people. Everywhere else, we are still required to identify ourselves in a legal capacity as one of two genders- usually one arbitrarily decided by the shape of our genitalia- that we in no way identify with. Even outside of the legal context we face a world full of people convinced that we are lying to ourselves. Every time you come out to someone as nonbinary you run the risk of being told that you must be confused, that you must hate your body, that you were mistreated or had some accident as a child that messed you up psychologically, are you sure you’re not just trans, or maybe even just gay? Every time a nonbinary person comes out to someone we run the risk of being told that they are wrong, that they don’t know anything about what they really feel. Every time we come out, we run the risk of being told that that person knows us better than we know ourselves. I want you to try to imagine what that feels like, to be told that someone knows more about you than you. Now imagine that this is something you face constantly. From your family. From your coworkers. From your neighbors. From the youtube or facebook comments section that you hoped would have positive things to say about such an integral part of your existence. It’s all just people telling you that this thing that is so important to you isn’t your experience. That it’s nobody’s experience. That it isn’t even a real thing.
That’s what it’s like to be nonbinary in America today.
Maybe the hardest part of that is that because there is so little recognition for nonbinary genders, we by and large lack the terminology that we need to describe ourselves. That men and women have to describe themselves. Son, niece, Dad, Grandma, Uncle, Boyfriend, girl, woman, gentleman, these are all words built to recognize somebody’s state in a binary gender that has no gender-neutral equivalent. They describe our place in different relationships, yourself in comparison to others. Nonbinary people can’t even accurately explain who we are in our community, because we simply lack the terminology. Forget about bathrooms, nonbinary people needs society to give us some goddamned words to use for ourselves. “Nonbinary person” is not going to cut it for much longer. Nonbinary is a great adjective, but no adjective is ever going to carry the same finality and certainty as “boy” or “girl.” “man” or “woman.” “husband” or “wife.” You wouldn’t call a little girl a “female kid,” she’s a girl. So why do nonbinary kids have to settle for “nonbinary kid?” For what it’s worth, nonbinary people like myself are out there inventing these words, bit by bit. I’m a big fan of the term “enby,” as a gender nonspecific version of boy or girl. It comes from the initials of the term nonbinary- N B. We also got a few freebies from society with the words sibling, spouse, and especially fiancee- which doesn’t even have a binary version. But the sad fact is that not all of these words are used very often in casual contexts. We are still working on getting the tools out there for speaking to and about enbies.
This is where you come in. Hopefully, you all came into this podcast Hoping I would tell you how you can respect enbies better, how to be an effective ally. So far all I’ve done is lecture you about why being a nonbinary person is hard. But understanding the struggle is the first step to supporting the cause. Now that you know, for example, the lack of legal representation for enbies, you can go out and advocate for expanding the scope of that representation. Now that you realize how little media representation there really is of nonbinary characters, you can get out there and support what little media has us in it. If you’re a content creator, you can even work to creating your own nonbinary characters. And now that you know what words we have and still need, you can alter the way you interact with language to contribute more to an enby – friendly linguistic environment. All of these are more helpful than you could ever imagine. But changing society is in concrete and imperfect, and by no means is it the only thing for you to work on! There are also a few things to keep in mind when taking one on one to nonbinary individuals. These things are maybe the easiest way to make a difference in the lives of your nonbinary friends and family.
The first of these is using pronouns. It makes sense that people who don’t identify as men or women wouldn’t always want to be called ‘he’ or ‘she,’ but then what do we call them? Nonbinary people use a lot of different pronouns depending on the person, but the most common is ‘they.’ lots of people think the “they” pronoun is only for groups of more that one person, And it is true that the primary use of the pronoun is for plurals. However, according to Webster’s dictionary, “they” has been used for individuals of unknown or unspecified gender for centuries, including by famous authors such as Shakespeare and in Jane Eyre, to name a few. In fact, I’m sure everyone in this room has used the singular they pronoun before. “someone left me a voicemail” “oh yeah, what did they say?” “someone left their phone here” “this YouTube commenter has no idea what they are talking about.” The only reason people have a hard time using they/them pronouns with nonbinary people is that they’re used to using those pronouns for people they haven’t met yet, and we tend to choose a gendered pronoun subconsciously the first time we see somebody. It causes a cognitive dissonance because people are being asked to use an “unknown” gender signifier for someone whose gender we had already assumed. This is something everybody needs to work on getting better at, but for now, a good start is to use the pronouns someone asks you to.
And that pronoun could be anything. Not all enbies use “they.” people have also created brand new pronouns that they feel more comfortable with. Some more common examples include zie/zim/zir, xe/xem/xer, and sie/hir. These words are different than anything most English speakers are familiar with, and can make them uncomfortable. Some people argue that these are “made up words” and shouldn’t be used. My only response to that is that all words are made up words. Words don’t come from some naturally occurring source, humans developed language and created new words to describe new items and concepts as history progressed. Calling someone zie isn’t any different than the people who started to describe the Fluffy white stuff up there as “clouds.” Furthermore, even if these words somehow were fake, I fail to see how that would matter. By refusing to use these pronouns, you’re putting the slight pride of being correct above the comfort and self-identity of another human being. You’re saying “it’s more important for me to be technically right than for you to feel respected and supported.” Humans already fall down that road far too often, and I believe it is our duty to avoid that part of ourselves whenever possible.
And one last point about pronouns: some nonbinary people do use “he” or “she” for a variety of different reasons. It’s not for us to judge. Only for us to support.
So we know we need to respect people’s pronouns. That’s hard to do when you don’t know their pronouns. How do you figure it out? Here are a few ways to go about this. Perhaps the easiest is when they spontaneously tell you themselves. Like this. “hi. I know we’ve been friends for a long time and I trust you, so I want to tell you that I’ve recently realized that I am nonbinary. I’d like you to start using they/them pronouns for me and call me Chax instead of my birth name.” Of course, having to come out to every single person in one’s life is exhausting. Trust me on that if you don’t already know. So sometimes people don’t come out and rely on others to figure it out. If you’re one of those people, you have a few options.
One safe bet is to always default to neutral pronouns if you aren’t sure. If you got it right, good job! If not, proceed to step 2: listen to their friends. Usually, enbies are out to their close friends before anyone else, and those people will often refer to the person with the correct pronouns. If listening to their friends doesn’t clear it up, find a private situation in which you can ask the person how they like to be referred to. If that doesn’t work, I can’t help you. That person will forever be an enigma.
Now for some ways not to get somebody’s pronouns. Don’t try to ask other people what pronouns someone uses. If I want to know what to call Drew, I wouldn’t go ask Drew’s best friend Alex. Not only might Alex not know the answer, but he might not know if Drew is comfortable with you knowing that information. The choice to be out to someone about your gender can be difficult, and by asking a third person, you are taking away that person’s power to choose. It is for this same reason that you should avoid asking someone their pronouns in a group setting. If there are people around who they don’t want to come out to yet, you are putting them in an awkward position of either lying or letting something that might still be personal, suddenly become a lot more public. Things like this can be delicate, so you’re better off safe than sorry.
When you first learn someone’s pronouns, messing up a few times is normal. You should try not to do it too often, but if you do, you should apologize. There is a right and a wrong way to apologize. Good ways include: “she, er, they…” “and he said, oh sorry, THEY said,” or “so I told her… FUCK, I told them.” here is what not to do.
“she- OH MY GOD I’M SO SORRY I’M TRYING SO HARD PLEASE BE PATIENT WITH ME I DIDNT MEAN TO CALL YOU SHE” “So then he said… Oh, did I call you he? Oh well.” Or, the worst one: “and so then I told her that I didn’t really know, you know? And that was it.” If you make a mistake with someone’s pronouns, you should acknowledge the fact that you messed up, apologize, and move on with your sentence. You don’t ignore the fact that you messed up, you always fix the problem, and you don’t make a big deal about it. If you make a big deal about it, we feel like we’re being a burden on you. Respecting someone should not feel like a burden, at least not in my opinion. Basically, what you want to keep in mind is to be respectful, open, and to try your best.
That about wraps it up for the pilot episode of nonbinary code. Go ahead and follow us on Facebook (nonbinary code,) or on Twitter (@NBCodePodcast), or on our Tumblr (nonbinarycodepodcast.tumblr.com). If you’d like to support us and help us make more episodes feel free to support us on patreon, the link will be in the description for this episode, along with audio descriptions to read along, or just read on your own.
Nonbinary Code is written, produced, performed, and edited by Chax Richter. The music was created by Simber, whose information can be found in this episodes description. This episode is sponsored by Charlee J, an enby – owned clothing company whose information can be found on the partners page of Nonbinary Code.com.
If you are listening when this episode comes out, be sure to head to their shop before the end of the month to catch their pride month sale. Also on our website is a frequently asked questions section, our story, and all episodes of the podcast along with written transcripts. Be sure to check in the last Tuesday of every month to catch new episodes.