6 Tips for Speaking to a Gender Non-Binary Person

April 3rd 2016

Aron Macarow

The transgender community is getting more public attention, and gender identity itself is increasingly becoming a hot topic of conversation. But the world isn't just full of cis (non-transgender) people and those who transition from one binary gender to another.

Gender non-binary people don't identify exclusively as masculine or feminine or may live outside of the male/female gender binary altogether. They are part of the conversation, too, and are often misunderstood. Here are six tips to help you be a better ally to the gender non-binary community.

1. Always ask for pronouns — and then remember to use them!

When you meet a new person, try introducing yourself this way: "I'm Aron, and I prefer he/him pronouns." This sends the other person the message that you care about pronouns, and it also suggests that you will listen to and respect their choices if they share their preferred pronouns with you. And if someone's pronouns are strange or unfamiliar to you, don't be afraid to make mistakes — they happen. But don't use your confusion as an excuse to ignore someone's gender identity. Gender neutral pronouns come in many forms, including zie, ze, and they (sometimes used as a singular gender neutral pronoun). Learn some of them below:

2. Don't assume that every non-binary person uses 'they' pronouns.

"They" is the most well-known way of referring to someone without using their gender. But that doesn't mean it's the only way. Using "they" avoids gender, but that doesn't mean every non-binary person likes or answers to that pronoun. For some people, gender neutral pronouns are interchangeable. For others, a lot of thought has gone into what they are comfortable with and what they prefer. You should listen and take their lead.

"I get really frustrated when people use 'they' when referencing me. It's not my pronoun and is particularly irritating, because people are sorta making an attempt at respecting my genderqueer identity, but still mispronouncing me," New York author Sassafras Lowrey told ATTN:. Lowrey prefers ze/hir pronouns. "I think that happens both from a place of trying to be respectful of folks who identify as genderqueer, but also because ... many people are finding it easier than putting into practice other queer pronouns."

3. Don't assume that all non-binary people are transgender, and don't assume that trans people are non-binary.

Not all gender non-binary people are the same. There are many different identities within the gender identity spectrum that fall outside of a clear male/female binary: agender, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, gender different, and gender fluid, just to name a few.

While some non-binary people may identify as genderqueer and transgender, some won't. Likewise, many transgender people do feel like they fit somewhere within the gender binary — just not within the sex or gender identity that they were assigned at birth; they are unlikely to identify as non-binary. A good rule of thumb? Follow the lead of the person with whom you're interacting.

4. Always respect the name that someone gives you — and don't ask for their 'real' name.

Names are central to who we are, and respecting the name that someone gives you is vital to being a good ally. Chosen names are just as valid as legal names, but occasionally some lines of work require that you know someone's legal name. If you're a lawyer or other professional to whom this might apply, try asking for a non-binary person's "documented name," along with their chosen name. Then make sure to use the person's chosen name wherever possible.

ALSO: What Is Transgender Top Surgery?

5. Don't ask about surgery or someone's genitals. Ever.

There's never any reason to ask about someone's surgical status or genitals, unless they offer the information themselves or you're in an intimate (read: sexy) relationship with them. Otherwise, it's simply not information that you need to know, no matter how curious you are or how well-intentioned your questions. Some non-binary people choose to have gender-confirming surgeries, and some don't. It's none of your business. Just. Don't. Ask.

6. Always seek to educate yourself, rather than leaning on non-binary people to educate you.

Lastly, it's not the sole responsibility of a non-binary person to educate you about their identity. Listen to them, take their lead. But also be a good ally by working to educate yourself by reading a good book about gender identity or asking questions at your local LGBTQ center. Go forth: The knowledge is out there!

RELATED: Non-Binary People Set the Record Straight on Gender Neutral Pronouns