I was one of you. I didn’t “get it”. I didn’t understand the they/them identification and I thought it was confusing. Am I referencing one person or multiple?
Then I had my first non-binary client. Then my second. Now many. Now I get it. Now I interrupt people who say they “don’t get it and think it’s stupid” and tell them they are wrong and here’s why.
I am a firm believer in not passing judgement. It took me some time to get there in my life, but for the past five years at least I’ve been there. I’ve opened myself up to new experiences and new people and learned so much. Psychiatry does that. Makes you discover new things about people every day, makes me examine my beliefs and values regularly.
So back to they/them. It is the pronoun most often preferred by the non-binary community. Not always but often. I’ve had non-binary clients on hormone replacement therapy (of Testosterone or Estradiol or both at different times for different reasons). I’ve had non-binary clients seek surgical interventions. I’ve had them not. I’ve had non-binary clients look probably very confusing to society in general, but bless them, they present themselves as they feel comfortable and as they see fit with fear yes of judgement and discrimination but the courage to walk forth anyway.
The non-binary community specifically has taught me so much about courage. For many transgender individuals instead of ascribing to their birth gender they identify more with the opposite gender- boy to girl or girl to boy. That seems more acceptable to society sometimes. They still face horrible discrimination and assaults and even murder, but the binary view society holds of gender is easier to wrap one’s head around.
A non-binary individual may not feel as though they belong to either gender and in fact may seek different traits from both genders. They feels more like a “they” then a “him” or a “her”. They may feel more comfortable being pegged as a certain gender he/him or she/her in general but still feel more comfortable with they/them.
They may want Testosterone to lower their voice, and estradiol to grow breasts. They may identify as asexual, or they may identify as pansexual or gay or Queer or heterosexual. Just a blatant reminder that gender identify has nothing to do with sexual orientation.
I have a lot of “they/them” individuals on my caseload. They are wonderful people who teach me so much about gender biases and gender expectations as they break all of them. After having been privileged to be a witness to their journey through the gender spectrum I know that there is so much I don’t know.
I know though that there truly are they/them individuals who do not fit one gender or the other, and I see the toll it takes on them to have to explain that over and over to family members, friends, and every one else they come into contact with. I see the hurt and frustration when some one calls them a her, when they have asked for the hundredth time to be referred to as they.
I see you. I know you. And I admire you.
If you know a they/them don’t be repelled by your insecurities and by your lack of knowledge. Just respect the request for appropriate pronouns. Get to know them. Because once you do, you will realize that your gender binary norms are wrong. That there are individuals who defy them. That they are beautiful and deserve respect.
So yes, they/them feels weird at first. Just do it. Because it’s not hurting you. But it’s hurting them deeply by not using it.