Are Non-Binary Boxes On Forms Truly Inclusive?
Is being able to tick a box really enough?
A few years ago I finally learned about the term non-binary which sent me on a wonderful adventure, well into the rabbit hole, leading through the forest of opportunity, and finally through the mysterious caves of self discovery. Suddenly my life started making sense, and the more I learned the more it led to even more learning about myself.
Non-binary pronouns, they/them, just felt like a fit for me more so than my given pronouns she/her, which had always felt like when somebody is trying to get your attention by calling out the wrong name.
But I was choosy about when and where I used my correct pronouns
Because I knew non-binary people who had received negative experiences with people being unkind just because of their pronouns and being true to their identity.
And so, I decided to tread carefully and dip my toe in the pool here and there, where I felt the tide would be a little calmer.
When I started a new job I thought the recruitment paperwork spoke volumes and told me all I needed to know about a company. This one in particular had the following gender options:
Prefer not to disclose
Prefer not to disclose? I might not wish to share my gender identity for a variety of reasons, but it’s not a dirty secret.
I panicked that this might mean the office I was applying to work in wasn’t very inclusive, and so I ticked ‘female’.
Later on, with support from the national trans and non-binary network group within the membership organisation, I plucked up the courage to reveal my true self at work. And my office proved my suspicions right, with judgement, bullying and more.
But I noticed things starting to change
Organisations started to publicise that they were changing their language to be more inclusive, and various forms were being altered to add more gender options, that were not just worded as if it was meant for people who wished to declare they had committed cold blooded murder. And I thought ‘yes, more people are waking up and organisations are finally listening!’
But are they really?
At first, if I had to fill in a form my heart leapt for joy when I saw fully inclusive gender options. But as time has gone by I have learned that this doesn’t necessarily mean an organisation is being inclusive.
Let me tell you a little story to explain
Recently I underwent an assessment for ASD (autism spectrum disorder), for which the paperwork was grueling. But all the way through it there were opportunities to let the Psychiatrist know of my pronouns and gender identity, with plenty of options to choose from which really made me smile.
I spent a large chunk of time correcting the many misgendered pronouns my mother had written on her form about my childhood (it’s a working progress with my family), and sent them all off to the psychiatrist, eager to get this process over and done with as quickly as possible.
The actual assessment with the Psychiatrist went well, and he was really empathetic, sensitive and professional throughout. He really made me feel at ease, which can be difficult for me in such situations. Overall the experience was emotionally taxing but handled really well by the professionals, which made everything that little bit easier.
And then the report came through explaining the outcome and diagnosis.
Me and mother agreed with everything that was written, except for one thing.
I was referred to as ‘she/her’ throughout the report. It felt like I was reading about somebody else, and all of that time spent ensuring that the paperwork me and my family completed was true to my gender felt like a complete waste of time.
Having an option is not inclusive, it’s the actions that follow that determine inclusivity
This is why I no longer feel like a service is being inclusive based on what they have written on their paperwork. No more little happy dance when I see a non-binary option in the gender category. I wait to see what comes next.
The purpose of having these boxes is not for the person completing them to stop complaining, or to feel included because they now have a box they can tick.
It was never about the box
It has always been about being included and treated as an equal. This means, that if people who identify as being in one of the two binary genders (male/female) have their correct pronouns honoured, then so should everyone, including those outside of the binary.
The boxes are just there to say ‘hey, this is my gender and pronouns so you can get them correct’.
What seems to be happening, to me, is the same as when organisations green wash, which is when an organisation uses buzz words, or phrases to look like they are being eco friendly, whilst their actions are far from it.
To me, having a tick box but not actually acting on the content is no different. It tells me that an organisation wants to look like they are being inclusive, but they have no intentions on actually acting on this information to be truly inclusive.
What makes something eco friendly is not just to slap on a label saying ‘eco friendly’ on a product full of toxic chemicals, or on a non recyclable plastic container (which is happening all too often). It’s actually making your products safe for the environment, such as reviewing the packaging and ingredients and changing them to be eco friendly.
The same thing goes for the gender boxes. Having more options is great, but it’s not inclusive in isolation if the actions are not there.
So how do we make forms actually inclusive?
In short, by actually using them. Not just providing a place for people to tick, for you to then take no notice of. But actually looking at the box or word, making note and applying it to that person.
Here are a few other tips on how organisations can create more inclusivity:
- Provide training to employees on what various genders, pronouns and language mean, and how they can use this information to adapt their working to each individual, including the importance of paying attention to the gender and pronouns a person shares.
- Don’t allow training to be a one time thing to attend and then forget. Create and regularly review an action plan with teams on what actions are needed to ensure gender inclusivity, including reviewing forms/paperwork.
- Be transparent and welcoming to people you work with. Start with a statement such as ‘I see your pronouns are they/them. I am still learning so please highlight and correct me if I use the wrong pronouns. I want to get them right.’ When people say something like this to me, I value their honesty. People will make slips, and that’s okay. We just ask that you try your best. Being invited to correct a mistake makes me feel like I am in a safe place to do so. And having somebody say something like this shows me that they are taking note of what I have shared with them about by gender. It really can make all of the difference.
- Include pronouns on name badges and email signatures. By sharing your own pronouns a person may feel more comfortable in doing the same. It also starts to normalise asking for and sharing pronouns, and can help people to create new habits.
- Never assume. Not everyone feels comfortable in sharing their pronouns and that’s okay. Nobody should ever be made to feel uncomfortable. But if this is the case, try not to just assume, as we cannot tell a person’s gender by their appearance. If in doubt, stick to gender neutral pronouns.