Here at Makara Health, our lovely HR department is well into the process of updating our Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Policy, and – as someone who adds a little diversity to the workplace because of my gender identity – it got me thinking about equality and inclusion. You see, one of the things I’ve always valued in a workplace is the ability to bring myself to work, exactly as I am. At 40 years of age, I’ve done a lot of pretending to be “normal”, and here at Makara, I’ve felt like my true self has been not only accepted but viewed positively by my co-workers. I feel equal, and I feel included. I don’t need to pretend to be normal, because I and my differences are seen and treated as normal.
Let’s start at the beginning. My gender identity first presented as a bit of an in-joke in my family. These were very much the early days of the modern open discussion of transgender identity, and – don’t worry – I was in on the joke (I came up with half of them!). People would ask, “have you ever noticed that your kids are the wrong way round?” when referring to the very boyish ways I sometimes behaved and the openness of my brother when expressing emotion. Or, for those who only noticed my behaviour, “It’s like you’ve got two sons, not one”. My mum tried her best to wedge me into dresses but for most of my childhood was faced with a taffeta-clad tantrum when she tried. But as much as I was masculine, I was also feminine. I loved my long hair being put into ringlets. “She’s just a tomboy, she’ll soon get interested in makeup and heels when she discovers boys”. But the make-up and heels never did come along. There were points growing up when I wondered if there’d been some colossal mistake and if I was actually a boy, but that identity didn’t really fit. I knew I wasn’t a “proper” girl, but I wasn’t a boy either.
I kind of envy kids growing up today (and kind of don’t, at least none of the dumb stuff I did as a kid was captured on camera and posted on TikTok!) but kids today have so many words to describe who they are and places to go to find out more. I just thought I was defective.
Then one day I heard a description. Imagine the music you might hear in a movie when the clouds part to reveal a ray of light that shines on exactly what the hero is looking for. Are you imagining it? Good. It’s important for atmospheric purposes.
Not only am I not defective. There are enough other people like me out there that there’s a name for it.
I’m keenly aware of the importance of words in my role as a writer, and there’s something particularly jarring about not having the words to describe yourself. You feel unrepresented, uncared for, misunderstood, not real… other. Everything becomes more clunky and complicated… “well it’s kind of like I’m a bit this but not completely and also a bit that” and in the end, you just settle with “I’m that”. Which is what I did. I decided it was easier to identify as a woman because my biological sex is female. But I always felt like I was lying, or that I was some weird subsection of woman that wasn’t quite the same as the rest. Now I had a description. I am non-̩binary.
However, despite having words to define ourselves, and seeing some increase in the open-mindedness of society as a whole, it can still be pretty bleak out there.
In a recent survey of those who identify as LGBT+ in the UK, 6.9% of respondents identified as non-binary. While the average UK life satisfaction is 7.7/10, it’s only 5.5 for non-binary individuals, and over three-quarters of non-binary individuals avoid expressing their gender identity for fear of a negative response from others. There is also no legal recognition of non-binary individuals in the UK.
We’ve come a long way, but there’s still so far to go. While we’re waiting for more acceptance and formalised recognition, our safe spaces are literal lifesavers. If you know someone non-binary or trans, talk to them about their experiences and ask them what you could do to make their lives better – although be sure to check they are comfortable talking about it and respect them if they are not. Show yourself to be a safe space. We need safe spaces.
I am incredibly grateful that my workplace is a safe space for me to be myself. When you feel comfortable enough to stop pretending, you can drop that heavy, exhausting mask and use your energy to be creative and to get on with life… just like everyone else.
*At this point I’d like to add that the trans experience is incredibly varied, not only in terms of identity but in terms of how people proceed socially and medically. I can only give an account of my personal experience of being non-binary. Should you wish to learn more about the trans experience, there’s a wealth of resources on the internet and lots of fantastic trans content creators on social media that you can interact with to find out more.