International Non-Binary People's Day 2023

Dr Sebastian Cordoba, Senior Lecturer in Psychology discusses the awareness day and his ongoing gender studies research.

Date: 14 July 2023

14 July is International Non-Binary People's Day, an annual celebration that has been observed since 2012. This day celebrates and honours the existence of non-binary people around the world. It also raises awareness of the unique set of challenges that non-binary people face in society, including lack of representation, discrimination, and other inequities.  

Non-binary representation and awareness are deeply important to me both personally and professionally. Personally, I am passionate about equity, diversity and inclusion, particularly for gender and sexually-minoritised people, as I have rarely felt represented (in academia, the media, and other areas of society) as a queer, Colombian, first-generation university graduate from a working class background. Professionally, as a social psychologist, I have been examining the experiences of non-binary people in society since 2016 and I focus on knowledge exchange around this underexplored area of research.   

While non-binary gender identities have gained more cultural awareness and representation in mainstream culture, my research has revealed that there is indeed much to be learned about this ‘invisible’ population, one that has long existed but is just now making its way into the mainstream consciousness. There is a clear lack of societal understanding of gender diversity.  

My research, for instance, sheds light on the various ways non-binary people navigate the world using non-binary language, the distress that originates from social interactions in which their language is not affirmed, and the various ways in which non-binary people manage these situations. I interviewed 22 non-binary people living in the UK, and found that misgendering from those in close social proximities (such as close friends, partners, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and close family members) often resulted in more intense distress due to their high levels of emotionality; however, the intentions (whether intentional or unintentional) behind such utterances, as interpreted by participants, modulated these effects. For instance, when misgendering was interpreted to be intentional, distress was more intense. Yet, in emotionally distant interactions such as extended family, acquaintances, or strangers, the distress caused by misgendering was found to be less intense because misgendering was mostly unintentional; this distress was found to accumulate over time.  

I argue that cultural and linguistic unintelligibility – namely, the lack of awareness about non-binary identities, experiences, and language such as gender neutrality is one of the main reasons non-binary people experience distress. Some participants described this pain as ’a thousand paper cuts’, alluding to the ways in which these microaggressions build up over time.  

It is imperative to challenge and adapt the inherently cisnormative systems embedded in language that undermine gender diversity. For example, when it comes to indexing gender in medical, educational, legal, and work environments, there are typically only two gender options (man/male and woman/female) in formal introductions, forms, etc. It is recommended that a collection of gender, pronoun, and title options (including open response) should be included. Additionally, these linguistic adoptions should be updated on an ongoing basis, allowing people to change their pronouns periodically, for instance. Adding these options would ensure that those who do not identify solely as men or women are acknowledged and that they then feel comfortable accessing vital services such as medical treatment, social services, education, and employment.  

My research findings also highlighted that service providers, practitioners, educators, and other areas of society are in need of inclusion and diversity training that includes gender and sexual diversity and language use. Such training should be informed by research like mine, as it demonstrates the varying effects of misgendering on trans and non-binary people.  

London Metropolitan University has recently inaugurated the Rainbow Room, a safe space for queer people, led by Donna Jones, which has hosted a wonderful variety of events for staff, students, the public and LGBTQIA+ community since its inception. These types of spaces and events are crucial for queer people, including trans and non-binary people, as they demonstrate the institutional commitment to queer London Met – and the eradication of homophobia and transphobia from our communities.  

Dr Sebastian Cordoba

Dr Sebastian Cordoba's latest publication, “Non-binary gender identities: The language of becoming” was published by Routledge in 2023.