Non-binary in theory, cis-binary in practice

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Non-binary people have broken so many political barriers in recent years. From legal identification markers to the right to access public facilities, non-binary people have fought to be recognized. And in lots of ways it feels like that recognition is finally happening. The entertainment industry is beginning to highlight more and more gender diversity. More non-binary people are being cast, winning awards, writing and directing. In lieu of this, hundreds of organizations have adopted gender-inclusive work trainings and policies in order to facilitate a more inclusive work environment for trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people. This is a major undertaking. It requires a huge epistemological shift in the ways that we think about gender. It requires that we unlearn a binary system that taught us to police one another as ‘man & woman’ in the first place. And if we really want to include non-binary people, then we really have to understand what it means to identify beyond the gender binary, and all that it comes with.


Non-binary people are being called upon to enter theatrical spaces, but are those theatre’s ready for us? It has become increasingly popular to claim that your organization or company is ‘diverse’ and ‘inclusive’, it is less popular to actually put in the work to cultivate ‘inclusion’. Playing around with buzz words to attract marginalized communities can be extremely dangerous, especially if they are not actually ready to include. Diversity is ineffective if we’re not also practicing inclusion. It’s like sending us in to the lions pit in the name of representation. If you want to attract non-binary people to your company or organization, you have to be diligently practicing inclusion. And inclusion means not only recognizing people’s differences but actually incorporating them.


Does your company or organization claim to support non-binary people? If so, here’s how to take it to the next level. One of the most important things to non-binary people is that we want to feel welcome in public spaces. Access to public space has become a highly contentious debate with legislators who seek to render gender non-conforming people invisible. Restricting access to the public is an old anti-trans discrimination tactic.  They think that if we are barred from public spaces that we will simply disappear. But everyone deserves the right to exist freely in public, no matter how they look and no matter how they identify. If your theatre company believes this then they must exemplify it. You have to prove that a space is inclusive of non-binary people if you want to attract non-binary people. 


An inclusive policy to impose would be to provide gender neutral restroom facilities. Something as simple as changing restroom signs to include people of all genders is a huge step in the right direction. I have even seen a theatre company place a sign outside traditional binary male/female restrooms that invites “anyone to use any restroom regardless of their gender identity or presentation”. It is these little things that make non-binary people feel included. These micro-fabrics come together to make up our larger sense of public society. We have to think about what message we are putting out. 


Another inclusive policy that you can bring to your company or organization is diversity training for all employees and managers. Keeping up to date on the appropriate language, terminology and discourse around non-binary politics will foster a culture of inclusion. Refer to your local LGBT Center for information and resources on how to get your staff trained now. And ensuring that all employees hired are educated on gender diversity in the workplace will minimize the number of transphobic encounters happening all together.


Although the non-binary pronoun “They” was just added to Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2019, non-binary people have existed since the beginning of time. There is always new language and new labels being utilized to self-express, but non-binary people are not new. Cross-culturally and trans-historically there have always been people who defy social gender norms. Yet to much of the cis gender world we are still a symbol of mystery. We are ancient, yet novel, both object and aesthetic. But we are so much more than a tokenized gesture. And we will only dismantle these stereotypes by normalizing what it means to be non-binary. People need to see us living every day lives out in public, in the restroom, and on the street. They need to experience us as the complex, nuanced, real life beings that we are. Non-binary is a more than an idea, we are a people. 

Josh Orlando

Josh Orlando

Josh Orlando (he/she/they) is a gender nonconforming artist, activist, educator based out of Los Angeles, CA. They have a masters degree in Theater Arts from the University of California Santa Cruz. Josh is where performance art meets gender politics.