Making space for non-binary co-workers
By Nora Farrell
08 June 2021
Hi, it’s me Nora. Your friendly neighbourhood graduate digital design engineer. And I am non-binary.
This is not a definitive guide to the definition of being non-binary. I am an individual and have a subjective experience. I also won’t be outlining or defining every aspect of the trans experience. I will be leaving resources below if you’re interested in learning more about the trans community.
This is simply an insight into the experience of a non-binary person and as a new joiner to Max Fordham.
I have found, with varying degrees of suspicion and genuine curiosity, the first question that often comes in
response to my gender is; “so are you trans then?”. To give context; the suffixes trans- and cis- come from
Latin, meaning ‘on the other side of’, and ‘on this side of’ respectively. According to this, it would be logical to
assume that I am part of the trans community. My sex assigned at birth is not ‘on the side of’ my gender. There
as aspects of the trans experience that I do identify with and aspect that I don’t. The key piece of information
is that my identity, sits outside of the gender binary.
This leads to my favourite question; what are my pronouns?
My pronouns are they/them. I don’t, and haven’t ever, identified with being a woman. Nor do I identify with
being a man. I find freedom, comfort, and safety with existing both in the middle and completely outside of
Personally, I do consider myself part of the trans community. You may agree with me, and you may not. And
that’s okay! When you try to categorise humans into strict definitions in any capacity, people will fall through
the cracks. Why do you think the term ‘grey area’ exists in the first place?
What I feel is important is safety, comfort, and acceptance.
At its core, the motivation behind defining pronouns is respect. Respecting an individual’s identified pronouns
is a human right. Beyond that, is kindness. Accepting and nurturing a person’s expression and identity.
When I have been misgendered, whether purposefully or as a result of assumption, I experience what is known
as ‘gender dysmorphia’. I liken this feeling to an itch in the base of my skull while bowling balls drop in the pit
of my stomach. It feels fundamentally wrong. Have you ever seen a child stroke an animal’s fur against the
grain and it made your teeth clench? It’s like that! Depending on the context it can vary from being
disheartening to earth shattering.
Under all letters of the LGBTQ+ community, coming out is a game of roulette that never ends. Coming out can
be terrifying and energy intensive, and you have to do it all the time! At the very least, every time you meet
Depending on the person you come out to, the result of a positive or negative reaction can have varying
impacts on your life. In the context of a professional environment, especially the most junior role of a graduate,
it is easy to convince yourself that coming out is an unnecessary undertaking. Which is what I did for the first
nine months of my Max Fordham career. In the case of gender identity, this meant that assumptions were
made about my gender and consequently I have been misgendered since my first day. This also include my
photo being included in the international women’s day “Women of Max Fordham” promotional photo.
This is a very common experience for nonbinary folk joining most businesses. While Max Fordham is an open,
accepting and welcoming place, they (like many other businesses) had never considered that someone in the
practice could be non-binary.
I, in no way, place the blame for this on my colleagues. But I also do not place the blame on myself. I extend a
kindness to myself for this time, I was frozen in fear. I had no idea how the clarification of my gender was going
to be taken. Would I have been ridiculed? Although this didn’t seem likely I was equally nervous that I would
be met with an eye roll, ignored, and purposefully misgendered from that point onwards. Equally, I had no idea how to approach it. Having only worked at Max Fordham a short while and, due to COVID, all of these being via MS Team, I didn’t want to call people specifically for the reason to come out to them. The pressure of arranging a meeting in people’s calendar whether one-on-one or in a giant practice wide Teams call to just say “Hey guys, please use they/them for me from now on! Thanks bye!” was debilitating.
Interrupting someone in the middle of an ongoing meeting to correct them on my pronouns seemed even
more frightening. I froze in meetings constantly when referred to as ‘she’. Therefore, I justified that being misgendered as a result of people simply not knowing and living with the discomfort was easier to handle.
I implore those of you reading this to ask yourselves now; why do I assume the gender of a new hire? Why do I not ask a person their preferred pronoun when I first meet them? Asking a new joiner their preferred pronouns has now been put in place at Max Fordham, which is an encouraging step in the right direction.
I understand that it can feel nervous and maybe a bit awkward to ask a person you’ve just met to clarify their pronouns. But it is tenfold more intimidating and frightening for a non-binary person to bring up their own gender identity on their first day. And once you begin to settle in, it can feel even more frightening to clarify. Is my new work friend, who has been misgendering me unknowingly for weeks, going to continue to associate with me if I tell them? Will they think I’m some silly child with strange notions? Will they feel awkward? See what I mean about roulette?
On the flip side of gender dysmorphia is gender euphoria. You can probably gather from context what this means. For me, the feeling is similar to (I may lose people here with this oddly specific reference from Nickelodeon’s hit noughties show Danny Phantom) when Danny turns from a ghost back into a human. His colouring in floats over his outline and then aligns and he is a living boy again! Simply, I feel totally and utterly me. It’s the feeling of a warm shower while drinking tea (try it if you haven’t, seriously it’s glorious). Pure warmth. Inside and out.
I experienced this feeling at Max Fordham when in the LGBTQ+ Network Teams chat (say that 10 times fast) someone mentioned that as part of the Pride Month celebrations that the practice were planning, we could explore the non-binary experience. Sitting at my Max Fordham-provided desk chair in my living room, I squealed. Out loud. I felt this rush of excitement. Someone else had brought it up! And it was okay! I was, by definition, euphoric.
Why would you not want to make someone feel like that? If you could, why would you not want your colleague to experience that joy and elation in place of months of discomfort? Food for thought. I entirely understand that much of this experience was as a result of assumption and not at all from a place of malicious intent. My motive for writing this piece is not to name and shame. I would simply like to turn everyone’s attention to an experience that they may not have seen or heard about before. To plant some seeds for contemplation that might result in you making someone like me feel safe, comfortable and accepted in the future!
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. I have left resources below for further reading if you are
Happy Pride Everyone!
The Gender Games by Juno Dawson (Non-fiction/memoir of a trans woman)
Birthday by Meredith Russo (YA fiction)
Gender Explorers by Juno Roche (Non-fiction, multiple experiences of trans youth)