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Home / Articles / Book Club / It Starts With Pronouns: Understanding Non-Binary Survivors

It Starts With Pronouns: Understanding Non-Binary Survivors

Editor Lexie Bean of Written on the Body answers readers’ questions

It Starts With Pronouns: Understanding Non-Binary Survivors

Last April, we announced our third book club selection, Written on the Body: Letters from Trans and Non-Binary Survivors of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence. In this collection of unique letters, survivors wrote to different parts of their body—brains that won’t let go of memories, eyes that have seen too much, skin that longs to be touched without violence. It gave readers of all identities a new perspective on how abuse can infiltrate anyone’s life, and how it can be especially sinister to those in a fragile place, trying to understand their identities. 

The stories were compiled by New York writer and editor Lexie Bean, 27, themselves a survivor of abuse and assault. Bean, who identifies as either non-binary or “trans-boy-ish” answers some of your questions on their book below. 

“What’s the difference between gender binary, gender non-binary and intersex?”

Bean: Gender binary is the construct that there are two kinds of people in the world—there are men and there are women. Growing up in the ’90s that was also framed as men are from Mars and women are from Venus. [laughs]

Non-binary is the acknowledgment of people who know or believe that there are more than two options. Because I grew up with the men are from Mars metaphor I sometimes think of the galaxies and how they’re larger than two planets. Non-binary is the large umbrella for everything in between.

Intersex is different. I’m trying to think of the most simple way to define it… it’s somebody who was born with something in between, based on Western medicine, that measures what somebody is. It’s a Westernized idea of a binary. If someone is too close to the cusp of what this over-defined thing is, they’re pushed to one side or another. It often implies putting a newborn in some sort of surgery situation to fit them into something that other people can categorize or understand and it’s often framed as, let’s give this person a better life. 

“What’s the best way to address someone who appears non-binary if you’re not sure what pronouns they prefer?”

Bean: I think it’s good to ask. And not make it a big deal. I think it’s even healthy to ask cisgender people what their pronouns are so it doesn’t make the trans person the odd one out for having to introduce themselves that way. Also, someone can change over time. I want to be addressed as “they” but if I’m around a certain group of people, I’m OK with “she” because I don’t want to do all that work. 

“How do you respond to hurtful remarks from strangers?”

Bean: I think the hurt can take many forms depending on the day. So, for example, I’m dating someone right now who identifies me as his boyfriend and they introduced me as his boyfriend to someone I’ve never met before. And although this person said a nice thing the look on her face did not feel good. And in that sort of moment I’m grateful to stand next to someone who can witness it with me. It feels a little scarier alone. It feels like, why did I go outside today? Why did I try to affirm myself when I have to explain it other people? 

And then sometimes people will say or do directly hurtful things, or larger scale things like the military transgender ban.

I think a lot of it is my privilege of living in NYC. I have creative spaces that are mostly queer people so knowing that I have these things to rely on I can handle a lot of the small scale and larger scale things. But it’s harder when I’m by myself, it’s hard to be one of anything in a room, even if it’s a woman or person of color. 

If people do say something that’s offensive, just being willing to acknowledge they said the thing goes a long way. I’ve had many times with loved ones when I gently correct them on my pronouns and they say, “When did I do that?” and then I have to say, “Actually it was 10 seconds ago and actually you always do that.” The lack of acknowledgment cuts deepest. 

“I’ve written a lot about my experiences as a non-binary person who has survived abuse. What should I do with it? Can I get it published somewhere?”

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Bean: The short answer is there’s a lot of online publications that specialize in LGBTQIA dialogue such as ThemOutGoMagBust or Bitch. There’s so many others that are looking to better understand these issues. When writing, consider who you want your audience to be because there’s pros and cons to each. There’s a lot of power to tapping into a more mainstream publication. But also, in the more LGBTQ specific ones, you know exactly who your audience is and there’s some safety to that. If you’re looking to write a book, I recommend starting with articles and writing from there. 

And start by writing for yourself first and future drafts can be meant for sharing. I know I get in my own way if I think about an audience too soon. Also, read other things by non-binary people that have been more recently published.

“I’m currently transitioning from female to male. My partner went from being unsupportive of this to downright mean, berating me and putting me down every chance she gets. Is this abuse?”

Bean: Yes. I did the same thing where I stayed in a similar thing and, I will only speak for myself in this, but those sorts of conditions made me believe that I had to stay because no one else would ever love me. Abuse is someone making you believe that you depend on them for love. If it is escalating, don’t wait for it to become too big or change form. 

“Transgender individuals are being murdered at an alarming rate. What can we do to stop this?”

Bean: Definitely one of my goals in putting my book together was this [education]. Think about if you know any transgender individuals and if you don’t, think about why not. It might be geographical, it might be prejudice, but start there. Acknowledge your own biases when you walk into a space. 

It’s trans women who are most likely to be attacked on the street and trans men who are most likely to commit suicide. Reproductive rights have been on my mind a lot lately, a lot of assigned-female-at-birth trans people I know will not go to the gynecologist. We need to be included in the discussion on trans health and feel that we’re not insidious. 

All of this comes down to treating trans people as a burden. Pronouns are a very small example but represent something much larger. Some people say it’s a burden to think about someone’s pronouns, but those who say that have never actually met a trans person and that’s a small way of being like, this person’s a burden

Perhaps that’s the biggest thing of all to counter death… there’s nothing wrong with loving someone who’s not like you, or is like you. We’re not taking away anything from you by existing.

Ready for the next read? See our fourth DomesticShelters Book Club selection, No Visible Bruises, and read our interview with its author.