By Oliver Thompson (they/them), Customer Team Member and Member Pioneer

Hi, I’m Oli, I use they/them pronouns, and I identify as non-binary. Today, Wednesday 14 July is International Non-Binary People’s Day and Co-op are marking this to raise awareness of non-binary identities and to show solidarity with our communities.

I think a good place to start is to explain what non-binary means, as many people don’t know much about the identity at all. The Stonewall definition is that non-binary is ‘an umbrella term for people whose gender identity doesn’t sit comfortably with man or woman. Non-binary identities are varied and can include people who identify with some aspects of binary identities, while others reject them entirely.’

What’s fantastic is that I’ve heard some great stories about managers at Co-op role-modelling non-binary inclusion, but we need to do much more to encourage awareness and understanding not just at Co-op but with society in general. That’s why I’d like to share my story.

I came out as non-binary last summer. It was like coming out as gay had never happened and it was all brand new to me. I was worried people would look at me differently as non-binary, and think I was odd or strange. But thankfully I was very lucky because my friends, who aren’t non-binary, understand that there are more genders outside of ‘man’ and ‘woman’.

I don’t know many other queer colleagues within the area I work – let alone colleagues that identify as non-binary. Non-binary communities do tend to be pretty invisible.

Many trans and non-binary people talk about experiencing something called ‘gender euphoria‘, which is the feeling of comfort or joy when your true gender is affirmed. One person described it as the same feeling you get when you hear a really great piece of music or you eat an amazing meal and things just feel good and right. For me, I get a sense of gender euphoria when people use ‘they’ pronouns for me because it shows me that they see me as I see myself, and when I meet other non-binary people we share a sense of solidarity.

I often have to correct people on my pronouns if they refer to me as ‘he’ or ‘him’. Because I’m constantly misgendered by customers, I feel like it’s easier to use any pronoun. I know this sounds bizarre, but there isn’t a way for customers to know how I identify and it gets exhausting to tell each one I use ‘they/them’. I understand that people make mistakes and I try to not let it affect me, but my advice to anyone who makes a mistake is to learn from it and try not to let it happen again.

Did you know that it’s still not possible in the U.K. to be legally registered as non-binary? This means it can be really difficult for non-binary people to navigate healthcare, education, legal systems, workplaces and public facilities. That’s why I’ve had to say to myself, gender-wise, I am non-binary – however, for medical reasons I have typical male sex characteristics and should perhaps be treated as such. But it does put a dampener on my mental health sometimes.

I was recently asked, ‘if you could choose to be in the LGBTQ+ community, would you?’ I know that’s such a strange question to be asked, but I think the answer will always be yes! The community creates its own norms and redefines any area they’re in.

When I go for drinks with only people in the LGBTQ+ community, it’s vastly different to going out with my friends who aren’t part of the community. We all seem to get each other and create a space for one another that’s safe and joyous and we feel like we’re the norm and anyone else is an outsider, which is very odd thing to experience.

At Co-op, our colleague networks are a wonderful resource. If you’re a non-binary Co-op colleague and are looking to be part of an inclusive LGBTQ+ community, we’d love to hear from you: respectLGBT@coop.co.uk. You can also apply to be part of our steering group and working groups here.

If you’re an ally and want to learn more, please check out our International Non-Binary People’s Day Engagement Pack (below), our Trans and Non-Binary Inclusion Policy and our Inclusion Hub* site.

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