I was mocked on TV for being non-binary – three years on, things are starting to change


Piers Morgan kept trying to rile us up, making ridiculous statements that had little-to-nothing to do with being non-binary (Picture: ITV)

About three and a half years ago, my partner and I were invited to come onto Good Morning Britain to discuss being non-binary with hosts Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid.

It followed an intense week on the show where the idea of people being non-binary was being discussed, alongside the news that both a school and a police force in the UK were considering introducing gender-neutral uniforms.

This was to the frustration of many, myself included, as the terms ‘gender neutral’ and ‘non-binary’ were constantly being used interchangeably, and there was a lot of misunderstanding about people like me.

For those of you who do not understand the difference, it’s really quite simple: ‘gender neutral’ usually refers to clothing, facilities or branding that isn’t aimed at a particular gender, e.g. gender neutral uniforms, gender neutral bathrooms, gender neutral language. It’s therefore an adjective used to describe something.

Making uniforms gender neutral is often a way to eliminate certain cultural trends about how women and men are supposed to dress, and to accommodate those who don’t feel comfortable about fitting into those boxes — whether or not they are men, women or non-binary people.

Personally I think people should be allowed to choose what items they wear, as opposed to forcing people to wear one thing or the other.

‘Non-binary’ however, is a way of describing someone’s gender identity, or how a person sees and experiences their innate sense of gender.

So when people say things like ‘gender neutral non-binary’, it means that they don’t really know what these terms mean, as it doesn’t make sense. It would be comparable to someone saying ‘This is Susan, she’s a gender woman.’

During our appearance on Good Morning Britain, it felt like the interview wasn’t an attempt to learn about non-binary issues or educate viewers, but seemingly more about trying to humiliate me and my partner. 

Before the show, we had made a pact not to rise to any arguments or derailments, but the interview started with Piers Morgan making fun of the name I use in the UK, Owl (which is a direct translation of my Icelandic name), asking me why I didn’t have surname, but quickly moved on once I told him my Icelandic name. 

Morgan kept trying to rile us up, making ridiculous statements that had little-to-nothing to do with being non-binary. These included asking if he could just decide he was a black woman, or go to London Zoo and claim to be an elephant. I was tempted to say that he’s probably best kept at a zoo, anyway. 

The interview was originally planned to be a short four-minute segment, but it turned into 15 minutes, in which my partner and I desperately tried to get some constructive points across, while practically being trolled by a TV host. 

After the interview, I felt really unsure and nervous about what had happened, but I was happy to see that the response was quite positive towards us, as people had seen how rude and inconsiderate Piers Morgan had been.

In the end, he did us a favour in the way he tried to goad us into an argument and by making his absurd comments. I personally think that it was quite indicative of the way non-binary people are often treated — as objects of ridicule, when all they are doing is trying to be true to themselves and explain to people how they experience their gender.

Sam Smith, in particular, has been visible, talking openly about using the singular ‘they’ pronoun (Picture: FOX via Getty Images)

But ever since that interview, we’ve seen a lot more positive representations of non-binary people. Celebrities such as singer Sam Smith, Queer Eye host Jonathan Van Ness and Grey’s Anatomy actor Sara Ramirez all came out publicly. 

Sam Smith, in particular, has been visible, talking openly about using the singular ‘they’ pronoun, as well as discussing parenthood and saying that they ‘want to be mummy’. We’re also seeing non-binary people represented on-screen as characters, in shows such as Billions and Star Trek: Discovery.

There has been a lot more discussion about ‘they’ — a gender neutral pronoun favoured by many non-binary people — and it was selected as 2019’s word of the year by US dictionary Merriam-Webster.

More and more countries are recognising non-binary people legally and allowing people to register as such on their ID documents. These include Malta, Iceland, Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, India, Nepal, Uruguay, and some states in the US.

A recent landmark employment tribunal in the UK also confirmed that non-binary people and gender fluid people are protected under the Equality Act (2010), ruling in favour of a non-binary person who had been discriminated against in the workplace.

As a non-binary person, it’s hugely affirming to see more and more people be openly who they are. It gives hope to me, and also to future generations who will grow up in a world where gender diversity is a given part of life, and not something to be stigmatised or scrutinised.

Non-binary people have existed throughout different cultures across the world for centuries, and as we move towards a more accepting and open society, more and more people will feel safe enough to be true to themselves. 

Recognition is inevitable, legally and socially – even though the UK does not legally do so yet, I believe it is a matter of time. All we have to do is open our minds to the possibility that gender is a much more complex idea than what we’ve traditionally been told. 

Non-binary people aren’t going away, and we deserve to be accepted, respected and allowed to express ourselves just like everyone else. We’re people, just like you, and we have a lot to contribute to society

Three and a half years ago I never would have thought we’d have made the progress we have now. So to my former self, and any non-binary person currently trying to navigate their way through life: Even though things are an uphill battle at the moment, we’ll get there.

Hang in there, and continue living your life for yourself, first and foremost.

Together we can build a more open and free society, that meets the needs of everyone, and where people can blossom as who they are – whether that’s as men, women, or non-binary.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing jess.austin@metro.co.uk 

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