Dove Standley: Freedom means getting to choose none of the above

Published 7:51 am Saturday, July 15, 2023

Editor’s note: This is the latest in the monthly column produced by members of the Farmville PRIDE group. To find previous columns, visit our website at

Dove StandleyJuly 14th of every year is International Non-binary People’s Day.

If you are reading this, there is a reasonable chance that someone in your life identifies as non-binary. In a study published in 2021 by the UCLA Williams Institute it was reported that 1.2 million LGBTQ+ people identified as non-binary in the United States. If you were to only interact with 1 new person every day you would likely have crossed paths with a non-binary before a year’s time. Unfortunately, most Americans are not familiar with what it means to be non-binary. Even more unfortunately, that lack of understanding often leads to distrust and even vilification. We hope sharing a little more information on non-binary folks will help our community understand their non-binary friends, family, or neighbors.

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Whenever I try to help people understand the term, there is often a hangup over wanting to focus on how to know if someone IS non-binary. They want an all encompassing list. But, that’s simply not possible because it is a category defined by what you are not, rather than what you are. It’s right there on the label… to be “non-binary” just means any gender identity that does not neatly fit into the male/female binary. That can include any blend of the two, the absence of either, or anything beyond.

We are told that freedom and independence is a hallmark of life in this country. We value and encourage people to make their own choices and to forge their own path in life. I can’t think of any reason that shouldn’t apply to a person’s identity or gender. If neither “male”, nor “female” fits as a way to describe yourself, why should you force yourself to adjust and conform to a two option system that even nature declines to adhere to. It may be easy to expect things to always fall into the two most common options, but it’s not easy for the people who are the exceptions to live a life constantly finding the world around you generally assumes that they understand you better than you understand yourself.

If non-binary folks are something you are unfamiliar with, you are not alone in finding it difficult to get used to. Humans are practically hard wired to recognize patterns and trends and use that information to anticipate the world around us with minimal information. That skill helps us do more with our lives. Unfortunately, it also makes it hard to change our assumptions without effort. We question the new information. We don’t want to be wrong again, and that is least likely to happen if the exception is a mistake rather than a new variable we have to work into our predictions. We may feel ungrounded by having to adjust something as foundational as seeing a person and creating our perception of who they are. Gender roles are still very prevalent in how we behave so it’s no surprise we try to categorize people into them early to help us choose what to anticipate from them. But our ability to identify other people doesn’t outweigh another person’s ability to identify and express themselves. The only valid authority on any person’s gender is the person themself. Learning to let each person self identify before you develop a lasting impression promotes an environment of respect for those you interact with.

If this is new to you I hope this column helps you understand someone in your life a little better. In the south, we like to talk about our hospitality and ability to make people feel at home around us. Respecting those around us is a point of pride. If you have non-binary friends, neighbors, or coworkers I hope you are able to make them feel comfortable enough to be themselves around you. If you have non-binary children I hope they know that your love for them is not affected by their ability to conform to a two option system that doesn’t suit them. If you are non-binary, I hope you find the best way to be yourself and find the respect and love you deserve from your community.

Farmville Pride is an inclusive group for the Heart of Virginia’s LGBTQ+ community and allies. Farmville Pride works to create spaces to support LGBTQ+ people in Farmville and the surrounding area. Find us on Facebook, Instagram, or at

Dove Standley is the Board Chair for the Farmville Pride Board of Directors. She can be contacted at