There is constant talk of non-binary people online, generally by people who aren’t non-binary themselves.
The talk about us has exploded in recent years, highlighting the growing public awareness of the existence of non-binary gender identities. That realization didn’t come from formal education, rather from pioneering non-binary individuals publicly sharing their stories about how they started living more authentically, like Demi Lovato and Mae Martin, who both came out in 2021, and Janelle Monae, who did it in 2022.
His debates not only online take place in print newspapers, in parliament, in workplaces, among friends and family and in public meetings. But it’s in online spaces where anonymous social media accounts can make dozens of posts every hour and where traditional media organizations have posted tens of thousands of pages of content mentioning non-binary people.
You’d be right to assume that many of these play into culture wars and moral panics about trans and non-binary people. Discussion topics beyond non-binary people as a category of people range from celebrity stories like the existence of Sam Smith, to overtly transphobic angles like the dog whistle’s criticism of institutions for allowing staff to display pronouns on their badges.
Although search engines aren’t perfect, according to Google, MailOnline has, to date, published around 65,000 pages mentioning non-binary. The BBC published 3,600, The Sun around 900, The Times the record-breaking British newspaper 776, The Guardian which is boycotted by trans and non-binary writers 357 and Sky News 210.
Many of these articles purport to be neutral or positive, but a significant portion are written in a way that stigmatizes or ridicules non-binary people. Perhaps this is why so few employ non-binary writers.
The volume of discussions is also completely disproportionate according to the most recent census data, there were 30,000 non-binary people in England and Wales in 2021. Yet in 2021 alone, over 20,000 articles published from the UK mentioned non-binary people.
Away from the news, there are many forums where trans and non-binary people are discussed at length. The comment sections under articles that mention gendered or non-binary celebrities, or other topics related to non-binary people, quickly fill up with people discussing our lives.
Twitter has been a severely toxic environment for trans and non-binary people for years, long before Elon Musk came along and tried to redefine cis, as in cisgender, as a slur.
The platform has such a wide range of issues related to the treatment of trans and non-binary people, such as the decision that transphobic Tweets do not violate its community guidelines, that it is not possible to cover it with the attention its transphobia deserves in this single article.
Other platforms are hotbeds of discussion. Reddit, the so-called front page of the internet, has over half a million pages mentioning non-binary people. Reddit is a much more dynamic environment where people from a wider variety of political and social backgrounds can seek advice and initiate debates.
More concerning is the Mumsnet forum. According to Google, there are nearly 4,000 posts on the site that mention non-binary people. Mumsnet has gained notoriety in the trans and non-binary community for providing a safe haven for gender critical voices.
Online discussion of non-binary people is a mixed bag, but there is more positive than negative
A basic search for non-binary on Google returns nearly 60 million pages, and Google Trends data shows a clear upward trend in the search term in the UK since 2015, with a significant acceleration since early 2021.
Data provided by media monitoring firm Cision shows that sentiment for this content is mixed but, perhaps surprisingly, is weighted towards the positive.
Cision looked at online content posted in the UK from 2017 to the end of 2022, totaling over 87,000 evaluable posts. Over that time, of the content that was rated either positive or negative, positive articles (nearly 22,000) outnumbered negative articles (just over 9,000) by more than two to one.
However, most of the content was rated neutral (over 55,000). This can be explained by the increased volumes of factual content mentioning non-binary people, such as equality and diversity educational materials.
There has been an increase in published content between 2021 and 2022, with an even higher percentage of them being positive. This may be because there is an ongoing expansion of formal, informal and workplace education on non-binary people.
Our existence as non-binary people often leads others to reflect on their own gender identities and this can be an uncomfortable experience, especially given the tight constraints patriarchy places on people’s ideas about what gender is.
It’s possible that the sheer volume of chatter could be attributed to media organizations and tech giants cynically taking advantage of that discomfort and directing unwarranted attention to non-binary people.
This means that it is more critical than ever that people are able to engage in formal education about gender and diverse gender identities in schools.
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