Respecting a Nonbinary Youth’s Name and Pronouns Can Be Life-Saving

This simple act can make a significant impact on their mental health, says The Trevor Project.

New research from The Trevor Project proves something transgender and nonbinary advocates have always known: The simplest, most effective way to make a nonbinary young person feel happy and affirmed is to respect their name and gender pronouns.

The research brief, released Tuesday (July 13) ahead of International Nonbinary Peoples’ Day on July 14, analyzed survey results from a pool of more than 34,000 LGBTQ Americans ages 13–24. Almost 9,000 (26%) of those respondents self-identified as nonbinary, with an additional 20% reporting that they are unsure or questioning if they are nonbinary.

The vast majority of nonbinary respondents said they use gender-neutral pronouns, including they/them (33%) or neopronouns like xe/xem (5%). Although the term “nonbinary” is usually grouped under the transgender umbrella, only 50% of nonbinary respondents said they also identify as transgender. It’s a good reminder that “transgender” and “nonbinary” are “distinct identity terms,” said Jonah DeChants, a research scientist for The Trevor Project, “and you cannot assume one’s identity simply based on the pronouns they use.”

Researchers also asked nonbinary respondents about how allies can support them and affirm their gender identity. Overwhelmingly, they gave the same answer: by using the correct name and pronouns to refer to them. “It makes me extremely happy when people respect and use my correct pronouns, and I could literally happy cry,” one young person wrote.

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The nonbinary Pride flag.

It might seem simple, but this affirming act can have a serious impact on the mental health of nonbinary youth. According to the research brief, a staggering 27% of nonbinary respondents who reported that “no one” used their correct name or pronouns said they attempted suicide in the past year, compared to just 10% of nonbinary respondents whose name and gender were affirmed by “all or most people” in their life.

The findings are in line with previous research, including a 2018 report from the University of Texas that found a link between depression and suicide in trans and nonbinary youth who are misgendered and deadnamed. Last summer, The Trevor Project also reported that nearly half of the nation’s LGBTQ youth were unable to access mental health counseling in the past year, an especially concerning statistic given the COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionately devastating toll on the mental health and wellness of LGBTQ youth.

“These findings emphasize the need for policies that affirm nonbinary youth in their identities, such as respecting their pronouns and allowing them to change their name and gender marker on legal documents like driver’s licenses and birth certificates,” added DeChants. “Being that something as simple as respecting pronouns can be life-saving, we must work to expand training and improve understanding of transgender and nonbinary identities among schools, medical facilities, and youth-serving organizations and adults.”

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