Breaking gender norms: How non-binary teenagers can raise awareness and support


While non-binary people are becoming more known and accepted in society, coming out as a teenager can still be challenging.

With summer holidays offering extra time to think about life, including issues around identity, the return to school as a non-binary person can feel stressful for some young people – and for the families and educators in the lives of these young people challenging the gender norms, support is critical.

Dr Zalia Powell, Lecturer in Social Work at the University of the Sunshine Coast, told EducationDaily that coming out is a complex and vulnerable time for teenagers who identify as non-binary.

“Young people are vulnerable to how others think and feel about them, as they are in a stage of socio-emotional development where the opinions of others are very important in shaping how they feel about themselves,” she says.

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“There is a strong need to ‘fit in’ during the schooling years, and non-binary young people can worry about being judged or bullied, being excluded by peers, and being criticised or misunderstood. Coming out as non-binary can be difficult for young people, as society is a gendered environment.”

Read more: Schools play a critical role to end gender-based violence

It can also be challenging for adults to understand when someone does not identify as either male or female.

“Pronouns of they/them can be hard for others to adjust to, due to societal norms of using ‘she’ and ‘he’ when we communicate with, and about, others,” Dr Powell says.

“My research has found that parents of non-binary children perceive society as becoming more open to the experiences of non-binary people; however, they explain that challenges are still present that can impact the well-being and opportunities for many non-binary people.”

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It takes a village

Finding or establishing a community that accepts a non-binary person when they come out is essential to their well-being.

According to data published by the United States-based support network The Trevor Project, trans and non-binary kids require a family and school support network system because they have a high risk of developing depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.

In Australia, the story is a similar one. At Transcend Australia – a community-led organisation providing peer navigation and peer support services, community support, education, resources and youth leadership opportunities for trans, gender diverse, and non-binary young people, their parents, and carers – the idea that inclusion starts at home is a powerful reminder for all families.

Minus-18 is another local charity that focuses on improving the lives of LGBTQIA+ young people in Australia and delivers education, training, and resources to help create an Australia free from discrimination. They share a range of helpful, supportive articles on their website, including one specifically aimed at providing tips for coming out.

Some possible actions you might like to take to boost support in your school community are:

  • Contact your principal and ask what the school can do to ensure all transgender and non-binary students are safe and treated with respect
  • Email the State Government or the school board and request that more transgender and non-binary content be included in the Australian Curriculum
  • Request the school to schedule workshops or talks by trans leaders in the community to help staff and students become more aware of issues around non-conforming gender
  • Ask if the school can become more involved with local trans community events.

It’s worth noting that not all schools will happily accommodate transgender and non-binary needs – and this may be because of religious or cultural ideologies that underpin the school’s ethos. In this case, it may be worth contacting a local or online transgender, non-binary advocacy group for advice.

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