Sean’s Story – International Non-Binary People’s Day

One of our Acacium Group values is putting people first, and that means inviting our team to come to work as their authentic selves every day. Today marks the 10th International Non-Binary People’s Day, and we’re taking opportunity to raise awareness around the experience and issues faced by some non-binary people.

Huge thank you to Sean O’Brian, who works as Senior Projects Coordinator at Xyla Health & Social Services, part of the Acacium Group, who has been kind enough to share their story.

“From a young age, I always knew I was different. Some of my earliest memories are teachers, classmates, and even strangers, telling me, ‘You know you’re not a girl, right?’.

Growing up, I was always feminine; my friends were exclusively girls, and my interests aligned with theirs. I knew I wasn’t the same as them; people didn’t let me forget it, nor did I feel like I wanted to be the same. But when it came down to being separated into “boys and girls” and being placed into a situation where I had to pick a side, I wanted to go with the girls. Because of things like this, I began to receive more explicit comments that made me realise that being different was somehow wrong.

My parents have always been very understanding. I could engage in my feminine interests, and they were always proud of me. They admit they feared for me growing up different from other people assigned male at birth and were very protective of me. The only stipulation they ever had for me was that I take self-defence classes, not to appear more masculine but that I knew how to defend myself. They didn’t want to change me but rather prepare me for a world that wouldn’t celebrate my differences in the way they did.

Entering high school, I developed a very thick skin and learnt how to deflect a lot of insults about my gender expression and overall appearance via humour, and I survived. By the age of 17, I had realised that my problem wasn’t with who I was/wasn’t attracted to, but rather how I saw myself and how the world saw me. So, I sought out help through a Gender Identity Clinic.

My wait was about a year and a half, and just before I turned 19, I was seen by a psychiatrist. Through that consultation, I discovered that feeling discomfort with identifying as male didn’t mean that I had to be comfortable with the idea of transitioning into a woman. It was the first time I’d challenged the view that you had to be one or the other, that the absence of one meant the presence of another. I didn’t have to pick a side.

It was around this time I discovered the term non-binary, and through this, I learnt to challenge societal norms that I had felt previously restricted by. I knew clothes didn’t have a gender, nor did they determine one. That long hair didn’t have to signify a woman, nor did a beard signify a man. The freedom of realising I don’t have to be he or she, or a Sir or a Madam, was liberating to me. At this point, I started working with LGBT Foundation and helped them develop their trans programme, and then subsequently develop that to include spaces for non-binary people. I worked to develop areas for other people like me and taught people about the non-binary community.

I’ve carried this on into subsequent roles, where I worked at a sexual health clinic and rewrote their triage form to allow better representation for trans and non-binary people and the specific needs they may require in those spaces. Then finally came to Acacium Group and worked with Xyla Health & Social Services for the past three years, most recently working with the UNITY+ Network over the past two years.

I continue to advocate for trans and non-binary people in my personal and professional life with the support of Acacium Group! And show that not only do we exist but that we are a diverse community striving for accurate equity and inclusion.

My story is not the template for all non-binary people; it is only my story. I know non-binary people who do and don’t identify as trans; non-binary people who do and don’t suffer from gender dysphoria. I know non-binary people who haven’t gone through what we would view as a medical transition, i.e., hormones and surgery.

I am always a safe person and will hold space for you – If anyone is going through something similar, I would be happy to offer support and be here for a chat whenever needed.

The Acacium Group UNITY network is a community and safe space for LGBTQ+ colleagues and their allies. We believe that regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, everyone should feel comfortable being themselves in the workplace. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

How can I respect people’s pronouns?

  1. Don’t make assumptions. You cannot tell anyone’s gender or pronouns just from their appearance or name. Ask people for their pronouns.
  2. Practice makes perfect. Practice both sharing your pronouns and asking for other people’s pronouns. Don’t be afraid to ask more than once if you are unsure.
  3. Everyone makes mistakes. If you get someone’s pronouns wrong, correct yourself and move on.

What can I do next? 

We must normalise the sharing of pronouns regardless of how you identify, as this will create a more respectful and inclusive environment. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Add your pronouns to your email signature and social media
  • Introduce yourself using your pronouns in work meetings, social events, and conversations with someone new.
  • Use gender-neutral language where needed. If you are describing someone who you don’t yet know their gender or pronouns, you can use gender-neutral language, e.g., friend, sibling, colleague.