Ask a Freelancer

I’m Coming Out as Gender Non-Binary. Should I Tell My Clients?

By Nicole Dieker September 8th, 2015

Last year I started questioning my gender identity, and I’m close to feeling comfortable telling people that I’m non-binary.

Should I tell my editors? (I’m not changing my name but I’m considering changing my pronouns to they/them, which I realize bugs the heck out of some editors.) Do I mention it on social media or just change relevant info and let people figure it out? Are there resources or communities for queer freelancers?

—”They” Is an Acceptable First-Person Pronoun

Thank you for writing in with this question! I will state right away that my perspective is going to be somewhat limited since I am a cisgender woman. However, I pulled in an extra source for this one, so I hope that between the two of us we can provide the advice you’re looking for.

I think the simplest answer is that freelancing is like any other type of career: There are a lot of clients who are going to have absolutely no problem with your gender identity, and there are some clients who might have a problem with it.

Your goal, like any other freelancer’s goal, is to find the clients that get you. The ones who read your clips and think, “Yeah, we want this person to work for us.” The clients whose mission and vision match your own career vision so you can help each other be successful.

If a client has an insensitive response to your gender identity, that’s certainly a huge indicator of a bad fit. But I think that will be much less of a problem than you anticipate. The freelancing community includes many writers and editors who are non-binary or transgender.

But should you tell your editors directly? I’ll tell you this: At least in my experience as a writer and editor, it isn’t the sort of thing that comes up during the pitch process. It could, if it were relevant to what you were pitching, but otherwise I don’t think you need to mention it in an introductory email. Instead, it might be the kind of thing that you bring up naturally in the process of working together, or it might be something an editor learns by looking up your Twitter profile or personal website.

As I mentioned earlier, my perspective is somewhat limited. So I asked freelancer Arabelle Sicardi for additional insight:

I don’t think it’s necessary or anyone else’s business? I approach it on a case-by-case basis myself. I write about queerness so often that it is kind of a moot point to out myself all the time because they probably know that context about me already… and the gender stuff, I don’t feel inclined to elaborate on outside of “These are my pronouns, this is not a discussion or debate. I am not going to explain it for you, it’s just something you should know.”

As to personal pronouns, Sicardi also offered this advice:

Write your own bio. Put “they” in it. Don’t let someone else introduce you. They will do it wrong.

This also applies to your social media bios. I’m sure you’ve seen people put “gender non-binary” or “pronouns: they/them” in a Twitter or Tumblr bio. It is a direct and effective way to communicate your gender identity, especially within an online context.

If you are curious about communicating a pronoun or identity change to editors who currently identify you as a certain gender, a quick bio update request should solve the problem. I get bio requests from writers who have moved cities, had children, or have other life changes they want to include in their bio. Sending your editors a note like the one you sent me—”I’ve been thinking about my gender identity, and I feel comfortable telling people that I am non-binary. Can we use this updated bio text for my upcoming articles?”—should work just fine.

You probably already know that people, even well-meaning ones, are going to get things wrong. They’re going to argue that “they” is not an appropriate first-person pronoun, even though it is becoming part of standard usage and has recently been supported by everyone from The Washington Post to The Wall Street Journal.

Or they’re going to get things wrong in other ways, by making assumptions about what gender non-binary means. In this case, you shouldn’t necessarily stop working for them—as I wrote last week, it’s a bad idea to walk away from every client that makes a mistake, because then you’ll have no clients at all. But this is where having your community of queer freelancers comes in handy, to talk about coping strategies and thoughtful ways of educating well-meaning clients who just aren’t quite there yet if you choose to address the topic.

Where do you find that community? You’ll probably need to talk to other non-binary and queer freelancers to find out where these conversations are happening, but here’s what I know:

BinderCon is a convention that’s coming up in November which bills itself as “A professional development conference to empower women and gender non‑conforming writers with tools, connections, and strategies to advance their careers.” Sign up to attend in person, or check out their online offerings.

Get to know queer publications like Autostraddle. Find out who’s writing for them, and follow those writers on Twitter.

You can also find the community you’re looking for on Tumblr. If you don’t already have a Tumblr, set one up and begin writing about your experiences as a queer freelancer. Start looking for posts by other queer freelancers and follow those writers. Like, reblog, and reply to their posts to build connections and grow your community.

And most of all: be yourself. For the most part, editors recognize and respect when freelancers are genuine, whether you’re writing a personal essay or writing a researched piece about Gold Wing motorcycles or landing page videos. Being comfortable with who you are is only going to help your career grow—and it sounds like you’re already there.

Nicole Dieker would love to pass along other advice for this freelancer, especially from other non-binary writers. Send your advice to dieker.nicole@gmail.com.

Image by Babii Nadiia
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