Non-binary young people and schools: pedagogical insights from a small-scale interview study

Paechter, Carrie; Toft, Alex and Carlile, Anna. 2021. Non-binary young people and schools: pedagogical insights from a small-scale interview study. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 29(5), pp. 695-713. ISSN 1468-1366 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

While there is an increasing amount of research into binary trans identities in the school context, young people identifying as non-binary have been relatively little studied. In this paper we explore the school experiences of eight non-binary teenagers aged 13-18. Our findings suggest that both the implicit and explicit curriculum are strongly binary, making it hard for young people who do not identify within the gender binary to come out at school. It was clear that our respondents had needed to educate themselves about gender identity and specifically about the possibility of non-binary identities, with little, if any, support from their schools. They were also more likely to be out to friends than to teachers or family members, with friends, both online and offline, being a crucial source of support. As non-binary identities were invisible at school, some of them did not feel safe there, and they came under pressure not only from transphobic bullying but from binary expectations of behaviour and self-presentation. Because of this, some of our respondents were fearful of accessing any provision for non-binary people that was available, in case it outed them to others. Respondents were particularly scathing about the lack of formal education about non-binary identities in their schools and colleges. We conclude that institutions should work much harder to educate staff about non-binary identities in order to better to support these students, and that non-binary young people should be involved in the design of any initiatives to include them.

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Table 1: Respondents’ ages, locations, school settings, and identities
Name Age Non-binary identity Other identities School setting Location in UK
Ash 16 Non-binary, sometimes queer Sometimes pansexual Sixth form college West Midlands
Fin 16 Transgender non-binary Judaism Secondary school Southern England
Jude 13 Non-binary/genderqueer pansexual Secondary School West Midlands
Lee 16 Non-binary/non-existent ace-pan-grey-romantic; Autistic; disabled; Christian; white Secondary school Southern England
Mel 17 Non-binary Sixth form college West Midlands
Nic 13 Don’t feel male or female/nonbinary pansexual Secondary school Scotland
Rowan 16 Non-binary Pansexual/spicy bi Secondary school/home educated West Midlands
7Sam 18 Non-binary Trans; bi School sixth form North-west England


gender; non-binary; trans; schools; colleges; LGBTQI+

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Educational Studies > Centre for Identities and Social Justice


18 February 2021Accepted
8 April 2021Published Online

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Date Deposited:

19 Feb 2021 16:42

Last Modified:

08 Oct 2022 01:26


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