West Yorkshire’s first non-binary firefighter highlights awareness day

West Yorkshire’s first non-binary firefighter has thanked colleagues for their acceptance as they highlight the steps being taken to fight discrimination.

Tay Stevenson is West Yorkshire's first non-binary firefighter

Tay Stevenson recently joined West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS) and says the team at Halifax station, where they are based, has embraced their status and worked hard to help them settle in. Colleagues correctly use the pronouns ‘them’ and ‘they’ when referring to them. 

Today (May 17th) is International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, which raises awareness of discrimination. Tay wants to help people understand why getting pronouns right is important, and says it is a way of expressing acceptance and showing respect for gender identities and non-binary people.   

Tay, 37, said: “While growing up I always felt like I didn’t fit into the stereotypical male gender, mentally it just doesn’t match who I am, but neither did the female. I put this intrinsic feeling of not matching to one side and I got on with life.  

“Then I met my partner and we fell in love – she was the first person who really accepted me because she was the only one I had talked to about how I felt regarding my disconnection to male/female genders. We didn’t fully understand what I was, but we loved each other and were very happy.”  

Tay said it was filling out an application form for a job that made them discover the term ‘non-binary’.    

“A bit of research into the term and I realised that “non-binary” is exactly what I am - what I always have been,” Tay said. “And that I wasn’t wrong, it wasn’t that I didn’t fit, but the male and female terms didn’t fit me.  

 “This was so important to me, and such a relief. This constant unease of not fitting with the gender I was assigned at birth, but not wanting to transition, was finally addressed within myself. I came out to my colleagues in my previous job, and they were supportive.  

“I find it lovely when people use my preferred pronouns of ‘they’ and ‘them’, however I typically don't share my pronouns immediately upon meeting someone for the first time, or unless they ask. I think this is because I don't want to put people on the back foot, and I like to tell them in my own time. 

“On the fire-ground I am just a firefighter and pronouns at that point are not a priority for me, at least until after the incident has been managed.   

“However, what "they" and "them" mean to me is that the person using those pronouns are doing their best to recognise me for who I am and want to put me at ease in letting me know that I am validated in just being myself around them.”  

Tay says it can feel quite daunting for people to have to explain to others what pronouns they prefer to use. To help support transgender and non-binary people, many employees at WYFRS have started to proactively share and explain their own pronoun preference.  

Tay said: “I find it is very easy to get mis-gendered and that is down in a huge part to my physiological characteristics. In a line-up of male-presenting figures I blend right in. This is why I am so forgiving when "he" and "him" are directed towards me.   

“Nonbinary has only come into public gender terminology relatively recently - even though non-binary people have always existed, and as the first non-binary person in WYFRS it can be slightly daunting to be honest.   

“Take for example my first night shift when on a detached duty to Huddersfield. First time at a two-pump station, lots of people and feeling a little apprehensive. However, by the second time at Huddersfield, "they" and "them" were being used - even though I hadn’t got around to talking about myself.   

“I just remember feeling grateful, and a little guilty that I had not shared how I prefer to be addressed with them before. I'm not really a ‘centre of attention’ person and I do feel that sometimes introducing my pronouns at an improper time can come across as self-indulgent.   

“If someone introduces themselves and shares their pronouns, then it’s much easier for me to do the same. Perhaps that's a good way of me getting better at sharing initially - if I share, maybe it frees other people up to do the same. I can be as guilty as the next person in judging appearances.”