Kay Cairns

Interview by Ellen Tannam

Kay Cairns is an activist and journalist. They founded Non-Binary+ Ireland in July 2015, a support and advocacy group for all all gender non-conforming people. This includes those that identify as non-binary, genderqueer, agender, bigender etc. Those who are questioning their gender identity are also welcome

How did you come to identify as non-binary?

I was 14 or 15 when I realised I was queer. I was in a relationship with someone who came out to me as trans and I was there for his transition, and another person came out to me as well. I suppose kind of going through that experience with them made me realise my gender, but also that my experience was very different to theirs.

I discovered there were other pronouns and other ways of describing your identity than being a man or a woman.

Although Ireland has some of the most progressive legislation around gender recognition in the world, there is still a lot to do to raise awareness of (and tackle) the problems that non-binary people like Cairns face.

We have quite unique issues, while binary trans people have difficulty accessing the healthcare system, for NB people it is a near-impossibility. People refuse to acknowledge that it is valid, and that can be detrimental to your mental health.

That then dominoes onto employers. When I worked in the hospitality industry, I used to not be able to come out or tell people my pronouns because I would lose my job.

What compelled you to campaign for non-binary rights in Ireland?

It was a thing of there just not being anything there. TENI (Transgender Equality Network Ireland) at the time weren’t advocating for NB people. It started because I wanted to do something for people like me, and fight for our rights. I talked to friends about it and they said, if you're so fussed about it start it yourself. 

There are big plans for Non-Binary+ Ireland in terms of educating people about non-binary issues, but Cairns emphasises that the group is ultimately in existence as a non-judgemental and accepting space for people.

The baseline thing and the most important thing is support.

Many people feel a lot of internal confusion, a feeling of being trans but not really being trans or not trans enough. We help them work through those feelings.

There are regular meet-ups,  and a private Facebook group for people who may have issues or stuff they want to share. It’s a safe space. We’re also moving towards advocacy and have just built a committee of 10 people .A lot of our stuff is in Dublin which is super inaccessible to many people, so we are trying to set up various meet-ups around Ireland. 

We’ve got funding so part of that is to go towards creating resources about non-binary people and our identities. Other groups like TENI, BeLongTo or ShoutOut can access those resources, like workshop slides, whenever they might need it. 

It’s a fight to get into those circles and have influence in order to have those important conversations. We’re still seen as very radical.


What is your advice for people who may not have a lot of experience speaking to people who are non-binary or otherwise gender non-conforming?

A good thing remember is to ask peoples pronouns. You can’t decide on their pronouns for them based on how they look. ‘I knew you were non-binary from across the street’. 'Looking NB' or 'looking trans' is bullshit really.