Non-Binary Representation: One Day at a Time

There are so many reasons to love Netflix’s One Day at a Time, which has just been renewed for a third season! The show has been praised for it’s positive Latino representation both in front of and behind the camera. It has tackled issues like immigration, mental health, the wage gap, sexism, divorce, feminism, coming out as queer, living as a veteran in the United States, how young adults deal with racism, the importance of extended family, and so much more!

Poster for One Day at at Time featuring the main characters

The show has also been praised for it’s LGBTQ representation. In season one, Elena begins to question her sexuality and eventually comes out to herself and her family. This representation is important because, even though progress has been made, LGBTQ representation on TV is still lacking. This is especially true for LGBTQ characters of color.

One Day at a Time handled Elena’s coming out story wonderfully in season one. In season two the show introduced a non-binary love interest for Elena!

Photo of Syd and Elena smiling

Elena meets Syd in the online group Feminist Gamers of Echo Park (great name). The group gathers for the first time at Elena’s house, where they all introduce themselves to Elena’s mother, Penelope, and include their pronouns.

There are two members of the group that use non-binary pronouns — Syd, whose pronouns are they/them and Margo, whose pronouns are ze/zir. Penelope is initially confused and Elena explains what non-binary pronouns are and why some people choose to use them.

Non-binary — a gender identity under the transgender umbrella. Someone who is non-binary does not identify as exclusively male or female (also known as the gender binary) and does not identify as the gender assigned to them at birth.

By the end of the episode, Syd asks Elena out and throughout the rest of the season we see their (very cute and super nerdy) relationship flourish. Even though Elena’s mother and grandmother are unfamiliar with non-binary identities and pronouns, they never use incorrect pronouns when referring to Syd. They learn Syd’s pronouns the first day they meet them and have no problem using them correctly every time. Yes!

GIF of Elena and Syd dancing

Non-binary representation in media is severely lacking. While there have been a few non-binary characters included in recent TV shows — like Yael in Degrassi: Next Class and Milo in Danger & Eggs — there is still a huge need for more. According to GLAAD’s 2017 annual report on LGBTQ inclusion, “This year, there are 17 regular and recurring transgender characters tracked across all three platforms [broadcast television, cable television, and streaming services]. Of those, nine are trans women, four are trans men, and four are nonbinary. This is notably the first time GLAAD has been able to count non-binary characters.” Four is not a lot of non-binary characters.

Photo of Syd, Alex, and Elena looking at a cellphone

Having visible non-binary characters, especially characters who are happy and supported, is incredibly important. It shows people, especially young people, that they can live happy lives. Many transgender and gender non-conforming teenagers face harsh realities. A national survey by GLSEN found that, “75% of transgender youth feel unsafe at school, and those who are able to persevere had significantly lower GPAs, were more likely to miss school out of concern for their safety, and were less likely to plan on continuing their education.

It is wonderful that One Day at a Time introduced a non-binary character. I hope that more shows follow their superb example!

Here are a few tips for being a good ally:

  • If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, ask them
  • If you use the wrong pronouns, apologize and make a commitment to using the correct pronouns in the future
  • Respect individual use of terminology — some people identify as non-binary, other identify as genderqueer or genderfluid
  • Don’t ask about a person’s “birth name” — use the name they give you
  • Challenge prejudicial language in everyday conversations
Photo of the HPA’s Protego toolkit logo

You can also find resources for making the world a better place for the trans community with the HPA’s Protego Toolkit


Talk It Out

When and where did you first learn about non-binary genders? School? TV? The internet?

Count how many non-binary characters you’ve seen in movies, television shows, books, or graphic novels. How are the characters treated by other characters?

Does your school or work have gender neutral bathrooms? Do you know why or why not?

Take Action

If your school or work doesn’t have gender neutral bathrooms find out why not. View GSLEN’s model district policy as a resource for finding ways to switch to gender neutral bathrooms.

Learn more about transgender justice at The National Center for Transgender Equality — you can find ways to take action locally or nationally.

Support trans and non-binary creators! The best way to get more non-binary representation is for non-binary creators to make content that reflects their realities.

Check out the HPA’s Protego Toolkit to learn, find resources, and find more ways to take action

Resources

Protego Toolkit via The Harry Potter Alliance

Taking Protego Back to School via The Harry Potter Alliance

Defining: Non-Binary via My Kid is Gay

Where We Are on TV Report — 2017 via GLAAD

MODEL DISTRICT POLICY ON TRANSGENDER AND GENDER NONCONFORMING STUDENTS via GLSEN

The National Center for Transgender Equality

“One Day at a Time” Brings Even More Heart and Humor and Gayness to Season 2 via Autostraddle

How ‘One Day at a Time’ brilliantly captures the effect of Trump’s America on one Latinx family via Mic

INTERVIEWING MICHELLE BADILLO FROM NETFLIX’S ONE DAY AT A TIME: PART 1 via My Kid is Gay

How One Day at a Time Captures a Community Most TV Ignores via Vanity Fair


Harry Potter Alliance. We help you bring fan activism to your favorite fandoms with free toolkits and activities to use in your chapters, with your friends, in your classrooms, at your libraries, on your own. Find full toolkits at thehpalliance.org/fandomforward.


For more info, email us at fandomforward@thehpalliance.org