A non-binary person is someone who doesn’t adhere to binary gender categories such as ‘man’ and ‘woman’, and who feels better with a gender identity that doesn’t fall within this binary.
Non-binary is an umbrella term for a range of gender identities that aren’t ‘man’ or ‘woman’. There are different terms for people whose gender identities fall outside of the binary, some of which are: genderqueer, gender non-conforming, agender, genderfluid, and genderqueer. All of these gender identities fall under the non-binary umbrella, although there are slight differences between them. Some non-binary people also identify as transgender, and some don’t. To make things a little easier, we’ve gathered these terms in the image below:
As you can see, ‘transgender’ is the umbrella concept for people whose gender identity differs from the gender they were assigned at birth. Non-binary is a subcategory of this umbrella, as shown in the image. Please note that not all people who identify as non-binary also identify as transgender - which is why the umbrella only fits under the transgender umbrella halfway. It’s completely possible to identify as more than one of the terms shown in the image. For example, you can be trans, non-binary, pangender and genderfluid all at the same time.
A common misconception about the non-binary gender expression is that it means the person feels they are exactly in between ‘man’ and ‘woman’. While some people might identify that way, there are also a lot of people who don’t feel like that! It can mean you fall on the spectrum anywhere between ‘man’ and ‘woman’, or that you fall outside of this binary.
How many people are non-binary?
European research (1) has shown that 23% of trans people identify as non-binary, 9% as genderqueer, 11% as genderfluid, 7% as agender and 1% as polygender. Whether these numbers are accurate can be debated, as the number of people who are closeted is unknown. Hopefully these numbers will show you that you are definitely not alone! The number of people who identify as non-binary has been on the rise, possibly due to the growing attention for the gender spectrum. There are also many people in the public eye who identify as non-binary, such as Sam Smith, Miley Cyrus, Janelle Monaé and Bella Ramsey.
People who identify as non-binary can feel more comfortable with pronouns other than ‘she/her’ or ‘he/him’. Common pronouns for non-binary people are they/them, other alternatives are ‘ze/hir’ or ‘xe/xem’. It’s also possible to prefer multiple different pronouns at once. For example, this means you could feel comfortable both with ‘she/her’ pronouns and ‘they/them’ pronouns. Whichever pronouns you prefer, take your time discovering which fit you best. Once you’re ready you could ask people to refer to you with your preferred pronouns. It’s also polite to ask someone’s pronouns when you’re meeting them for the first time. Using the wrong pronouns for someone means you are misgendering them, which can be embarrassing and hurtful for them. If you accidentally misgender someone, correct yourself and continue the conversation. This shows you’re putting effort into using gender inclusive language!
Nonbinary vs. sexuality
A common misconception about someone’s gender identity is that it’s also related to your sexual orientation. However, these are two separate things! Non-binary is a gender identity unrelated to sexual orientation. Sexual orientation, on the other hand, refers to the gender(s) one is attracted to romantically or sexually. Non-binary individuals can identify with any sexual orientation, just like cisgender people (cisgender means identifying with the gender you were assigned at birth). Recognizing the distinction between gender identity and sexuality fosters inclusivity and understanding, allowing us to celebrate the diverse ways people experience their gender and attraction. Love knows no boundaries, transcending gender and orientation, and should be honored in all its forms.
Gender identity vs. gender expression
When talking about gender we can distinguish gender identity and gender expression. The difference is as follows:
- Gender expression is how you show your gender to the world through your clothing, hair, makeup, and other outward signals.
- Gender identity is your internal sense of being male, female, neither, both, or something else. It can be fluid and change over time.
A common misconception is that the way someone looks also says something about their gender identity. Gender identity and gender expressions aren't necessarily connected. For example, someone who dresses masculine can have the gender identity 'woman', or the other way around. It's important to remember that you can't always rely on someone's looks to know their gender. This is why it's polite to ask someone what their pronouns are when you meet them for the first time.
Genderdysforia or transition is not a requirement for being non binary!
There are a lot of options for non-binary people to medically or hormonally transition. However, a medical transition or transgender care is not necessary to identify as trans or non-binary. It is also possible not to experience gender dysphoria and to be content with your body as it is, but still feeling a desire to explore the ins and outs of the binary. This is the beauty of non-binary: everyone can define themselves the way they feel best, and this also translates into care.
Experiences of non-binary people are not always reflected in the traditional image of trans people (severe body dysphoria, interest in activities typical for the preferred gender, being aware of your identity from an early age, stable feelings about your identity, etc.). As a result, research suggests that non-binary people in particular experience more pressure to talk about their experiences in line with the traditional trans image, to confirm their identity to themselves and to the outside world, while this is not always what they feel.
Some non-binary individuals may struggle with not feeling "trans enough". Particularly when a non-binary person seeks care, they may fear not being perceived as trans enough, and sometimes feel that there is no room for fluidity or doubt. The same study also shows that non-binary people often feel that they have no right to use the label trans because their experiences do not match the stereotype of a trans person and that they more often feel that they have to prove themselves as a trans person and are therefore less willing to admit that they have ever doubted their identity. However, we should be aware that there is no one way to be non-binary or to look non-binary. There are many valid ways to be non-binary!