Non-Binary: An Overview
As a whole, many were taught that gender existed as a binary: you are either male or female. However, "gender" is a social concept created by humans to simplify and maintain order from the multitude of experiences we all have. But if our individual experiences vary, why would gender be excluded from this? This “convenient” but harmful binary definition also applies to intersex individuals and their experiences.
People who identify as non-binary typically do not experience gender as just male or female. They identify their gender as somewhere between or even outside the binary. It is an umbrella term and can mean different things to each person — the best way to understand when someone is non-binary is to ask what it means to them.
Gender Is a Social Construct
You have heard this saying before: “Gender is a social construct.” But what does that mean? Gender (and sex, for that matter) is a system that humans created to categorize certain behaviors and roles to either males or females. These are social norms, and these roles have changed over time. Even within the past few decades, the traditional roles of men and women differ from what our grandparents would have said.
Gender roles even differ between cultures. Historically, gender existed outside the binary around the world, most notably in India with the Hijras and mahus in Hawaii. Also, some North American native tribes have records of gender role variance! However, just because it is a socially constructed concept does not mean it is not real.
Gender exists on a spectrum, and some people fall anywhere in-between or outside of the binary structure. It's a word created to help make sense of our individual experiences. And it helps us understand how to interact with each other. As gender discussion becomes more open, the more we can accept our diversity as humans.
What are the Non-Binary Colors and Flag?
Common Misconceptions about being Non-Binary
It is a misconception that all nonbinary folks identify as “trans”. Though non-binary is under the trans umbrella term, some do, and some choose not to.
When it comes to addressing non-binary (and any other individual) by their preferred pronouns does not make them entitled! Violence against the LGBTQIA+ community is still present and, in certain countries, legal and state-sanctioned. Respecting our fellow human beings and using their correct pronouns is one way to support them! Learning common decency and integrity is the first step to inspire others to acknowledge and validate their existence.
As generations learn more about gender identities, the more it normalizes and validates nonbinary experiences. Some genders do not conform to the binary structure, and a great way to acknowledge that is by not assuming someone’s gender. There are many ways to avoid using gendered language, which may ostracize many non-binary folks. This is even true for traditional binary folks! We should not assume gender based on appearance.
However, not all misgendering is hateful. Learning about gender diversity is an ongoing process, and many are open to learning and growing. When misgendering is used as a weapon and intentionally done, it is absolutely violent homophobia. However, if done accidentally, make sure to apologize and continue with their correct pronouns. It is important to make a conscious note not to assume someone’s gender in the future.
The Non-Binary Experience
Non-binary allows room for people to exist somewhere between or outside the binary definition - and many say it feels freeing! Not having to force arbitrary gender rules just does not feel right for them. They have control over their name, their wardrobe, and their pronouns. Sometimes, they want to change it up, and sometimes, they keep it exactly the same.
A somewhat common occurrence is gender dysphoria. Many non-binary folks experience dysphoria at a young age, where they feel discomfort or anxiety with the sex they were assigned at birth. They feel more comfortable presenting in their preferred gender by changing their style, name, or pronouns. This does not happen to all non-binary individuals and can disappear during puberty.
Some non-binary folks may lean towards one end of the binary spectrum. In these cases, they may choose to identify as “demi.” This partial connection to a certain gender falls under the non-binary umbrella, along with plenty of other gender identifiers.
How Non-Binary Relates to The Trans Identity
People who identify as non-binary later in life may experience their gender as something different than what was assigned at birth. These individuals' identities would fall under the transgender, or “trans,” umbrella in these cases. Though not all nonbinary folx identify as trans, some do. A great way to support the transgender community is to learn more about their unique experiences.
How You Can Support the Non-Binary Community
Non-binary folx have unique experiences and define their gender identity in so many ways - they really add to the LGBTQIA+ rainbow! A great way to support this colorful community is by learning about their experiences. Many identify as NB (pronounced “en-bee”) at a young age, and some realize this a bit later in life. They come from different cultural backgrounds all around the globe. Read about one of our Pride Palace members’ stories, Ally/Axel, who identifies as NB.
Most importantly, to be an ally to the “enby” community, use their preferred pronouns. If you're unsure, the best thing to do is ask! Some may use binary pronouns, such as she/her or he/his. Other common pronouns for nonbinary folx are:
People make mistakes and may accidentally misgender someone — it happens, and that's okay! Just remember to offer a genuine apology and ask for their preferred pronouns. The rule of thumb is to remember to use gender-neutral language, which includes they/them or “partner/spouse” instead of husband/wife. Try to be conscious of this language in your daily interactions.
Here are some examples of gender-neutral terms you can incorporate in your conversations:
- Partner/spouse: Instead of using husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend.
- Folks: You'll see us use this term a lot instead of ladies/gentlemen.
- Child: This is more accommodating than daughter or son.
- Nibling: This is a recently-created term to refer to someone’s niece or nephew.
An easy way to figure out a gender-neutral term to use is to defer to the general category for a familial role. For example, instead of grandmother/grandfather, say “grandparent”! Another example would be to use “sibling” for sister or brother.
It is important to actively create spaces for these individuals to share their experiences to support them. Non-binary is an umbrella term. The best way to be considerate and validate their identities is to use gender-neutral pronouns and terms and not make assumptions about someone's gender. The non-binary community adds diversity to the gender spectrum!