What Is Non-binary?

15 September 2021

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Regardless of how you identify, your gender was assigned to you at birth – and you had no say in it. That’s why everybody benefits from a critical analysis of gender. Here is the first article in our 3-part NB series, but before we hop into pronouns – and into bed – let’s start with the basics. Series by guest author, Elliott Ennis.

Have you heard the term nonbinary and thought –

“Wait, there’s something besides just male and female? What’s the deal with that?”

Chances are, during your formative years you were only given the two options. But in the age of social media, you’ve probably come across people who identify as something else: nonbinary. Existing outside the Barbie and Ken stereotypes we’re pressured into is nothing new. And a lot of the language used to describe these feelings has evolved pretty quickly! Learning some of these terms is the first place to start.

It can feel overwhelming at first but don’t worry, this blog series has you covered!

In part one we’ll go over what nonbinary is and isn’t. We’ll also define some terms to help you know if you’re nonbinary. In parts two and three, we’ll do more of a deep dive by offering advice on next steps. We’ll even cover healthy ways to approach sex if you or your partner(s) are gender diverse.

Step 1: Update how you think about Sex vs. Gender (yes, they’re different!)

If your response to this is “uhh… I thought those were basically the same,” then good news! Learning the difference goes a long way in helping you understand what nonbinary is!

“Sex” means a person’s biology.

Things like chromosomes, genetic differences between men, women and intersex people, and secondary sexual characteristics.

“Gender”, on the other hand, is about the socially constructed roles for males and females.

This includes their expressions and behaviors. Simply put…

nonbinary is an umbrella term for genders that fall outside of exclusively male or female.

It’s usually expected that our sex and gender will line up neatly but that’s not always the case. That’s where transgender and nonbinary people come in. Once you get used to separating out sex from gender, it gets a lot easier to let go of the limited worldview we inherited and understand nonbinary people.

Step 2: Honestly assess your feeling – Is this how I want to look or who I am?

Similar to how sex doesn’t equal gender, GENDER DOESN’T EQUAL PRESENTATION. Not all androgynous looking people are nonbinary and not all nonbinary people want to look androgynous. Though it may be true for some, it definitely isn’t the case for all. When reflecting on your feelings, it can be helpful to…

ask yourself if you want to look a certain way or if what you feel goes beyond physical appearance and is more about who you know you are at your core.

If for you, it’s more about how you want to look, that’s completely okay! There are words to describe those experiences too, like “androgynous” or “gender non-conforming”. (These are both awesome ways of existing!) We’re not always taught that there is way more variation within the sexes than between them. And there’s far too much pressure to only look a handful of ways. Ways that aren’t even options for many of us!

Many nonbinary people may present in non-conforming or androgenous ways. BUT that’s not always the case. The desire to present gender in a certain way is only a part of a larger identity. If you feel like presentation doesn’t quite cover what you’re feeling, you might want to explore some different kinds of nonbinary identities.

Step 3: Assess your options

Under the nonbinary umbrella, there are identities that are between male and female, partially one or the other, both, neither, and even without gender altogether! That’s a lot of variation, but it’s part of what some people find so great about being nonbinary – it gives them the freedom to define exactly what it means for themselves.

Since nonbinary can include so many experiences, this isn’t a complete list but we’ll go over some of the main types of NB identities.

First, a note about being transgender

Some people who are nonbinary might identify as transgender, or trans for short, and some might not. It’s a personal preference. Transgender is just someone who identifies as a gender different from the one they were assigned at birth, like trans men and trans women. If nonbinary people feel like they fit this definition, they might call themselves transgender as well.

Let’s move onto “genderqueer”, which – as you might imagine – is gender built around a queer identity

It’s existing in a way that doesn’t align with heterosexual norms and, although it borrows the term “queer”, is about a person’s gender instead of their sexual orientation.

Some folks identify with multiple genders

They might use words like “bigender” (experiencing exactly two genders) or “multigender” (experiencing multiple genders).

Some people’s gender identity regularly shifts

“Genderfluid” is when a person’s gender shifts over time, so they may feel like a boy one day, a girl the next and like they don’t have a connection to gender the day after, though these shifts don’t have a set time frame.

A little bit of this, a little bit of that

Some people use words like “demiboy” or “demigirl” to describe aligning somewhat with male or female, but not entirely.

There’s also “androgyne”, which is feeling both masculine and feminine but not necessarily in equal amounts.

And then there’s the big “nope”

Feeling like you’d rather just pass on gender? Some words for this are “greygender”, which is a strong ambivalence towards gender, or “agender”, which means not feeling a connection to gender at all.

Sometimes, it can be helpful to hear someone else has had the same experience as you and if any of these terms has you saying “Yes! That’s me!” then that’s fantastic! But if you’re not in that boat, that’s okay too. Don’t stress about not fitting into a box created by someone else – after all, isn’t breaking out of boxes the whole point of exploring your gender?

Step 4: Hear from others

Since these feelings can be difficult to define, looking to others who have already gone on this journey can be helpful. YouTube and social media are great resources for finding these stories – in fact, we’ll link a few good videos here to help you get started. Remember, no one can tell you who you are but you, so embrace exploring gender with an open mind! If you think you might be nonbinary and want to know what steps come next, stay tuned for part two.

Video suggestions:

– “How I Know I’m Nonbinary” by Kirk

– “Advice If You Think You Might Be Transgender” by Jammidodger

– “5 Non-Binary People Explain What Non-Binary Means To Them” by Tinder

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