There has been an increase in the visibility of non-binary people in recent years. This is not because non-binary people are a new phenomenon. In fact, many cultures around the world recognise more than two genders.
‘Non-binary’ describes a gender identity that is neither male nor female. Male and female are ‘binary’ identities that exist at opposite ends of the gender spectrum. Identities that fall between them (or are not on the spectrum at all) fall under the ‘non-binary’ umbrella. Both people assigned male and those assigned female at birth can be non-binary.
Some people have fluid, shifting identities, which may be called ‘genderfluid’ or ‘gender-flexible’. Others may feel like they do not identify with any gender at all, which may be called ‘agender’ or ‘genderless’. Each person’s identity is different, and it’s important to listen to the individual and believe what they tell you when they describe their gender experience.
You do not have to have any medical interventions to be non-binary. This is true of all gender identities – it is about how you feel that matters, regardless of the way your body looks or how it is made up.
However, some non-binary people experience gender dysphoria, or want to pursue a more androgynous appearance (a mixture of masculine and feminine, or neither masculine nor feminine). To achieve this they may pursue gender-affirming hormones or elect to have surgery.
Non-binary people may not want to undergo ‘full’ transmasculine or transfeminine transition. However, some of the effects of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) are permanent, so it’s important that you discuss your transition goals with your clinician to ensure you know what to expect. You can find further information in our article on hormone use for non-binary people.
Because non-binary describes a range of identities, non-binary people use a range of pronouns. Many non-binary people use singular they/them pronouns and gender-neutral titles, like Mx., to avoid being gendered as masculine or feminine. However, this is not always the case, and it is fine for non-binary people to use any pronouns they are comfortable with.
Like transgender people, non-binary people are gender-incongruent (they do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth). It is common to consider non-binary people as part of the trans community with a shared sense of identity, however, some non-binary people do not identify as transgender. 78.2% of respondents to a GenderGP survey were fine with ‘trans’ being used as an umbrella term. However, if in doubt, you can use ‘trans and non-binary’ to promote inclusivity.
It is important to note that non-binary people are not the same as intersex people. ‘Intersex’ is not a gender identity, but refers to a range of conditions where a person is born with both male and female reproductive characteristics. Intersex people are not necessarily trans or non-binary, and should not be treated as such.
There are a number of reasons for the increase in people self-identifying as non-binary. These include the rising prominence of non-binary people in the media (like actor Asia Kate Dillon, writer Noelle Stevenson, or musicians Sam Smith and Demi Lovato) as well as the development of new ways of talking about identity, and younger people moving away from traditional gender roles.
Although non-binary identities may seem more recent, they are an important part of culture and history. Non-binary people should be treated with the same respect as any other identity.