Nonbinary is a term that describes someone who does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman. They may fall on a psychological and social spectrum between male and female, feel elements of both, or feel different from either.

The term nonbinary can describe several different concepts, and it is often used interchangeably with other terms such as genderqueer. This creates some confusion over what these terms mean and how a person should use them.

This article will discuss the meaning of nonbinary gender identity and define the terminology surrounding it.

Gender identity refers to how someone conceptualizes their gender, and it can be distinguished from their sexual orientation and their biological sex.

Binary identity

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Some people’s gender identity is not exclusively male or female.

For many people, their personal gender identity aligns with the biological sex they were born with.

This is usually determined by biological factors, such as the anatomy of their sexual organs.

In these cases, people may identify with a majority of the conventions associated with being either a man or a woman.

This way of conceptualizing gender can broadly be described as binary.

Nonbinary identity

For some people, their gender identity is not exclusively male or female. They may still have a strong sense of their gender without identifying as a man or a woman.

The concept of nonbinary is rooted in the idea that gender identities fall on a spectrum rather than an opposition. This means that there are varying degrees of how much someone identifies with being male or female.

Difference between nonbinary and transgender

Nonbinary is an umbrella term used to describe a gender identity that is neither exclusively male or female.

Transgender refers to someone who does not identify with the biological sex that they were born with.

Some people who are nonbinary will identify as transgender, but others may still identify with their biological sex to some extent.

Researchers have published several informative review papers that discuss the concept of nonbinary gender identities in greater detail, including their wider socio-political context.

Difference between nonbinary and intersex

It is possible to be born with sexual anatomy that is not typically male or female. A person may have a mix of male and female genitalia, or with a combination of both XX and XY chromosomes. This condition is known as intersex.

Being intersex does not necessarily mean someone is nonbinary or transgender, although some intersex people may use those terms to describe themselves.

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Some people use other terms, such as “genderqueer,” rather than nonbinary.

Many people use the term genderqueer interchangeably with nonbinary, though some people may identify as one and not the other.

The term “queer” on its own, however, refers to sexual attraction that does not fit other catergories, such as heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual.

People who are nonbinary but identify to some extent with a particular gender may describe themselves as demigender. Different types of demigenders include:

  • demiboy
  • demigirl
  • demifluid

There are many other types of nonbinary gender identities that exist, such as:

  • bigender
  • multigender
  • gender neutral
  • agender
  • androgynous
  • gender fluid
  • genderqueer
  • butch
  • ceterosexual


The pronouns a person uses to address another person or group of people who identify as nonbinary will vary depending on their individual preferences. Some people are nonbinary but still use binary pronouns, such as him or her. It is also common to prefer “they/them.”

Others may choose gender-neutral pronouns including:

  • ze/hir/hirs
  • ze/zir/zirs
  • xe/xem/xyrs

It is important to find out which pronouns a nonbinary person prefers. Using an incorrect pronoun is known as misgendering, and it is polite to avoid this.

It is simplest to use gender-neutral terms in scenarios where it is impossible to determine the pronoun an individual prefers, such as when speaking about someone in third person. These include:

  • person/people
  • them/they
  • partner/spouse

People conceptualize gender in different ways and many people do not identify with being a man or a woman.

Society is increasingly becoming more accepting of nonbinary gender identities. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) recently removed gender identity disorder as a diagnosable mental health condition from the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual (DSM-5).

Many states in the United States, such as Colorado and California, now include nonbinary as an option on official documentation, such as driver’s licenses.

Many people with nonbinary gender identities report feeling discriminated against, and experience psychological distress as a result of this. Understanding and appreciating nonbinary gender identities is a step towards ensuring that people feel accepted and represented.

Becoming familiar with the terminology or learning which terms a nonbinary person prefers is essential for their comfort, as well as a step towards greater inclusitivity.