The term nonbinary has been used to 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 they should be applied.
This article will discuss the meaning of nonbinary gender identity and define the terminology surrounding it.
What is nonbinary gender identity?
Gender identity refers to how someone conceptualizes their gender, and it can be distinguished from their sexual orientation or, to an extent, their biological sex.
Some people choose not to describe their gender identity as exclusively male or female.
Gender identity aligns with the biological sex someone was born with for many people.
This is usually determined by biological factors, including the anatomy of their sexual organs.
People may identify with a majority of the conventions associated with being either male or female, in these cases.
This way of conceptualizing gender can broadly be described as binary.
Gender identity may not be described as exclusively male or female for some other people.
The concept of nonbinary is rooted in the idea that gender identities fall on a spectrum with male and female on each end.
This means that there are varying degrees as to how much someone identifies with the conventions of being a male or female.
Difference between nonbinary and transgender
Nonbinary is an umbrella term used to describe a gender identity that falls in between male and female.
Transgender refers to someone who does not identify with the biological sex that they were born with.
Many people who are nonbinary will identify as transgender, but others may still identify with their biological sex to some extent.
Several informative review papers have been published that discuss the concept of nonbinary gender identities in greater detail, including their wider socio-political context.
Difference between nonbinary and intersex
Gender may be distinguished from biological sex or the biological differences between males and females. Even on a biological level, however, there can be some overlap between male and female genders.
For example, it is possible for some people to be born with sexual anatomy that cannot be categorized as male or female. This condition is known as intersex.
Being intersex does not necessarily mean someone is nonbinary or transgender.
Understanding the terminology
The term genderqueer is typically used to describe someone's sexuality, rather than their gender identity.
The term genderqueer is often used interchangeably with nonbinary. But genderqueer is typically used to describe someone's sexuality, rather than their gender identity.
People who are genderqueer identify their sexuality as being outside of, or in between, heterosexual and homosexual.
It is common for people who are genderqueer to also identify their gender as being nonbinary.
People who are nonbinary but identify to some extent with a particular gender can be described as demigender. Different types of demigenders include:
There are many other types of nonbinary gender identities that exist, such as:
- gender neutral
- gender fluid
The pronouns used for addressing a 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.
Others may choose gender-neutral pronouns including:
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.
Some people mistakenly believe pronouns such as 'it' are a safe, gender-neutral term to use, but they are inappropriate and considered offensive. This is because the word 'it' is perceived as diminishing the humanness of nonbinary people.
It is simplest to use gender-neutral terms in scenarios where it is impossible to determine the pronoun an individual prefers. These include:
People conceptualize gender in different ways. Some people may find it challenging to fully appreciate the idea of gender identities existing on a spectrum. However, it is humane to accept that this is a reality for many people.
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 legally recognize nonbinary as a third gender. This means that nonbinary can be a third gender choice along with male and female on official documentation, such as a driver's license.
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 groups feel accepted or represented, as they feel they should, including many subtleties and variations.
Becoming familiar with the terminology or learning which terms a nonbinary person prefers is a polite and productive way to help people feel comfortable in themselves.