Nonbinary is a term that describes someone who does not identify exclusively as a man or a woman. Instead, a nonbinary person may define their gender identity and experience outside of these binary terms.

The term nonbinary can describe several different concepts, and people often use it interchangeably with terms such as agender, androgynous, and genderqueer. This can create confusion over what these terms mean and how a person can use them.

When talking with a person, it is always best to check how they identify and the terminology they prefer.

This article will discuss the meaning of nonbinary gender identity.

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Photo editing by Stephen Kelly; flyparade/Getty Images

Gender identity refers to how someone conceptualizes their gender. This identity is distinguishable from a person’s sexual orientation and sex assigned at birth.

Binary identity

For many people, their gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Doctors determine sex assigned at birth by assessing an infant’s physical factors, such as the anatomy of their external reproductive organs, and determining whether they fall into the male or female category. This is also known as the sex binary.

Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of who they are, and for some people, this correlates with their sex assigned at birth. People also often think of gender identity as a binary: man or woman.

When a person’s sex assigned at birth aligns with their gender identity, they are sometimes known as being cisgender. For example, someone who has male anatomy and a gender identity of man is known as a cisgender man, while with female anatomy and a gender identity of woman is known as a cisgender woman.

A person may describe this way of conceptualizing gender as binary.

Nonbinary identity

Some people may not be able to conceptualize their gender identity in binary terms. However, they may still have a strong sense of their gender without identifying as a man or a woman.

Some research states that the concept of nonbinary is rooted in the idea that gender identities fall on a spectrum rather than being binary oppositions. People may identify across, or even outside of, this spectrum.

A nonbinary person may feel that their gender identity and experience include aspects of the binaries or none at all. Some people may also view their identity and experience as fluid, or ever-changing.

Social visibility of nonbinary identities is increasing. However, many people do not fully understand what it means to be nonbinary. In fact, one 2015 survey found that 86% of nonbinary respondents did not correct people who misgendered them because “most people do not understand, so they do not try to explain it.”

Difference between nonbinary and transgender

Nonbinary is an umbrella term that describes a gender identity that is neither exclusively man nor woman.

Transgender refers to someone who does not identify with their sex assigned at birth. For example, some people who are nonbinary identify as transgender, but others may still identify with their sex assigned at birth to a degree.

Studies are starting to discuss the concept of nonbinary gender identities in greater detail, including their broader sociopolitical context. However, some reviews still highlight the need for more research in the field — particularly regarding inequities in physical and mental health support for nonbinary people.

Difference between nonbinary and intersex

Being nonbinary is not the same as being intersex. People who are intersex have anatomy or genes that do not match the sex assigned at birth binary.

Intersex people may identify as nonbinary if they so choose. Some research suggests that the majority of intersex people identify as either a man or a woman. This may be due to “normalizing” surgeries that took place when the person was an infant.

Many people use the term genderqueer interchangeably with nonbinary. However, others may differentiate between the terms and identify as one and not the other.

Some organizations define the term queer as a type of sexual attraction that does not fit into other categories, such as heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual. However, some members of LGBTQIA+ communities — particularly older adults — consider the term to be offensive.

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

  • demiboy
  • demigirl
  • demifluid

Many other nonbinary gender identities exist. These include but are not limited to:

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


The pronouns a person prefers will vary depending on the individual.

Some people are nonbinary but still use binary pronouns, such as him or her. Some people prefer they/them. Others may choose gender neutral pronouns such as:

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

It is essential to find out which pronouns a nonbinary person uses. Using an incorrect pronoun is known as misgendering.

It is simplest to use gender neutral terms in scenarios where it is impossible to determine an individual’s pronouns, such as when speaking about someone in the third person. For example, consider using:

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

People conceptualize gender differently. Many people do not identify as a man or a woman, while some identify as both.

A 2015 survey suggests that many people with nonbinary gender identities report feeling discriminated against and experiencing psychological distress due to this. Some research also indicates that young nonbinary people may have less social support than young cisgender people and may have less access to trans-specific healthcare.

However, society is increasingly becoming more accepting of nonbinary gender identities. Many states in the United States, including Colorado and California, now include nonbinary as an option on official documentation, such as driver’s licenses.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has also removed gender identity disorder as a diagnosable mental health condition from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). However, the DSM-5 does still define gender dysphoria as a diagnosable condition.

A review of the APA manual found that its language may be exclusory of “medical transition or intersex experiences.” The researchers also suggest that the adoption of gender dysphoria as a term has contributed to conflation and confusion over its meaning.

Gender dysphoria is not a requirement for being trans, nonbinary, or any other gender identity. Anyone can experience gender dysphoria.

Understanding and appreciating nonbinary gender identities is a step toward ensuring that people feel accepted and represented.

Becoming familiar with the terminology and learning which terms and pronouns a nonbinary person uses are essential for ensuring their comfort and moving toward complete inclusivity.