What does it mean to be non-binary?

Although people tend to think of gender as a strict binary (the idea that people are either men or women), in reality people are more complicated than that - and that's where non-binary people come in! A non-binary person is someone who identifies as something other than entirely a man or entirely a woman. This may mean that they feel more like a combination of both ('androgyne'); or that they feel like a man on some days, a woman on others, and/or a combination of the two at other times ('genderfluid'); or that they simply have no gender at all ('agender'). You may also have heard the word 'genderqueer', another, less formal term that some people prefer to 'non-binary'. These are only a few of the words that non-binary people use to describe themselves- gender can be seen as a broad spectrum, and there are as many words to describe specific identities as there are places on that spectrum. Check out 'Nonbinary.org' in the links below for more information on specific identities.  

Is being non-binary the same as being transgender?

Well, yes and no. Some non-binary people consider themselves transgender (or ‘trans’), and others do not. However, non-binary people face similar challenges to binary transgender people. As with binary transgender people, many non-binary people experience gender dysphoria (a sense of disconnection from their assigned gender, and often from their bodies, that can lead to very low moods). They may take steps similar to those taken by binary transgender folks in order to feel more comfortable, including:

  • Changing their name to something more gender-neutral, or using different names depending on the gender they currently identify more with
  • Asking those around them to use gender-neutral pronouns (for example, instead of 'he/him/his' or 'she/her/hers', they might prefer 'they/them/theirs' or 'ze/hir/hirs')
  • Using a gender-neutral title such as 'Mx' (pronounced 'mix' or 'mux') instead of 'Mr', 'Mrs', or 'Miss'
  • Adopting a more gender-neutral presentation (their clothes, hair, etc.)
  • Seeking hormone therapy, typically using lower doses than binary transgender people
  • Undergoing voice training
  • Seeking surgery to change certain parts of their body (e.g. having their breasts removed, having their genitals surgically altered)

However, like any group of people, non-binary folks are a diverse bunch - not everyone experiences dysphoria to the same degree, if at all, and the amount of dysphoria a person feels doesn't necessarily determine the changes they make. It all depends on the individual person, and what they feel they need to do to feel more comfortable and express themselves fully. Feeling dysphoria isn’t acondition that needs to be met to call yourself non-binary, and nor is identifying as transgender - no one should have to feel that they aren't 'dysphoric enough' or 'trans enough' to define themselves as non-binary.

Someone I know just told me they're non-binary - what can I do to support them?

First of all, accept that they're telling the truth. The idea of non-binary gender can seem strange if you don't identify with it yourself, but try not to judge or question their identity. It can also be tempting to ask a lot of questions about what it feels like to be non-binary, but try not to do this too much - it can be daunting to have to answer questions about something so personal. There are plenty of resources online, like the links below, to help you understand non-binary gender without putting anyone on the spot. Ask if they have a particular name and/or set of pronouns that they'd prefer you to use, but also ask whether there are any people they *don't* want you to use those in front of - they may not have told everyone about their gender, and it should be up to them to come out to others at their own pace. Other than that, just be a good friend, and be supportive of whatever decisions they make regarding their gender.  

To Summarise:

  • Non-binary people identify as something other than entirely a man or entirely a woman
  • Some of us are transgender and some of us aren't - and that's okay!
  • If someone tells you they are non-binary, respect their identity, and use their preferred name and pronouns.

Links:

Nonbinary.org

The Gender Unicorn

Hank Green Explains Gender and Sex

Genderpalooza: A Sex & Gender Primer

Gender Neutral Pronoun Guide

Resources for Parents of Non-binary and Transgender Children