Beyond Binaries

Are nonbinary people trans? The answer isn’t clean-cut

Gender identities like “nonbinary” and “transgender” are more common now than ever. In fact, 44% of people say they know someone who is trans and 20% know someone who is nonbinary.

While often grouped together or used interchangeably, transgender and nonbinary have different meanings. Both of these concepts challenge traditional views, urging us to embrace a wider range of human experiences.

What does it mean to be nonbinary or transgender?

Nonbinary is an identity embraced by those who do not fit exclusively into the categories of male or female.

This umbrella term includes identities such as genderqueer, genderfluid, and agender, among others. Because of this, nonbinary individuals might identify with aspects of both male and female genders, somewhere in between, or completely outside these categories.

They may use any pronouns, including gender-neutral ones like they/them, xe/xir, ze/hir. Or they may default to gendered pronouns, he/him or she/her, or a combination of pronouns, like he/they or she/they.

Transgender, on the other hand, is an even broader term for people whose gender identity does not align with the sex assigned to them at birth. This can include individuals who identify as male, female, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming.

The transgender community is wonderfully diverse, embracing a wide range of gender experiences and identities. Trans individuals may similarly use any pronouns they see fit including a mix of multiple.

It is important to respect an individual’s pronouns and to not assume their gender based on appearance or birth assignment.

Intersectionality and distinctions

The intersection of nonbinary and transgender identities sheds light on the intricate nature of gender. While nonbinary folks can be seen as transgender since their gender identity doesn’t entirely match their assigned sex at birth, not all nonbinary individuals view themselves as transgender.

Some might sense that their gender identity lies beyond the binary but doesn’t neatly fit the conventional idea of being transgender.

There’s a common misunderstanding about nonbinary folks, with many assuming that being nonbinary means rejecting gender altogether. In actuality, nonbinary individuals may still feel connected to certain elements of traditional gender roles or expressions, even if they don’t neatly fit into either category.

For similar reasons, many transgender individuals don’t see themselves as nonbinary, especially if they believe their gender identity falls within the male-female binary.

Not every trans person identifies as nonbinary, and not all nonbinary individuals see themselves as trans. However, some identify as both transgender and nonbinary.

The reality in numbers

Research sheds light on the experiences of nonbinary and transgender individuals. A 2021 Williams Institute report found that 1.2 million adults identify as nonbinary—or 11% of LGBTQ+ adults. Of those nonbinary individuals, 76% were between the ages of 18-29.

A separate study from the Williams Institute in 2022 found that 1.3 million adults identify as transgender. Of those, 39% are trans women, 36% are trans men, and 26% are gender nonconforming.

Pew Research Center data from 2022 further found that about 5% of adults under 30 identify as trans or nonbinary. This includes 2% who identify as trans, and 3% who are nonbinary.

Legal and societal recognition

The legal recognition of trans and nonbinary identities is a patchwork globally, with some countries and jurisdictions like the U.S. offering an “X” option on official documents. Anti-trans bathroom bills like those in Utah and North Carolina, as well as ongoing discussions around trans exclusion from sports also persist.

According to the 2023 U.S. National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ Young People from the Trevor Project, 63% of trans and nonbinary youth don’t have access to a gender-neutral bathroom at their school. Further, 64% of transgender and nonbinary young people reported that they have felt discriminated against in the past year due to their gender identity.

2022 Pew Research Center surveys found that 64% are in favor of policies protecting transgender individuals from discrimination in jobs, housing, and public spaces like restaurants and stores. At the same time, the survey found that 58% support policies requiring transgender athletes to compete on teams based on their assigned sex at birth, not their gender identity.

Embracing the spectrum

While we’ve seen steps toward inclusivity, there remains an ongoing struggle for equal rights and recognition. Societal acceptance is growing, yet there remains a pressing need for advocacy, education, and policy changes to ensure comprehensive protections for trans and nonbinary individuals.

Respecting individual identity labels and acknowledging the spectrum of gender identities are vital steps toward fostering inclusivity and acceptance.

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