What Does It Mean to Be Nonbinary?

Identity is ever-changing, it may be difficult to understand where you stand and that is totally okay! Sexuality and gender is fluid, the most important part is letting yourself explore and learn what you feel the most comfortable with.

In this article, we’ll tackle what it means to be nonbinary and what it entails to be a part of this community. 

What does being nonbinary mean?

Nonbinary is an umbrella term that refers to those who feel their gender identity doesn’t fall under the traditional gender binary. The gender binary is the assumption that there are only two genders: male or female. This is of course an outdated way of thinking, but is still deeply ingrained in society. Nonbinary individuals don’t identify with just male or just female, and some non-binary people don’t identify with either gender at all. Many, but not all, non-binary people use the pronouns they/them to identify themselves as it steers away from more gendered pronouns. 

Learning that you might be a part of the LGBTQ+ community might be scary at first, but there are many ways to plug yourself into the community and learn to be comfortable with your sexuality. 

if you’re curious about how you might identify, here’s what you should know about what being pansexual means:

History of the word nonbinary 

Although the word “non-binary” didn’t come into existence until later years, the idea of not identifying solely with the male or female. gender has been around for years. For example, in Native American and Native Hawaiian culture there is considered to be a third gender. In Native Hawaiian culture this is called Māhū and in Native American culture this is called Two-spirit, in both instances,… gender fluidity is present and might be the earliest non-binary representation we know of. 

The term “genderqueer” first emerged when American transgender rights activist Riki Wilchins began using the word in their writing to argue against the discrimination of those who don’t identify with binary genders. From then on a variety of individuals began developing the usage of the word from autism-rights movement activist Jim Sinclair coming out as gender-neutral to Elisa Rae Shupe being the first person to have a nonbinary gender on official U.S. documents.

Related: Trans Indigenous and Two-Spirit Community Members on What They Need From Allies

The word “non-binary” itself is often used interchangeably with “gender-neutral” and “gender-queer.” In recent years schools and workplaces have become more inclusive by asking about pronouns and building gender-neutral bathrooms. On dating apps and official documents we are slowly seeing the increase of a non-binary option when selecting your gender which has been a relief for many non-binary individuals. 

Alternatives to the word nonbinary

Because identity is personal and different people are comfortable using different terms there are a variety of ways to say the word pansexual, including: 

  • Enby
  • Nb
  • Genderqueer
  • Gender fluid 
  • Gender neutral 

Over time language evolves and this creates new words derived from a multitude of historical nuances. Labels and terms can also carry connotations, bad or good, which is why one might identify more with one term over the other despite them meaning the same thing. It is also important to note that the word non-binary can encompass asexual, lesbian, and intersex individuals, and so much more.

What NOT to call nonbinary people 

Hateful words that refer to the non-binary community should always be erased from conversations and speech. The word non-binary has gone through many definitions and usages, but negative connotations and stereotypes remain. offensive words such as the F slur should be avoided at all costs, as they are derogatory. 

It is also critical to note that members of the pansexual community have begun to reclaim derogatory terms to take back the oppression they have faced. Although within the community this is acceptable it is still not okay to refer to non-binary people with a derogatory term if one is not a part of the community themselves. Always ask before assuming someone’s sexuality and gender identity. 

What makes someone nonbinary?

Being non-binary cannot be defined by one single thing. Some non-binary individuals change their pronouns to better fit their gender identity while others change the way they dress. Others might also benefit from gender-affirming medical procedures that help them feel more comfortable in their bodies and help correspond to their gender identity. There is no right way to do it. It is also important to note that not all non-binary individuals are considered transgender. Although a non-binary person might not identify with the sex given at birth they might not identify with the opposite of that either and instead a mixture of the two or none of them at all which would mean they do not identify with the transgender experience. 

Another key aspect of the non-binary identity is that it is an umbrella term. This means that under non-binary you will find other more specific identities such as agender, bigender, demigender, greygender, and so many more. This means when someone says they are non-binary there might be more to learn about what they specifically mean by that and what they personally feel about their identity. 

If you are questioning whether or not you are non-binary you might want to ask yourself the following questions: Do you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth? Do you feel solely masculine or solely feminine? If you answered no you might want to consider that you don’t fit into traditional gender binaries that society often imposes on us. 

Perspectives on being nonbinary

Ultimately, all gender identities are deserving of respect. The nonbinary community, like other LGBTQ+ communities, has faced oppression and a sense of not belonging in a society where things seem to have to be black and white. Putting this hardship into perspective might bring to light what we can all do to make non-binary individuals feel comfortable and accepted. 

Firstly, it is critical to understand that using a dead name or the wrong pronouns can be devastating for non-binary individuals. It’s safe to say that regardless of what assumptions you are making you should ALWAYS ask what someones preferred name and pronouns are before addressing them. This exchange is something everyone will benefit from and it will never hurt to ask. 

Advocating for policies that benefit the non-binary community can also be a great way to support them. Gender-neutral bathrooms and the option to select “non-binary” when filling out a document are all things that make day-to-day much more stress-free for nonbinary individuals. 

The perfect way to keep up to date with these stereotypes and combating them is following nonbinary people on social media and listening to what they have to say on the topic. It is also a great way to feel connected if you are a part of the community and need the support of other nonbinary people. 

The nonbinary flag

The nonbinary flag was created by Kye Rowan in 2014. The genderqueer flag was created first in 2011, but this newer flag better represents the non-binary community. The colors mean as following:

  • Yellow: People whose gender falls out of the binary.
  • White: People with many or all genders. 
  • Purple: People with genders that mix both male and female. 
  • Black: Those who consider themselves to not have a gender. 

Bottom Line 

All people are deserving of respect, regardless of gender, sexuality, or any other aspect of their identity. Understanding what it means to be non-binary might change through the years, labels are always transforming and evolving. 

Being non-binary can mean many things, it’s an umbrella term after all. Figuring out where you stand on the spectrum might take time and that’s completely fine. There should be no pressure when it comes to learning who you are as a person. 

If some of the ideas above resonate with you and you’re thinking of coming out, make sure the conditions are safe and have a plan of action regarding housing and food if things don’t go as planned. 

In addition, be sure to learn about the other identities that make up the LGBTQ+ community subscribe to the INTO newsletter to learn more.

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