What Does “Non-binary” Mean?

What Does Non-binary Mean?

Although “non-binary” (sometimes shortened to NB or phoneticized as “enby”) is becoming a more commonly used term in the trans community, for a lot of folks, it’s still an unfamiliar concept.

In order to understand what non-binary means, it is important to know what “binary,” or the gender binary, means. The gender binary is the idea or belief that there are only two sexes, female and male, that directly align with two genders, woman and man.

Many in our community understand this belief to be a product of colonization and connected to the transphobic belief that gender is a fixed characteristic that must be based on a certain set of biological traits like genitalia and genes. 

Although most people accept and identify with the genders they were assigned at birth, many people do not—the former are cisgender people, and the latter are transgender people. Similarly, it’s common for trans folks to identify with a binary gender (trans men and trans women)—but for those of us who don’t see ourselves in this gender binary, we may identify with the term “non-binary.” In other words, a non-binary person does not identify exclusively or fully as a man or a woman.

“Non-binary” is an umbrella term for a variety of different gender identities. Some non-binary folks may identify as both a man and a woman, while others may fall outside these categories altogether. For others, identifying as non-binary is a way to reconnect with culturally-rooted gender practices that had been tampered with or erased by colonialism.

Non-binary people might express their identity through physical appearance, name, or pronouns. Some non-binary people may change their bodies through hormones and/or surgery, while others don’t find this desirable or necessary. For some folks, being non-binary is not something they express through their appearance or behavior—rather, it’s a deeply personal and self-reflective experience.

Although there’s been an increase in visibility for non-binary identities recently, it’s important to remember that there have always been gender identities and forms of expression that fall outside the mainstream binary. Celebrating non-binary folks means celebrating that history and the wonderfully complex and varied community we have built.

-León (they/he) at Trans Lifeline


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