By Wendy Garcia
Image via HEAL+NM
Most people have been accustomed to the idea of only two genders existing: male and female. While many people may comfortably identify with either of these genders, it is harmful to limit gender as being a rigid binary since it can restrict how people express themselves and disregards the ways different cultures view gender outside of the binary.
In an attempt to recognize the fluidity of gender, non-binary can sometimes be seen as a third gender and can make people view gender as a ternary; instead of two genders, three genders are recognized. However, this is also harmful as non-binary people intentionally break away from the gender binary in order to not be placed in a rigid system. There are many specific gender identities that fall under non-binary where it can't be seen as a third gender.
Gender isn’t a binary
The gender binary is prevalent in many facets of our society. Public restrooms are divided into men’s and women’s restrooms, clothing sections are separated into men’s and women’s sections, many surveys that ask for gender have man and woman as the only options, among many other examples. Despite many people identifying with either of these genders in the binary, the gender binary does not acknowledge the existence of non-binary people and can make it difficult for them to navigate through our heavily gendered society. Even people who identify with a binary gender may feel constricted with how they can express themselves because of the traditional masculine or feminine gender norms pushed onto them throughout their lives. Viewing gender as being binary is an outdated way of thinking, but seeing it as something that exists on a spectrum is a good way to acknowledge the wide array of gender experiences people have.
Gender also isn’t a ternary
People may unintentionally view gender as a ternary where they see non-binary as a third gender that can have gender norms and expectations attributed to it. Non-binary people have vastly different experiences from one another and can also identify with additional labels outside of the binary genders to specify their individual relationship with gender. Some of these labels include genderfluid, agender, bigender, neutrois, and pangender. Although it could be seen as better than having gender be viewed as binary, this is still harmful to the way non-binary people express themselves and can make it difficult for some people to come to terms with being non-binary if they feel pressured to meet the expectations set on them to appear androgynous.
Gender should not be seen as a rigid categorization that confines how people can express themselves. Everyone has a unique relationship with their gender and should be free to explore their gender as they please. Even if it is difficult to understand how a person defines their gender, they know their gender better than anyone else and still deserve respect and a willingness to learn and be supportive.
Written by writer Wendy Garcia