By Wendy Garcia
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People are typically assigned male or female at birth and are raised with characteristics pertaining to that assigned gender. Many people continue to feel connected to their assigned gender for the rest of their lives. Others may feel a disconnect with their assigned gender and even feel that they don’t fit into the gender binary.
People that aren’t exclusively male or female are known as non-binary. With many prominent figures coming out as non-binary, people are starting to learn about what non-binary means. While this increased awareness is generally positive, this can also lead to misconceptions around the label. As a non-binary person myself, there are times where I feel that I’m “not non-binary enough” since I don’t meet everyone’s expectations of how a non-binary person should look and act, but there's no wrong way to be non-binary and that's the main point I want to convey.
Non-binary is a spectrum
With the definition of non-binary being so broad, it encompasses many different experiences and microlabels such as agender, genderfluid, androgyne, demigender, genderflux, bigender, pangender, cassgender, and many more. Not all non-binary people are the same and it's important to acknowledge the variety of experiences among non-binary individuals. In addition, some people may use more than one label to describe their gender or not label it at all, and all of these differences are still valid. Since many non-binary people see their gender differently, they should not be seen as a monolith and may have differing opinions regarding certain issues in the non-binary community.
Not everyone uses they/them pronouns
It’s typically assumed that all non-binary people use they/them pronouns. Although many of them do, not all non-binary people use these pronouns. There are non-binary people that use she/her, he/him, or neopronouns, which are pronouns besides she/her, he/him, and they/them, and are still just as valid as those who use they/them pronouns. I currently use both they/them and she/her pronouns since I like the neutrality of they/them, but don’t have a problem with people using she/her when referring to me. If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, it’s best to ask them what their pronouns are or use they/them until you know their pronouns as you cannot know someone’s gender by their appearance.
Non-binary is not a third gender
Because of the many identities and experiences encompassed under non-binary, it's inaccurate to say that non-binary is a third gender. In addition, seeing non-binary as a third gender would create a gender trinary and defeat the purpose of non-binary, which intentionally breaks away from being restricted into one box.
Not everyone looks androgynous
It’s important to note that gender identity does not always equal gender expression. As a result, non-binary people can present themselves however they want. Although there are many non-binary people that want to look more androgynous, some can also look more feminine or masculine. For me personally, although I'd like to experiment with an androgynous presentation, I do still like looking feminine and ultimately do what makes me feel the most comfortable. A non-binary person should not have to look androgynous in order for people to see them as their gender identity.
Some are man or woman-aligned
Since non-binary means not being exclusively male or female, there are some non-binary people that may feel aligned or at least somewhat connected to a binary gender. With my experience, I do still feel a connection to womanhood since many of my experiences are rooted in society seeing me as a woman and I’m still fine with she/her pronouns and many (but not all) feminine terms. Not all non-binary people are aligned with either binary gender, but some are and it's important to recognize that each person’s experience with gender is unique and valid.
Gender dysphoria is not required
Gender dysphoria involves having feelings of distress when one’s gender expression is not in line with their gender identity. Many non-binary people have gender dysphoria, but it's not required in order to come to terms with not being cisgender. Some people actually realize they're non-binary through gender euphoria, the opposite of gender dysphoria, which involves having feelings of comfort or joy when one’s gender expression is in line with their gender identity. People come to terms with their gender in different ways, and a person’s lack of gender dysphoria should not invalidate their journey to realizing their gender.
Not everyone transitions
There are many non-binary people that may transition medically or socially in order to feel more connected to their gender identity, but it's not required in order to be non-binary. Unless someone brings up the topic or says it's okay to ask about, don't ask a non-binary person if they plan to transition or make changes to themselves once they come to terms with their gender. It’s no one’s business but theirs and transitioning is not a prerequisite to be non-binary.
Not everyone likes the term “enby”
A shortened version of the term non-binary is enby, but not all non-binary people like this term. Some feel that it’s infantilizing or just feel uncomfortable being referred to as that. I personally feel indifferent towards being called an enby since I’d rather people call me a non-binary person, but I also don’t have an issue with being called an enby. To be on the safer side, it's best to refer to anyone who’s non-binary as a non-binary person or ask if they’re okay with the term enby and respect those who don't want to be referred to as an enby.
Written by writer Wendy Garcia