Non-Binary defined: What is the gender binary anyway?
The gender binary is a way to describe the traditional view of gender identity; someone being either man or woman, based on biological sex, male or female. Over time, there has been glaring evidence that this knowledge might be flawed. Biological sex is complicated, and so is gender. Some Indigenous cultures have always acknowledged the existence of a third gender. These realizations presented a different picture of gender to scholars and rippled into the community of people outside of the gender binary. It became less of a gender binary and more of a gender spectrum or continuum.
Nowadays, the labels “transgender” and “non-binary” are used as umbrella terms to encompass an array of genders that are either not binary, not cisgender or neither. This includes, but is not limited to: genderfluid, genderqueer, trans masculine, trans feminine, two-spirit, etc. In the case of transgender men or women, some people will distinguish themselves as binary transgender man/woman, as in that their gender should be understood in the binary sense, or as non-binary transgender man/woman (although they may identify more heavily with that binary gender, they still feel themselves to be on a gender spectrum).
How to be respectful of non-binary people
Because gender is taught to us very early in life, it can be difficult to deconstruct our preconceived notions of gender. Since the myth of the gender binary is still persistent in society, being an ally is crucial in supporting non-binary people. The best step is to be informed on the social constructs of sex and gender plus practicing the terminology. Introducing yourself with pronouns for example will not only welcome non-binary people into the conversation, but also train yourself to remember that non-binary is not a look; anyone may identify with a different gender than you may assume them to be. Listening to nonbinary people’s concerns around policies is also important in being a responsible ally to the community. Some non binary folks may also choose to medically transition to ease the dysphoria of being cast as a gender they do not identify with. If that is the case, please be tactful as medical histories around anatomy is particularly sensitive and private.
Moving to gender-neutral language
Using gender neutral language doesn’t just benefit genderqueer people: it also opens the possibilities of including everybody in a conversation or statement. Inclusive language was fought for by women’s rights activists, looking for representation in a male dominated world. In a similar vein, non-binary people are fighting for representation in speech in a gender binary dominated world.
Using gender neutral language can be difficult at first. Like said previously, it requires rethinking common phrases such as “Ladies and Gentlemen” or automatically saying “ma’am” or “sir” at the grocery store, avoiding “he/she” when referring to an unknown subject. There are many resources online that compile common phrases and their gender-neutral counterpart, with the next step being practicing those sayings as much as possible. Stay tuned on our inclusive language guide coming soon
What are gender roles?
Gender roles are the social script that people assume someone should have based on their gender. For instance, gender roles affect career projections, as we expect the engineer to be a man, and the nurse to be a woman. Viewing gender as a spectrum questions the typical gender roles, which is work that was already being deconstructed by feminists in the equal rights movement. As constricting as gender stereotypes are, nonbinary folks have no representation in gender roles. Some might find this freeing: there are no limits in how to be nonbinary, whether that be in gender expression, careers, hobbies, sexual attraction, etc. For others, it shows a lack of representation, as there are very little role models for genderqueer people.
Although representation for nonbinary identities have been scarce, there are a few to look up in media. Rebecca Sugar (she/they) is the main creator behind Steven Universe, a show with many LGBTIQ+ references in a digestible cartoon format, Sam Smith (they/them) is the powerful voice behind many pop hits of the late 2010s such as “Stay With Me”, Amandla Stenberg (she/they) played Rue in “The Hunger Game” series as well as “Queer Eye” star Jonathan Van Ness (he/she/they) sharing that he identified more closely with being gender non-conforming. Most recently, Demi Lovato came out as nonbinary and using they/them pronouns, and have been transparent in using their platform to discuss this identity with their fans.