What Does Nonbinary Mean?

There are many different gender identities, and gender identities vary from person to person. Research has found that 1.2 million adults in the United States report an identity that falls under the term nonbinary.

Nonbinary is a gender identity that serves as an umbrella for other identities such as genderflux and genderqueer. The word is used by individuals who do not see their gender identity, expression, or both in terms of only two main categories. 

Read on to learn more about what nonbinary means.

Gender Identity

Gender includes societal expectations that are appropriate for girls, boys, women, and men. However, your gender identity relates to how you internally feel when it comes to being male, female, both, neither, or something else.

A gender identity, or the expression of it, can differ from the sex you are assigned at birth. The sex that someone is assigned at birth relates to biology. Sex is mostly linked to the physical features that classify someone as male or female.

Identities as a man or a woman as well as male or female are usually considered binary categories for gender and sex, respectively. However, nonbinary gender identities exist beyond these categories.

Nonbinary Gender Identities

A nonbinary person does not experience their identity as falling strictly into a category of a man or a woman or as male or female. The word nonbinary can also be used for gender expressions that do not fall exactly into any of these categories.

The person might have an identity that takes on some characteristics of binary categories or a combination of the two. At the same time, some individuals might have identities that abandon the concepts of male and female altogether or have no specific identity at all.

A number of gender identities or expressions are included under the nonbinary category, like:

  • Agender or genderless: Describes a person who considers themselves to not have a gender
  • Bigender: Relates to a gender identity that is a combination of two genders
  • Pangender: Relates to a multi-gender identity
  • Gender fluid: Refers to an identity that is not fixed
  • Genderflux: Describes a gender identity where people experience their identity or expression more or less intensely at different times
  • Genderqueer: Refers to a gender identity that does not fall within a binary gender
  • Neutrois: Relates to an identity that is gender-neutral
  • Demiboy: Describes an individual who partially identifies with being a man
  • Demigirl: Describes an individual who partially identifies with being a woman

A nonbinary person can also identify as transgender, cisgender, or neither. Additionally, there is no specific way that a nonbinary individual can be or look, and they do not have limited specific sexual orientations.

Cultures and Nonbinary Gender Identities

Some cultures have terms for gender identities that could be considered nonbinary. They include:

  • Latinx/Latine: Options other than Latina/Latino
  • Two Spirit: A term referring to a third gender or gender variant role for individuals in cultures of North American Indigenous people 
  • Fa’afafine: Refers to a third gender in Samoan culture
  • Hijra: A legal term in Indian culture that refers to a third gender
  • Māhū: A term referring to a third gender in Hawaiian culture
  • Maohi: Refers to individuals who have a third-gender identity with traditional spiritual and social roles in Tahitian culture 

Nonbinary Pronouns

The use of pronouns for nonbinary people will differ on a personal basis. Individuals who identify as nonbinary may use one set or multiple sets of pronouns or alternate between sets of pronouns. They may also opt to not use pronouns.

Nonbinary individuals might use they/them/theirs, or they may choose to use ze/hir/hirs—which are neopronouns. However, other pronoun options can be others like she/her/hers, he/him/his, ey/em/eir, ne/nim/nis, or a combination of any sets.

Of note, pronouns are not directly connected to gender identity. Some people use “he/him/his” or “she/her/hers,” but do not identify as male or female, respectively. You also will not be able to tell what a person’s pronouns are based on the way they look. The only way to find out what a person’s pronouns are is for the person to share them.

How To Know if You're Nonbinary

If you feel that your sex assigned at birth differs from your gender identity, it’s possible for your gender identity to be one that is considered nonbinary. However, you won’t know for sure until you take the time to explore what your gender identity may be. That exploration might include:

  • Using a new name or pronouns to refer to yourself
  • Trying a different sense of fashion that may be aligned with a particular gender
  • Participating in new social interaction types

Knowing your gender identity may not always happen right away. While some people might know what gender identity or expression they have early on, others may not find out their identity until later in life. Additionally, the time it takes for individuals to understand and accept their identity can be longer compared to the time for others.

What Else To Know About Gender Identity Exploration

When you feel safe and comfortable, you can decide to disclose your gender identity to others around you. You also have the choice to share that disclosure with whomever you want. There’s also no wrong or right way to talk about your gender identity. You can have the conversation in person, over the phone, or through written communication.

It’s normal to have a lot of different emotions—like fear, confusion, bravery, or relief—about this decision. You can experience those and other feelings about how you want to go about the disclosure process. Just be sure to pick the right time to disclose for yourself or if you even want to disclose your identity.

It can also be helpful to look for support from peer communities and connect with others who have shared some of your emotions and experiences. For example, you can visit places like LGBTQ+ centers, social venues, and clinics to determine where you can find support groups.

Other resources available to individuals who identify as nonbinary include options for:

  • Support and advocacy
  • Mutual aid, emergency funds, and community groups
  • Health issues
  • Legal issues
  • Spiritual and religious issues

How You Can Be an Ally to Nonbinary Individuals

It’s important to be an ally to nonbinary people. These individuals can experience stigmas like hearing that their identity does not exist and stressors related to issues such as being misgendered.

You can be an ally to individuals who identify as nonbinary in a lot of ways. They include:

  • Educating yourself about nonbinary individuals
  • Listening and being open-minded
  • Exploring your own internal messages or beliefs about nonbinary people
  • Being willing to talk
  • Inviting nonbinary individuals to spend time with you, family, and friends
  • Not assuming a person’s gender or sexual orientation
  • Asking about pronouns and practicing the use of pronouns that are gender inclusive

A Quick Review

Nonbinary is a term that describes gender identities that do not fall into man or male and woman or female categories. Those identities include ones such as agender, genderfluid, or pangender. Individuals who identify as nonbinary may use certain sets of pronouns, or they may not use pronouns at all.

There is no timing for you to explore your gender identity, and you can choose if you want to share your identity with others. If you know someone who identifies as nonbinary, you can be an ally for those individuals by being inclusive, open-minded, and willing to talk about their identity and experiences.

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