What is non-binary?

Let’s discuss what it means to be non-binary and how potentially important it is to normalise resistance to traditional binary notions of gender.

Non-binary identities are still broadly misunderstood and unaccepted. In the UK 2021 census there was no option to identity as non-binary. And the fundamentals of non-binary identity are still confusing to many people who have grown up with only the concepts of cisgender masculinity and femininity. Healthline explains how some people identify as cisgender non-binary and others as transgender non-binary by saying it ‘may sound confusing, but when laid out, it’s actually very simple. A trans nonbinary person is someone who doesn’t identify with the sex that was assigned at birth (trans) and also has a gender identity that can’t be categorized as exclusively male or female (nonbinary).’

Asia Kate Dillon has spoken out about the importance of normalising minority identities such as those who are non-binary. They maintain ‘we can’t afford to lose any more of our extraordinary precious marginalised and disenfranchised people.’ And it seems that with the help of celebrities like Kate Dillon, Demi Levato and Sam Smith people are starting to better understand and accept non-binary individuals. The new Sex and the City movie will include a non-binary character played by non-binary actor Sara Ramirez. Over a dozen countries including Germany and Pakistan have included third gender options in identity documents.

Non-binary identity may only just be becoming normalised in 2021, but gender binaries were never the givens that we now assume them to be. In Native American communities ‘non-binary people’ are known as two-spirit people, those who identify with both masculine and feminine spirits and are often revered within their communities. In Samoan culture the Fa’afafine identify as a third gender, which moves fluidly between traditional assignations of masculinity and femininity. In India, the third gender, Hijras, were legally recognised in 2014 after being criminalised by the British for 143 years. In fact, Hijras are the first recorded instance of identifying beyond male and female – dating as far back as 400BC to 200AD. Recognisably, all three of these cultures were colonised – showing how white Western conceptions of normal have influenced the othering of non-binary identities.

Non-binary identities aren’t just part of a cultural shift. One in every two thousand people is born intersex. The suggestion of gender binaries is thus not only a social construct built on colonialism, but one which actually ignores biology. As Healthline goes on to explain, ‘the idea that there’s male and female isn’t false – it’s just incomplete.’

That being said, many people fear the break-down of society following an embrace of gender non-conformity, the ex-pope described it as ‘the self-destruction of man’. The fear of the unknown, the fear of breaking down the culturally sacred notion of two genders, is understandable. But it’s still important to have an awareness of the unique pedestal which gender conformity stands on. In fact, the systems of gender conformity which oppress non-binary people – oppress us all. The need to be completely masculine or completely feminine is what has led to high male suicide rates and an impossible beauty standard.

As such, the importance of understanding non-binary identities is useful for us all. Not just so we don’t continue to other important communities, but for our own mental health too.

Featured Image by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash 

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