The Queer Questionnaire #11: What Does Non-Binary Mean?

According to the World Health Organization, gender is “the socially constructed characteristics of women and men.” It goes on to emphasize the importance of sensitivity to “different identities that do not necessarily fit into binary male and female sex categories.” Popular culture and media often highlight and elevate the lives of binary individuals— however, non-binary people are here, have always been here, and will continue to be here. But what does this mean?

Q. What does a non-binary gender mean? What does it look like?

The shortest answer can probably be explained with this picture:


The longer answer is that some people are men, some people are women, and some people are “something else”. Most people who are the “something else” can be said to have a non-binary gender.

The term “non binary” literally just means “a gender category outside of the gender binary”. The gender binary is a worldview or a concept in which only two genders exist (man and woman). The gender binary concept includes a lot of other assumptions too, but this is the relevant part for now.

Also, not all non-binary people have the same gender. There isn’t just one non binary gender, or just one way to be non-binary. Some non-binary people have a fluid gender that changes over time. Some non-binary people don’t experience a gender at all, and some non-binary people describe their gender as being “close to” man, or “close to” woman, but not exactly.

I have a non-binary gender. It’s really exciting for me to have a way to describe my gender in this one term, since it expresses a lot without being too specific. It’s also exciting to be able to find other people who experience their gender the same way I do.

Q. What does “cis-gender” mean?

Someone who is cis-gender is someone who comfortably identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth. So, for example, if you were assigned female at birth, and are comfortable identifying as a woman, you are cis-gender.

Q. Is gender fluid the same as non-binary?

There is some overlap. Gender fluid people often have genders that change over time. “Genderfluid” is a description of what their gender does. Non binary is a category of gender identities. Gender fluid people generally count as non-binary (if they want to).

Q. Are non-binary people Trans*?

Some of us. Depends on how they identify.

Q. OK, so what do non-binary people identify as?

Again, the term “non-binary” is an umbrella term with a few different gender identities under it, but the most basic definition for this term is people who identify as neither male nor female. These people might identify as both (“bigender”), neither (“agender”), a mix between the two (“genderfluid”), or they can be unsure of their gender (“genderqueer”). Non binary people can identify with any of these terms if it seems like they fit their identities, or they could identify with none. All non-binary identities are as valid.

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