It means something different for everyone, so keep that in mind as you continue reading. I’m going to attempt to create a jumping point to learn for those who are questioning their own identity or just exploring. If you are questioning your gender, know that you are not alone. You’ll figure it out, and hopefully this can be a place for you to start figuring it out.
So I’m going to split this up into a few parts. But first, a general overview of what it means and some definitions to note:
Being non-binary or genderqueer can mean pretty much anything depending on who you ask. It is mostly considered an umbrella term for any gender that falls outside of simply male or female (Here is a large list of genders and Here is my overview of neurogender). For some, it is their identity. For others, it is simply the idea that gender is not just male or female. Gender can be both, neither, or somewhere on a spectrum between the two.
- Sex vs. Gender: Sex is based on physical sex attributes such as genitalia and hormone levels, while gender is a socially defined role
- Transgender: Someone whose gender is different from the sex they are assigned at birth
- Non-binary: Someone whose gender falls outside of the binary of man and woman
- Gender identity: What a person’s gender is (man/woman/non-binary)
- Gender expression = How a person presents (femme/masc)
- Femme = Feminine
- Masc = Masculine
- Intersex: Someone whose sex does not fall into male or female
- Sexual orientation: Based on the gender(s) that someone is attracted to
- AMAB/AFAB = Assigned Male/Female at Birth
- DMAB/DFAB = Designated Male/Female at Birth
Here is a longer list of terms and definitions from the Trevor Project. That list can seem a little intimidating, but there is not any pressure to know the terms immediately. It’s a learning and unlearning process for all of us! But now that we’ve got the general overview out of the way, let’s go in depth.
The idea of a non-binary person existing is such a controversial topic. Non-binary folks are often accused of being trans-trenders or following some fad. Obviously, I am here to say that this is not true. We are just here to live our lives. That’s kind of the whole point. No one is trying to invalidate people who do fall in the gender binary, but gender is not a set rule now or at any point in history. There are many places around the world where non-binary identities have always existed, such as the Māhū in Hawaii, hijras in India, and Two-Spirit (a generalized term) in indigenous cultures.
It is also important to note the relationship between being transgender and being non-binary. Some people who are non-binary identify as transgender, while others don’t. Some people who are transgender identify as non-binary. as well. There are no set guidelines for how to identify. It is an entirely personal journey to discover gender and what it means to you.
And while you’re figuring it out, there is absolutely no pressure to tell anyone or change anything about how you present yourself. You do you! It’s not a lie to hide the fact until you feel safe and comfortable sharing.
But when you do come out, remember that anyone who is making you feel bad or uncomfortable about your gender is in the wrong, not you. You don’t have to choose. Using they/them pronouns to refer to someone in the singular isn’t that hard. Learning a new name happens all the time and is not a big deal. And you are allowed to correct people who use the wrong pronouns or deadname you. Read more misconceptions here.
First, let’s address the idea of gender dysphoria. It is not a mental illness. It is the feeling of dissatisfaction with one’s assigned sex. That sounds simple, but what does it mean?
Imagine you are still yourself, a man or woman. But you’re trapped in the opposite gender’s body. So, if you’re a woman, you’re trapped in a man’s body. If you’re a man, you’re trapped in a woman’s body. That idea is the closest metaphor I’ve seen for gender dysphoria (I wrote on my own relationship with dysphoria, which you can read here).
Typically, if you are more comfortable with the idea of being in the opposite gender’s body, then you are transgender or non-binary. However, this is again not a set rule. Some people do not associate themselves with their physical sex attributes.
People address gender dysphoria by seeking out gender affirming care, meaning there is a respect of pronouns and names and possibly even transitioning. Unfortunately, gender affirming care is scarce, which contributes to the high rates of mental illness in trans and non-binary communities. Here is a link to a scholarly article on gender affirming care.
Now, what is transitioning? There are three aspects of it: The medical, social, and legal.
Medically, transitioning includes hormone therapy, top surgery (breast augmentation or removal), and bottom surgery (sex organ change). Hormone therapy often includes estrogen, testosterone, or hormone blockers. Hormone blockers can be used to delay puberty in children who are suspected to be transgender or non-binary. This way they can be sure of their medical decisions before opting for something more permanent, like surgery. Hormone therapy is also usually the first step physically after extensive gender-confirming psychotherapy.
Social changes include finding your pronouns, changing your name, and changing your outward appearance to be more femme, masc, or androgynous.
Legal changes include changing your name and gender on legal documents.
So, if you read this post and some of these concepts resonated with you, I wish you luck on your gender journey. You don’t have to check this criteria to fall in the category of non-binary though. This is simply my understanding of it all. You don’t have to have dysphoria or physically transition to be considered gender non-conforming. All you have to do is be yourself.
And if you are struggling, reach out to the Trevor Project! They can provide you with resources to understand your identity more or just provide emotional support. Below are the links and info for them:
Trevor Project Lifeline: 866-488-7386
Trevor Project Live Chat: Click here.
Trevor Project Text Line: Text ‘START’ to 678-678