Gender Non Conforming or Non Binary People
Actualizado: 26 oct 2020
A specifically vulnerable population within the transgender community are non-binary individuals, who are frequently subject to harassment and ridicule as a result of their complex gender identities. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of transgender individuals coming out as non-binary, and with it has emerged a debate over the validity of their gender identity. Many people have dismissed the concept by claiming that there can only be two genders and that non-binary people are simply pretending to be transgender for attention. Spreading these misconceptions is not only harmful to those who identify as non-binary, but is also historically inaccurate and disregards the cultural identities that have traditionally existed in non-eurocentric societies that don’t have a strict gender binary. Similarly, others have gone as far as to mock non-binary individuals online by reducing their identities to punchlines and featuring images/videos of non-binary people in YouTube videos known as “Cringe Compilations.” These negative actions, although they may seem trivial, both exacerbate the already existing struggles of non-binary individuals and undermine the progress that has been made by the transgender community since the Stonewall Inn Riots. Non-binary people should not be ridiculed for their gender identities. Non-binary people should not be dismissed, ignored, or purposefully boxed into a category that is easier to understand. Our identities are not up for debate. We deserve to feel understood, respected, and heard — and right here is where you can start listening. The Difference Between Sex and Gender But before we can dive into the arguments surrounding gender identity, it’s important to have a solid understanding of what gender actually is. Many often use the terms sex and gender interchangeably when they are actually two fundamentally different concepts. Scholars have defined sex in many different ways over time as our understanding of biology, culture, and identity has evolved. Sex is most commonly defined as the state of being male or female based upon biological differences, which refers to your sexual organs and characteristics. Your sex is determined at birth based upon your genitals and is recorded on your birth certificate, identification cards, and medical records. There are two traditional binary categories of sex: male and female. However, occasionally individuals are born with sexual characteristics that don’t fully align with typical definitions of male or female and are referred to as intersex. Gender is related to sex in that they are both means of identification, but the two don’t always correlate. Gender is defined as the state of being male, female, or otherwise based upon cultural, personal, and social differences rather than biological ones. In this definition, your physical characteristics aren’t as relevant. Your gender identity is focused on how you personally experience gender and how you choose to define that experience, which often relates to the gender roles and norms of one’s cultural background. With gender, there is more fluidity because personal interpretation and experience are more abstract than concrete biological evidence. The span of gender interpretation has led to the use of new terms that go beyond the limitations of the traditional male and female categories of sex, including ‘transgender’ and ‘non-binary.’ But despite the differences between sex and gender, both work together to help us create and express our identities. What Does it Mean to be Transgender? The majority of people in society are cisgender, meaning that they identify as the gender that their sex typically represents and align their gender expression with the expected physical and social characteristics of their sex. The term cisgender is used in contrast to the word ‘transgender,’ which represents those who do not identify with their sex. In other words, transgender individuals are people who identify as another gender and not the gender that they were assigned at birth. For example, a transgender man would be someone who was assigned female at birth but identifies as male. Similarly, a transgender woman would be someone who was assigned male at birth but identifies as female. These individuals experience their gender in a way that doesn’t correspond with their sex. Similar to personal awareness about sexual orientation, transgender people can range from feeling they have always known that they didn’t identify with their assigned gender to realizing their true gender identity at a later point in life. Transgender individuals often come to realize that they don’t identify with their sex by experiencing gender dysphoria. This is a condition that encompasses the discomfort a transgender person may feel in response to the incongruence between the gender they personally experience and the gender they were assigned at birth. They may feel uncomfortable with their body and towards the roles and expectations of their assigned gender, which can cause emotional distress and impair areas of functioning. The degree of discomfort a transgender person experiences varies significantly from person to person. Some experience mild gender dysphoria, while others suffer from extreme discomfort and feel debilitated by their gender dysphoria. Many transgender individuals who experience gender dysphoria will alter their gender expression to align more with their gender identity. People express their gender by manipulating the attributes of their outward presentation. Gender can be expressed physically through clothing, hairstyles, and makeup, as well as socially through one’s choice of pronouns and names. Gender expression rests on a scale of feminine and masculine presentation, with those who combine feminine and masculine traits or express their gender in non-traditional ways resting between them as androgynous. Those who are transgender may want to wear different clothing, change their name, or use a different set of pronouns that better represent their desired form of gender expression. For example, a transgender woman may want to start wearing more traditionally feminine clothing, ask others to refer to her with a different name, and use she/her pronouns. This is referred to as social transitioning, where the primary changes take place within social environments and situations. Some transgender people, in addition to socially transitioning, will choose to further alter their physical appearance by receiving hormone replacement therapy and/or gender-affirming surgery to present as their expressed gender. Usually, those who were assigned female at birth will begin testosterone hormone therapy, and those who were assigned male at birth will begin estrogen hormone therapy. It’s important to recognize that not all transgender individuals will choose to transition. Transitioning can help transgender individuals ease their gender dysphoria and live more comfortably, but it is a deeply personal decision to undergo these changes and it must be respected that transitioning is not right for everyone. Binary vs. Non-Binary Transgender People The majority of transgender people are binary, meaning that they identify as male or female and align their identities with the typical gender binary. A smaller portion of transgender individuals are non-binary, meaning that they don’t identify exclusively as male or female. Non-binary identities can take on different forms, where some non-binary people may identify somewhere in the middle of the typical gender binary or fluctuate between it, while others may remove themselves from it entirely. To represent these variations, those under the non-binary umbrella can use a variety of terms to describe their identities, including but not limited to genderfluid, agender, and genderqueer. Non-binary people share similar experiences to binary transgender individuals in regard to experiencing gender dysphoria and choosing to transition but may differ in their choice of presentation and pronouns. Because non-binary individuals don’t strictly identify as male or female, presenting as solely feminine or masculine can be uncomfortable and dysphoria-inducing, regardless of their assigned gender. As a result, non-binary people will often choose to express their gender by opting for more androgynous clothing, hairstyles, and names. Similarly, many non-binary people feel more comfortable using gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them (which are grammatically correct, by the way) or xe/xem instead of pronouns that are commonly tied to a specific gender like she/her and he/him. Although this choice of presentation is common within the non-binary community, it shouldn’t be expected that all non-binary individuals will aspire to look completely androgynous and use they/them pronouns for themselves. Some non-binary people choose to align their presentation with traditional feminine or masculine qualities and feel comfortable using she/her or he/him pronouns, which doesn’t erase the fact that they are still non-binary, and do not identify as women or men. Those who are confused by non-binary identities tend to perceive gender as two black and white categories in which you are either male or female, and thus conclude that the non-binary identity is simply a label that has been fabricated for attention. This idea seems to originate from the interchangeable misuse of the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender,’ giving the impression that gender identity is restricted to representing the two most common sexes of male and female. Additionally, the pervasiveness of this impression is exacerbated by the rigid views of gender throughout eurocentric societies, which places its focus primarily on those who identify as men and women. However, with scientists recognizing that gender is separate from sex and is an individually defined concept, gender is now being viewed as a spectrum instead of a binary. With this model, instead of two definitive categories, there is now the allowance of a grey area between and outside of the range of male and female where non-binary identities exist. Non-Binary Identities Aren’t Anything New A significant portion of the skepticism around non-binary identities stems from the fact that gender identity is being explored now more than ever. Our society is moving away from strict gender roles and allowing for more variance in gender expression, which encourages people to question and experiment with their own gender identities. This may give the impression that being transgender or non-binary is a relatively new concept, but that is far from the truth. In fact, one of the earliest known examples of someone who may have identified with the contemporary meaning of “transgender” was documented in the 1620s in the Virginia colony. This referred to a servant by the name of Thomas/Thomasine Hall who claimed to be both a man and a woman, assuming the traditional roles and clothing of both genders. At the time, there was no name for this phenomenon and many settlers simply regarded Hall as an “oddity” to be ridiculed and pitied. The concept of not identifying with one’s assigned gender wasn’t defined until 1910, when German sexologist Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld coined the term “transvestite” in his book Die Transvestitenin, creating one of the first modern terms to describe transgender individuals. Although the term is outdated and would be considered derogatory today, its coinage remains a significant aspect of transgender history and supports the idea that transgender people have existed throughout history, simply without a definite label. As gender-defining terminology continued to expand alongside transgender activism in western societies such as the United States, Sweden, The Netherlands more specific terms and labels began to appear that would describe gender identities outside of the typical gender binary. One example is the term ‘genderqueer,’ which refers to people who have gender identities other than male and female, or outside of the gender binary. The word ‘genderqueer’ emerged in the 1995 spring newsletter released by The Transexual Menace, a transgender rights activist organization founded in New York City in 1993. The popularization of this term was accelerated by the expansion and ease of access to technology, allowing for more public usage and visibility. Today, the similar term ‘non-binary’ is also being used to describe gender identities that aren’t fixed as male or female. Both terms have gained steady traction over the years, and have recently gained even more recognition after celebrities such as Ruby Rose and Sam Smith began to speak out on their gender identities and their relationship with the gender binary. It must also be recognized that the concept of a ‘third’ gender and identities outside of the typical binary have existed for centuries in non-eurocentric cultures. In Native American tribes, such as the Navajo, the term ‘two-spirit’ represents a distinct third gender category for indigenous individuals who are not considered a man or woman. Traditionally, two-spirit people would often perform the activities of both genders in their tribe and express their gender variation through their clothing, social roles, and lifestyle. The term two-spirit can also be interpreted in different ways depending on the cultural context of the specific tribe it is used in, which means that different communities may have other specific terms besides ‘two-spirit’ for those who don’t identify as male or female in their own language. Similarly, in South Asia, there are multiple examples of gender categories outside of male and female. One of the most common groups of third gender persons is hijras. These are individuals who are often born male or intersex yet choose to adopt traditionally feminine roles and clothing in society. In Hindu culture, hijras are known for possessing unique religious power and performing blessings at birth and marriage ceremonies. In 2014, India’s supreme court officially recognized the third gender category, declaring that “the spirit of [India’s] Constitution is to provide equal opportunity to every citizen to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of caste, religion or gender.” Similarly, even earlier in 2007 and 2013 respectively, Nepal and Bangladesh also officially recognized hijra as a third gender category. Although the existence of genders outside of male and female have not been officially recognized by governments and other institutions until recently, non-binary identities have been present consistently throughout history, which dispels the notion that being non-binary is a new or “trendy” concept. Refusing to acknowledge the existence of non-binary identities actively disregards the cultural history of many non-eurocentric societies, as well as the unspoken and forgotten history of transgender individuals in westernized nations. How to be an Ally to Non-Binary People Non-binary individuals are often subject to criticism and ridicule as a result of their complex identities, sometimes even from members of the LGBTQ+ community. This comes on top of the struggles that non-binary people already experience as transgender individuals, with many suffering from gender dysphoria, discrimination, and harassment. Let us keep in mind that non-binary individuals need just as much support and respect as binary transgender people, especially when it comes to transitioning. Respecting Pronouns: When referring to a non-binary individual, always use their correct pronouns. Using the right pronouns is a matter of showing respect to the person and their gender identity. Choosing to not use the correct pronouns, otherwise known as misgendering, can be extremely hurtful and exacerbate gender dysphoria. If you’re unsure of a non-binary person’s pronouns, it’s best to ask them directly, preferably in a private setting. Assuming pronouns based on a person’s appearance disregards the fact that gender expression can differ from gender identity. While it may seem like an uncomfortable question to ask, more often than not the individual will be happy that you asked and willing to share their pronouns with you. It can take time to fully master the use of new pronouns. If you accidentally misgender someone, don’t dwell on the mistake. Briefly apologize, gender the person correctly, and move on with the conversation. Similarly, if you notice someone else misgendering a non-binary person, you can demonstrate allyship by gently correcting them and informing them that they are using the wrong pronouns. Respecting Names: Similar to respecting someone’s pronouns, it’s important to use a non-binary individual’s correct name. When someone chooses to go by a different name after coming out as transgender, the previous name they held is often referred to as a ‘dead name’ and should no longer be used in reference to that person. If a non-binary person tells you they would prefer to be called another name, practice using their new name and follow the same procedure of apologizing as you would with pronouns if you make a mistake. Respecting Titles: In an effort to avoid gendered titles and labels, many non-binary people choose to use gender-neutral terms to refer to themselves. For example, in professional settings, non-binary people often use the honorific ‘Mx.’ (pronounced “mix”), which is used in place of ‘Mr.’ or ‘Ms.’ Similarly, in relationships, non-binary people are commonly referred to with terms such as “significant other,” “partner,” or “spouse,” which don’t imply a specific gender. Unless the person has explicitly stated that they are comfortable with gendered terms or titles, it’s best to refer to non-binary people using gender-neutral language. Respecting Gender Expression: As mentioned previously, non-binary individuals won’t always present as androgynous or aspire to look as such, and it is completely acceptable that some non-binary people choose to express themselves as more feminine or masculine. It should also be respected if a non-binary person chooses to express themselves with the clothing or attributes that would traditionally be associated with their assigned gender at birth. This does not detract from their non-binary identity, and it should be kept in mind that it is never your place to tell a non-binary person what you think their gender expression should look like. If someone says they’re non-binary, they are non-binary, regardless of how you personally interpret their gender expression. Supporting Legislation: You can be an ally by vocalizing your support for specific legislation that implements equal protections and opportunities for non-binary people and the transgender community, such as laws that allow third gender markers and support gender-neutral bathrooms. Example: In addition to socially transitioning, many non-binary individuals choose to change their gender marker to match their gender identity and update their means of identification, specifically their ID cards and driver’s licenses. you can be an ally to non-binary people by contacting your representatives and publicly voicing your support for progressive identity document laws and policies.