The term nonbinary can describe many different concepts, and people often use it interchangeably with terms such as agender, androgynous, and transsexual. This can lead to confusion as to what these terms mean and how one might use them.

When talking with a person, it’s always best to check how they identify and their preferred terminology.

This article will discuss the meaning of non-binary gender identity.

What is Nonbinary Gender Identity?

Gender identity refers to how a person perceives their gender. This identity is distinguished from a person’s sexual orientation and the gender assigned at birth.

Binary Identity

For many people, their gender identity corresponds to the gender they were assigned at birth.

Doctors determine the sex assigned at birth by examining an infant’s physical factors, such as the anatomy of their external reproductive organs, and determining whether they fall into the male or female category. This is also called the sex binary.

Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of who they are, and for some, it relates to the sex they were assigned at birth. People also often think of gender identity as binary: male or female.

When a person’s gender assigned at birth matches their gender identity, they are sometimes known as cisgender. For example, someone with male anatomy and a male gender identity is called a cisgender man, while someone with a female anatomy and a female gender identity is called a cisgender woman.

One might describe this way of conceptualizing gender as binary.

Nonbinary Identity

Some people may not be able to conceptualize their gender identity in binary terms. However, they still have a strong sense of their gender without identifying as male or female.

Some research suggests that the concept of nonbinary is rooted in the idea that gender identity falls on a spectrum rather than being anti-binary. People may identify across this spectrum, or even outside of it.

A non-binary person may feel that their gender identity and experience includes aspects of binaries or none at all. Some people may also see their identity and experience as fluid, or ever-changing.

The social visibility of non-binary identities is increasing. However, many people don’t fully understand what it means to be non-binary. In fact, a 2015 survey found that 86 percent of non-binary respondents didn’t correct people who misspelled them because “most people don’t understand, so they don’t try to explain it.”

Difference Between Nonbinary and Transgender

Nonbinary is an umbrella term that describes a gender identity that is neither exclusively male nor exclusively female.

Transgender refers to a person who does not identify with the gender assigned at birth. For example, some people who are non-binary identify as transgender, but others may still identify with their gender assigned at birth.

Studies are beginning to discuss the concept of non-secondary gender identities in more detail, including their broader sociopolitical context. However, some reviews still highlight the need for more research in this area – particularly regarding inequalities in physical and mental health support for non-binary people.

Difference Between Nonbinary and Intersex

Being non-binary is not the same as being intersex. People who are intersex have anatomy or genes that do not match the sex they were assigned at birth.

Intersex people can identify as non-binary if they so choose. Some research suggests that the majority of intersex people identify as either male or female. This may be due to “normalizing” surgeries that occurred when the person was an infant.

Understanding the Terminology

Many people use the term genderqueer interchangeably with nonbinary. However, others may distinguish between the terms and identify as one and not the other.


Some organizations define the term queer as a type of sexual attraction that does not fit into other categories, such as homosexual, bisexual, or homosexual. However, some members of LGBTQIA+ communities – particularly older adults – find the term offensive.

People who are non-binary but who identify with a particular gender to some extent may describe themselves as demigender. Different degenerates include:

  • demiboy
  • demifluid
  • demigirl

Many other nonbinary gender identities exist. These include but are not limited to:

  • bigender
  • gender fluid
  • multigender
  • androgynous
  • agender
  • ceterosexual
  • gender neutral
  • genderqueer


The pronouns a person prefers will vary from person to person.

Some people are non-binary but still use binary pronouns, such as he or she. Some people prefer them. Others may choose gender neutral pronouns such as:

  • ze/hir/hirs
  • xe/xem/xyrs
  • ze/zir/zirs

It is important to know which pronoun a non-binary person uses. Using the wrong pronoun is known as wrong gender.

It is easiest to use gender-neutral terms in scenarios where it is impossible to determine a person’s pronoun, such as when talking about someone in the third person. For example, consider using:

  • person/people
  • partner/spouse
  • they/them


People perceive gender differently. Many people do not identify as male or female, while some identify as both.

A 2015 survey found that many people with a non-binary gender identity report experiencing discrimination and psychological distress as a result. Some research also suggests that young nonbinary people may have less social support and less access to trans-specific health care than young cisgender people.

However, society is increasingly accepting of non-secondary gender identities. Many states in the United States, including Colorado and California, now include non-binary as an option on official documents, such as a driver’s license.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has also removed gender identity disorder as a diagnosable mental health condition from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). However, DSM-5 still defines gender dysphoria as a diagnosable condition.

A review of the APA manual found that its language may exclude “medical transitions or intersex experiments.” Researchers also suggest that the adoption of gender dysphoria as a term has led to confusion and confusion over its meaning.

Being trans, non-binary, or any other gender identity does not require gender dysphoria. Anyone can experience gender dysphoria.

Understanding and appreciating non-secondary gender identities is a step towards ensuring that people feel accepted and represented.

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