Non-binary (sometimes shortened to NB, or enby) refers to someone whose gender does not fall strictly within the category of binary genders (man or woman) that is used in western society. Anyone who is not always 100% male, or always 100% female can be considered non-binary. That said, some non-binary people identify may with one or both of the binary genders, at least in part.
Non-binary can be a gender identity on its own, or it can be used as an umbrella term for anyone whose gender is something other than male or female. Some people may also use the term genderqueer interchangeably with non-binary.
Non-binary is included in the umbrella of transgender, although some non-binary people choose not to identify as transgender.
Common Non-Binary Identities
One may identify as non-binary on its own or they may be a gender that falls in the category of non-binary. Some common identities include:
Since there is no single "non-binary look" there is no "typical" non-binary transition, it depends on the person's individual gender identity and their goals for gender presentation. Some non-binary people do not transition and present as the gender assigned to them at birth. Other non-binary people may take elements of binary transgender transitions. For example, an afab (assigned female at birth) non-binary person may take testosterone, or wear a binder. Other non-binary people may not transition medically but will try to appear as androgynous as possible.
Each non-binary person has a unique relationship with pronouns. Some non-binary people may go by she/her pronouns or he/him pronouns. If they're an English speaker they may go by they/them pronouns. Others still will go by neopronouns.
Many non-English speakers will create new pronouns, as their language does not have a gender-neutral singular pronoun like the English "them".
The existence of non-binary people has been recorded by many cultures throughout history. Many non-western cultures recognized three or sometimes more genders, dating back to antiquity, however the existence of these genders was often suppressed during colonization.
- Some of the earliest recorded instances of non-binary people come from Mesopotamia. In Mesopotamian mythology, there are references to the types of people who are not men and not women. Many priests or individuals who preformed religious duties were described as a third gender.
- The Māhū in Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiian) cultures are third gender persons that traditionally played spiritual roles within the culture. The first written Western description of māhū occurs in 1789, by Captain William Bligh. When stopped in Tahiti he was introduced to a member of a "class of people very common in Otaheitie called Mahoo... who although I was certain was a man, had great marks of effeminacy about him."
- The Buddhist Tipitaka documents four gender categories: female, male, ubhatobyanjanaka (people with both male and female characteristics), and pandaka (a complex term with no English translation).
- Prior to western contact, some Native American tribes had third-gender roles. European anthropologists usually referred to these people as "berdaches", which Natives considered a slur. In 1990, some Indigenous North Americans adopted the term two-spirit.
- Across the Indian subcontinent there are several similar gender identities that are collectively known as hijra in English. Hijra is neither completely male nor female and they typically have a feminine gender expression.
- Jewish sacred texts recognize six genders: zachar (cisgender men), nekeivah (cisgender women), ay'lonit (transgender men), saris (transgender women), androgynos (someone with both male and female characteristics, roughly equivalent to androgyne or bigender), and tumtum (someone whose sex is indeterminate or obscured, roughly equivalent to agender).
- Bissu is a gender from the Bugis culture of southern Indonesia which represent all aspects of gender combined to form a whole. They play an important role in religious ceremonies amoung those who practice the pre-Islamic religion of the area. Traditionally the Bugis recognized five genders, and believed that all five genders must live in harmony for there to be peace in the world.
Victorian Era (17th-19th Century)
- In the 17th century, English laws concerning inheritance sometimes referred to people who didn’t fit the gender binary using the pronoun "it". While dehumanizing, it was considered the most grammatically fit answer to gendered pronouns around then. This is an example of people being considered legally outside of male and female.
- Although the "singular they" had been in use in English for hundreds of years in 1745, prescriptive grammarians began to say that it was no longer acceptable. Their reasoning was that neutral pronouns don't exist in Latin, which was thought to be a better language, so English shouldn't use them either. They instead recommended using "he" as a gender-neutral pronoun. This started the dispute over the problem of acceptable gender-neutral pronouns in English.
- The Public Universal Friend (1752-1819) was a genderless evangelist who traveled throughout the eastern United States to preach a theology based on that of the Quakers, which was actively against slavery. The Friend was reanimated by God from a severe illness at age 24 with a new spirit, according to the Friend, which was genderless. The Friend refused to be called by the birth name, even on legal documents, and insisted on being called by no pronouns. Followers respected these wishes, avoiding gender-specific pronouns even in private diaries, and referring only to "the Public Universal Friend", "the Friend" or "P.U.F." The Friend wore clothing that contemporaries described as androgynous, which were usually black robes.
- The earliest known use of the word "genderqueer" is by Riki Anne Wilchins in the Spring 1995 newsletter of Transexual Menace. In 1995 she was published in the newsletter In Your Face, where she used the term genderqueer In the newsletter, the term appears to refer to people with complex or unnamed gender expressions. Wilchins stated she identifies as genderqueer in her 1997 autobiography.
- In 1998, an article from a transgender community on the Internet, Sphere, used the words "queergendered" and "polygendered" interchangeably as umbrella terms for everyone whose gender was outside the gender binary, specifying that these included people who were "bi-gendered, non-gendered, or third-gendered," explaining that some faced difficulty in seeking a gender-ambiguous physical transition.
The non-binary flag was created by Kye Rowan in February of 2014. It was designed for non-binary people who felt the genderqueer flag did not represent them. Yellow represents being outside the gender binary, as yellow is often used to distinguish something as its own. White is the absence of color and represents agender or genderless people. Purple represents the fluidity and multiplicity of many gender experiences, the uniqueness and flexibility of non-binary people, as well as representing those whose gender experiences include being in between female (traditionally pink) and male (traditionally blue). Black is the presence of all colours, representing people who are many or all genders.
- Murray, Stephen O., and Roscoe, Will (1997). Islamic Homosexualities: Culture, History, and Literature. New York: New York University Press.
- Nissinen, Martti (1998). Homoeroticism in the Biblical World, Translated by Kirsi Stjedna. Fortress Press (November 1998) p. 30. ISBN|0-8006-2985-X