Non-binary is an umbrella term, similar but not synonymous to genderqueer, that encompasses a wide range of gender identities that do not identify as solely female or male (although the term genderqueer is widely spread, we will use non-binary gender identities because it is more precise and descriptive.). Let’s start out with what binary means in this specific context. Here, binary basically means that something, like gender for example, is composed of two parts —often two parts that are directly opposite, counterparts. What popular language calls black-and-white thinking is another way of saying binary thinking.
A non-binary individual experiences and feels their gender identity either completely outside the traditional female-male model, doesn’t solely experience their gender through the traditional binary system, experiences certain fluidity in their gender identity or only partially identifies with one of the two traditional genders.
Historically, binary thinking can be and has been harmful in many ways; nowadays, one of the groups of people that are having a very hard time fighting binary thinking are people who consider themselves non-binary. From phrases meant to mock non-binary individuals that have spread over the internet like a wildfire such as “you just want to be a special snowflake” to the direct denial and erasure of the existence of non-binary identities, people who identify as non-binary are fighting a war against ignorance, but also against millions of years of human black and white thinking.
- Non-binary gender identities don’t exist, they are a product of teenagers with too much time on their hands who spend too much time on Tumblr. In fact, non-binary identities and the oppression they go through have started to be covered by the mainstream media. Although, woefully, the mainstream media did not cover non-binary identities until a considerable series of suicides due to bullying and/or cyberbullying started to grab their attention, we are starting to see more and more articles about non-binary identities. One of the most famous news pieces about the suicide of a transgender non-binary teenager is that of Kyler Prescott, who killed himself at the young age of 14 due to bullying and despite the fact that his family fully supported his identity. However, stories –both positive and negative– about non-binary individuals continue to be scarce and difficult to find. This lack of awareness and information perpetuates erasure, negation and
aggression towards a lot of non binary identities.
- You don’t dress differently, why are you saying you are non-binary?
First things first: just like sexual orientation is not the same as sexual expression, gender identity is not the same as gender expression. Some non-binary individuals feel the need to either dress differently or go through medical procedures while others are comfortable with the way they look and don’t feel that need. In a way, asking a non-binary person something like this is like meeting your favorite celebrity on the street and saying: “but hey,
you aren’t wearing that dress you wore on the red carpet, it can’t be you”.
- “You’re just confused”. Although confusion is a possibility given the lack of awareness, information and guidance, once you self-identify as non-binary, you have probably given it a lot of thought. But even if a non-binary person didn’t experience some sort of identity crisis and still identifies as non-binary, this does
not mean that they are confused.
- “You’re going to destroy the gender system”. While some non-binary people might dislike the notion of gender and some might want to see it gone, most non-binary people simply want their identities recognized and validated by others. Most of non-binary individuals do not want to destroy gender, instead they are looking for a wider definition of gender, more options to describe how they experience their gender or, in some cases, being able to express that they have no gender at all.
- “But, why are you whining if you don’t experience oppression like trans people or people with non-heteronormative sexual orientations”. This is simply false. Non-binary trans people are at a higher risk of discrimination and violence than binary trans people. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, binary prejudice is still common both among the transgender and the cisgender communities. This leads to more discrimination and violence towards non-binary trans people and more verbal and psychological abuse towards non-binary individuals who do not identify as trans.