Non-binary gender is an umbrella term that includes any gender identity that doesn’t fit into the traditional gender binary model (male-female).There are many types of non-binary gender identities such as agender, demigender, neutrois, transgender, genderfluid, genderqueer and more. Some people prefer not to specify their identity and choose to define themselves as non-binary or use the similar umbrella term, genderqueer, to indicate that they fall outside of the traditional gender binary divide.
To understand non-binary identities, we first have to understand what the gender binary is. Also known as gender binarism, it is the classification of sex and gender into two distinct and opposing roles: feminine and masculine. Usually dictated by biological sex, gender binarism constricts the gender identity of an individual into a predefined role that sets strict social boundaries in gender expression, identity and roles. The gender binary model equates biological sex with gender as well as with sexual orientation; this means that a biological male would be expected to display a traditionally masculine appearance, masculine behavior and a heterosexual preference. Both feminism and queer theory have challenged this divide and developed the non-binary gender model that we introduced earlier on.
Non-binary gender identities break away from this divide and provide individuals with the possibility of expressing their identity in a way that suits them better than the traditional male or female. This is, of course, a very subversive move, but one that is necessary to free ourselves from binarism in gender and, hopefully, in other areas of our lives. It is important to say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with identifying as male and female if that is what an individual truly feels they are. Nevertheless, many people do not feel that the two options given by traditional gender binarism fit them and feel constrained by them.
Lately, scholars have emphasized the limitations that gender binarism presents in society. For example, the insistence that men should be masculine and women should be feminine reduces people’s options to act outside their gender role. This in turn can lead to stiff romantic relationships were both sides are afraid to act outside of their gender role, even if it would be convenient for them, because of the probable social scrutiny that would follow.
But gender binarism doesn’t only hinder romantic relationships; it can hinder friendships, family and even business relationships. If a person is able to take a role not traditionally related to what the gender binary would deem their gender, they gain flexibility. So, for example, if two openly genderqueer friends, both traditionally considered male, live together as roomates, they can probably establish a fluidity in roles that could largely benefit their living conditions and overall satisfaction in general. Let’s say that one of the friends has a harder time with spatial organization than the other. Since both see themselves as genderqueer, the friend that can take on a role more traditionally associated with females like organizing space inside a home, can use his abilities without fear of being seen as unmanly or of being ostracized.
To finish this introduction to non-binary gender identities we’re going to take a quick look at some of the gender identities that are included within this umbrella term:
Agender: people who don’t have an inner sense of gender, this means that they have no gender.
Demigender: an umbrella term for non-binary gender identities that have a partial connection to a certain gender identity. Demimale and demifemale identities refer to those who only partially connect to the male/female aspects of gender binarism. But there are also deminonbinary identities which are identities for people who feel partially connected with the non-binary gender spectrum, an example of one of these identities is demifluid.
Genderfluid: these individuals have different gender identities at different times, setting their gender identity on a flux that can go from one identity to another depending on context.
Xenogender: a gender identity that is not defined in relation to female or male but by other kinds of ideas that most people would not consider related to gender.
Multigender: people who identify with more than one gender identity either at the same time or changing in between them.
There are many more terms and identities being defined and explored right now. A lot of people try to attack the non-binary gender identity spectrum by saying that it is creating unnecessary divides and labels. It is important to remember that humans need labels to communicate and that as society changes from binary thinking, black and white thinking, as it has started to do since last century, we need new words to communicate the new cultural phenomena that arise with big changes in humanities way of thinking. So, remember: the world is always changing, just like we ourselves are, and sometimes we need new words, theories and structures to understand those changes!
Non-binary gender identities aren’t bad or depraved, they are a natural evolution of the West’s slow but extremely important break with binary thought mechanisms. The creation of non binary gender identities works a bit like the evolution of cinema: from black and white movies, to movies in grey scale, to full color movies. Today the movies of our lives, which are very much permeated by our gender identities or lack of identity, are way more colorful than they were decades ago, when we only had the thinking mechanisms to see our lives in grey scale.