Have you ever wonder if you are non-binary? Girl/boy, women/man, isn’t it an arbitrary dichotomy? Was there a period where you questioned either of those female and male gender identities? Many questions you might not have the answers to. The heteronormative beliefs and ideas are lately challenged by multiple non-binary identities. Contrary to popular belief, for centuries western narratives erased and marginalized non-binary identities and experiences.
The diverse non-binary identities
Being non-binary implies not choosing between one’s feminine or masculine identity but, rather, composing one’s own sexual identity beyond the binary perspective. It is not a question of switching between so-called masculine and feminine clothes, (clothes have no gender). Nor is it about people with an androgynous or “masculine” appearance. Even though I do not feel comfortable under western labels, I relate a lot to non-binary identities. It’s really a matter of breaking away from the social gender construct. Binary identity is many-sided and has a different meaning for each one.
- Agender aka Genderless, Non-gender – Having no gender identity or no gender to express (Similar and sometimes used interchangeably with Gender Neutral).
- Androgyne aka Androgynous gender – Identifying or presenting between the binary options of man and woman or masculine and feminine (Similar and sometimes used interchangeably with Intergender)
- Bigender aka Bi-gender – Having two gender identities or expressions, either simultaneously, at different times or in different situations
- Fluid Gender aka Genderfluid, Pangender, Polygender – Moving between two or more different gender identities or expressions at different times or in different situations
- Gender Neutral aka Neutral Gender – Having a neutral gender identity or expression, or identifying with the preference for gender-neutral language and pronouns
- Genderqueer aka Gender Queer – Non-normative gender identity or expression (often used as an umbrella term with similar scope to Nonbinary)
- Intergender aka Intergendered – Having a gender identity or expression that falls between the two binary options of man and woman or masculine and feminine
- Neutrois – Belonging to a non-gendered or neutral gendered class, usually but not always used to indicate the desire to hide or remove gender cues
- Nonbinary aka Non-binary – Identifying with the umbrella term covering all people with a gender outside of the binary, without defining oneself more specifically
- Nonbinary Butch – Holding a nonbinary gender identity and a butch gender expression, or claiming Butch as an identity outside of the gender binary
- Nonbinary Femme – Holding a nonbinary gender identity and a femme gender expression, or claiming Femme as an identity outside of the gender binary
- The third Gender aka Othergender – Having a gender identity or expression that is not defined in terms of the two binary options (male/female, masculine/feminine) but entirely on its own terms
- Transgender – Identifying with the umbrella term covering all gender identities or expressions that transgress or transcend (go beyond the limits of) society’s rules and concepts of gender (Transgender is a wide umbrella term also covering people who hold binary gender identities and expressions but who transgress gender by transitioning between the binary genders).
‘Gender roles are how society expects an individual to behave based on the labels of either being born male or female. Gender roles are what a particular culture thinks one should do with one’s life, including personality traits, mannerisms, duties, and cultural expectations, given one’s gender (Bornstein, 1998)’. The heterocentric discourse which is at the core of many societies tends to restrict and essentialize other forms of sexual identity, including non-binary genders.
The non-binary identities hailed as a new phenomenon
Non-binary identities have always existed. Even if non-binary identities are frequently hailed as a new phenomenon, many gender-practices were articulated such as Sworn Virgins and Femminielli. In the early 1990s, the western Queer Theory emerged through Judith Butler, Kate Bornstein or Michel Foucault through academic, sociological and autobiographic work.
The non-western non-binary identities exemplified might have similarities to the western non-binary identities, but let us not forget each culture is different and the vision of non-binary may also be different or non-existent.
The Bugis, for example, living in Indonesia’s South Sulawesi region have a non-binary conception of gender. The definition of gender is not based on its biological definition. Among the Bugis, 5 genera are recognized:
- Makkunrai is the western equivalent of cisgender women.
- Bissu: They are both male and female spiritual guides, both deities and mortals-them. These spiritual guides offer their support and assistance but also their blessing during weddings or pilgrimages to Mecca for example.
- Calabai : They are assigned female at birth. Calabai, who may or may not identify themselves as men, may take on so-called male roles and functions, but Calabai are not expected to be men.
- Oroané is the western equivalent of cisgender men.
- They are were assigned male at birth and adopt the so-called female roles and functions. However, Calalai may not consider themselves to be women.
In Mexico, in Zapoteca culture, the Muxe are people assigned male at birth. In the social and private spheres, they assume the so-called female roles. The Muxe are neither men nor women, they are Muxe.
Non-binary identities and social acceptance
Social acceptance needs to be improved regarding non-binary identities in western countries. According to a report summarizing non-binary experiences in the United Kingdom, ‘65% of people felt that services were never inclusive of nonbinary people in the images and posters they display, or language they use in forms, leaflets and information’.
‘The lack of visibility and inclusion of non-binary people in services impacted them in the following ways: • 84% felt their gender identity wasn’t valid • 83% felt more isolated or excluded • 76% had lower self-esteem • 65% had poorer mental health • 63% were less likely to access services’. The lack of visibility and inclusion has also an impact on the professional sphere. ‘Only 4% of respondents always felt comfortable sharing their non-binary identity at work – compared to 52% who never felt comfortable’.
Legal recognition could help to improve social awareness and acceptance. In a few western countries, a third gender has been recognised and can be mentioned on birth certificates and/or on passports, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Iceland. Beyond legal and social recognition, which is still to be achieved, gender-neutral language challenges the heterocentric discourse.
For the last few years, more inclusion is expressed through western languages such as French, Spanish or English. Although the English language is much less gendered, it does not mean it is more inclusive. The gender-neutral language is used to reduce the male bias rooted in the heterocentric and androcentric discourse and narrative we constantly use. The gender-neutral language is made of non-presumptuous terms and pronouns, such as sibling instead of brother/sister and they-their-them used in the singular. Regarding the titles, many alternatives exist such as M, Ind (individual), or Mx (mixture, mix). To exemplify it, Ms. Aissa Sica becomes M Aissa Sica, Ind Aissa Sica or Mx Aissa Sica.
It is ok to make mistakes but it is important to ask the preferred pronouns before engaging in conversation with someone. Heteronormativity makes us assume the gender of a person by appearance, thereby denying the existence of the non-binary identities and participating in their invisibility.
Aissa Sica, founder of the Womxn of Color blog, sharing various people of color experiences and news. You can follow me on Instagram.
All the places with better rights for non-binary people than the UK, Vic Parsons, 14/07/2019
Gender-neutral title, Wikipedia
Non-binary people’s experiences in the UK , Vic Valentine/ Policy Officer/Scottish Trans Alliance, 2016