What does non-binary refer to?
Non-binary is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity doesn’t sit comfortably with ‘man’ or ‘woman’. Non-binary identities are varied and can include people who identify with some aspects of binary identities, while others reject them entirely.
Non-binary people can feel that their gender identity and gender experience involves being both a man and a woman, or that it is fluid, in between, or completely outside of that binary.
Non-binary people are nothing new. Non-binary people aren’t confused about their gender identity or following a new fad- non-binary identities have been recognised for millenia by cultures and societies around the world. Some, but not all, non-binary people undergo medical procedures to make their bodies more congruent with their gender identity. While not all non-binary people need medical care to live a fulfilling life, it’s critical and even life saving for many.
Most transgender people are not non-binary. While some transgender people are non-binary, most transgender people have a gender identity that is either male or female, and should be treated like any other man or woman. Trans is not the same as non-binary. Being non-binary is not the same thing as being intersex. Intersex people have anatomy or genes that don’t fit typical definitions of male or female. Most intersex people identify as either male or female. Non-binary people are usually not intersex: they’re usually born with bodies that may fit typical definitions of male and female, but their innate gender identity is something other than male or female.
What questions are okay to ask?
- What are your preferred pronouns?
- What titles/ terms would you like me to use to refer to you?
- Terms like ‘sibling’ rather than ‘sister/brother’, ‘Mx.’ instead of ‘Mr/ Mrs’, and ‘parent’ instead of ‘mother/father’ might be suggested.
These are the only questions you actually need answered to interact with someone or talk about them. Everything else, like questions about people’s bodies, their past, their plans for the future, are personal questions for trans and non-binary people just like they are for cis people. Let people share if they want to; otherwise, don’t ask. It’s okay not to know.
- his or hers, try theirs
- ladies and gentlemen, try distinguished guests
- men and women, try everyone
- guys, try folks/folx
- man/woman (with the glasses), try person (with the glasses)
Small changes to your vocabulary matter.
Reminder: NB is not short for non-binary. NB is short for non-black, used in the context of ‘non-black POC’.