July 27, 2021

What Is Non-Binary?

Gender Fluidity in Modern Times: Non-Binary

It is a common misconception that gender-fluid or non-binary identifications are a new phenomenon. They are not. Since the earliest known history, humans have resisted sexual categorization, with varying degrees of acceptance depending on the era. In the Renaissance, for example, persons who we would now describe as queer were celebrated as artists, entertainers, and valuable members of society. By contrast, the Victorian era brought rigidity and judgment for those who fell outside of societal norms. 

That said, what is new at this moment in time is a societal shift toward embracing and understanding what gender fluidity means. For parents, friends, and family of those coming out as genderqueer, genderfluid, gender non-conforming, or any number of other terms to capture gender identity, it is important to educate yourself so as to be as supportive an ally as possible. Here is a brief primer on what you need to know.

Gender: Defined

Gender is an increasingly personal designation. Distinct from the sex we are given at birth, which is usually based on our genitalia, or our sexual orientation, which describes who we are attracted to, gender can encompass a broad swath of characteristics including dress, interests, manner of speech, and self-concept.

What Is Non-Binary?

Put simply, the term non-binary encompasses genders that don’t fit into either of the two (binary) genders known as male and female. Sadly, skeptics have questioned the validity of the so-called non-binary gender identities. Typically older than millennials, such skeptics have questioned whether the non-binary person is just seeking attention or trying to get special treatment. These suspicions can be chalked up to one principal cause: discomfort. As the villagers sing in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, “we don’t like what we don’t understand, in fact, it scares us.” Alternatively, we may very well understand genderfluid and non-binary identification, but it may hit too close to home—as if we suspect that we ourselves may fall under this category. It follows that resistance to genderfluidity and non-binary identification has nothing to do with the non-binary or genderfluid person and everything to do with the skeptic.

Moving Forward

All of this said, times of radical change are often accompanied by resistance, and it is the task of society at large to find empathy for each other. On a more personal level, if someone you love—a child, parent, family member, or coworker, for instance—has come out as genderqueer, genderfluid, non-binary, or any other identification, the most supportive thing you can do is ask questions, try to understand, and follow their lead. The singer Demi Lovato, who recently came out as genderfluid, has offered some helpful reassurance to those around them. To paraphrase: if you mess up my pronoun, don’t worry. What matters is that you’re trying and that you care.