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What does it mean to be “Non-binary”?

What does it mean to be "Non-binary"?


Those not too familiar with LGBTQ+ folks or those of us just exploring their sexuality and gender expression may be wondering what being "non-binary" means. Since it's becoming a more household term, like gay, trans, or lesbian, let's explore its meaning. Therapists, parents, and teachers have been confronted with this term more frequently in the past few years. It is crucial to be aware of what non-binary and gender mean, whether you are exploring this aspect of your life or supporting something through understanding yourself better.

Sex vs. Gender

People can sometimes use "sex" and "gender" interchangeably; however, diving into its differences is important. A person's genitals typically determine sex so that a person can be either male or female based on anatomy. However, this is where we begin to assume a child's gender. Now, gender is more focused on cultural and social norms rather than biological. It is related more to an identity of what the society/culture deems a man or woman should be, do, wear, and how they should express themselves. For example, what do you think about when you think of the color pink? Did you think about a girl? Yes! Our society and cultural norms have conditioned you to associate pink with a girl. While this is a small, simple example, gender and gender identity and gender expression are much more complex. (We're just dipping our toes in the water!)

Gender Identity

Now that we understand sex and gender, we can talk about gender identity. This is more personal and varies; it is something that cannot be seen, but rather felt in an individual. Sometimes your gender identity may not match the sex you were assigned. If they do, you are "cisgender"; if they don't, you would be considered "transgender." (i.e., a man assigned at birth identifies as a man/masculine vs. a man who identifies as a woman/feminine.) If you do not identify with any gender, you are "agender." If you identify as gender fluid or, more commonly referred to now, "non-binary," you don't fully identify with masculine or feminine gender expression.

Exploring Gender Expression

We express ourselves through our music, art, hairstyle, clothing style, voice, etc. Sometimes people feel bound by gender norms to limit themselves to a few options, such as males or masculine people, typically not wearing skirts or wearing pink. Those are cues of what is thought to be feminine. However, people don't identify or begin to explore these different aspects they have not as openly before. Giving others language and the ability to explore helps us, as people, understand each other better. It can knock down existing social constructs that don't work anymore because we no longer gender them. People interested in exploring their gender expression can begin to explore different gender presentations, such as painting their nails, wearing a suit, or cutting their hair. Try using other pronouns; think about what feelings come up when making those changes to begin understanding where you align.

Understanding YOU

Exploring gender expression can be overwhelming and complicated; however, you don't have to do it alone or once! Reaching out to a safe and understanding therapist, teacher, and parent can help you better deal with this process. At ITS, our therapists are LGBTQ+ friendly and are willing to help you explore this with you.


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