Gender is often seen as a binary subject, you’re either male or you’re female and whichever gender you are is decided by whichever parts you had at birth. Rather than viewing gender as a physical attribution, it should be viewed as an expression of how people identify with themselves. This doesn’t only apply to people transitioning from one of the two predominating sexes to the other, it also applies to people who don’t feel a strong connection to either gender and choose to define themselves as third-gendered, gender-fluid, or neutrois. Whether they identify as female and male simultaneously or as neither, non-binary people do exist.
The word ‘gender’ doesn’t refer to biological characteristics. The official definition of gender, according to various grammatical and dictionary resources including Oxford and Merriam-Webster, is “the state of being male or female; typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones.” Gender is not defined by your physical appearance. The biggest, strongest, hairiest jock could identify as female as long as that’s what she felt was right for her.
People with non-binary identities usually use gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them or other, less common pronouns like ze/zim rather than gender-specific pronouns: he/him, she/her. The usage of they/them pronouns has received some criticism because it’s more commonly used to express a plural representation of many people or things and using it to refer to a singular person isn’t “grammatically correct”. Using the singular form of they/them is used widely enough throughout English speech and texts for it to be considered a proper English grammatical component. Ze/zim, however, hasn’t been embedded deeply enough within the English language to be used commonly or without confusion.
Not all non-binary people choose to use gender-neutral pronouns and it’s not offensive to ask people kindly about their preferred pronouns or gender identity. They expect that their identity might confuse people, especially if they exhibit an androgynous appearance, and they’re willing to explain themselves to people who accept their identity and ideology.
Besides gender-neutral identities, the non-binary subset of people includes gender-fluid and similar expressions of gender. People who are gender-fluid switch between male and female, or anything between the two. Their preferred pronouns might switch according to whichever gender they are expressing that day or they might continuously use gender-neutral pronouns to prevent confusion as they switch between genders.
Because non-binary people don’t want to face needless judgement for their identities, they tend to stay quiet about who they are unless they’re in an environment where they’re comfortable and sure of acceptance. However, most are okay with talking about their identities, if you ask respectfully.
“Personally, I don’t have a problem talking about my identity. I’m fine with explaining it to anyone who asks about it. Even if they don’t agree with my identity or accept it, I’m okay with them asking about it as long as they’re being respectful,” stated Jesse Banner (real name withheld), a student who identifies as third-gendered, “Of course, I’d love to be more open about myself, who I am, and my identity.”
Not all non-binary people feel the need to explain themselves all the time or are comfortable deliberating their identities openly. As always, It’s important to stay within the guidelines of what that individual is comfortable discussing. Don’t try to dissect their gender preferences. Don’t bring anatomy into the discussion. Don’t tell them that their gender doesn’t exist. If you don’t accept their gender preferences, just leave them alone.
Regardless of your opinion on this subject, non-binary people will continue to exist. Each individual is allowed to determine their own gender with which they identify based on their own mentality and people deserve to know there are alternatives to the dyadic gender norms instigated by the false pretense that organs and image control your gender identity.