It’s essential to learn that gender roles are fluid, and here’s how to support the nonbinary young person in your life.
Author Jen Bell | Reviewed by Mason Dunn
Do you have a young adult in your life who may be exploring the gender binary? Maybe they’re just dipping their toes in the pool of gender identity, or perhaps they’re already on the journey. Either way, thinking about gender expression and gender binary can seem like a huge undertaking for any adult, young or older.
For some young adults, the journey of exploring their gender identity can be overwhelming and confusing. But with more information and support available than ever before, there’s never been a better time to start understanding and embracing who we truly are.
With this in mind, we’ll take a look at the gender binary and non-binary concepts for expression. Gender roles are fluid and will continually evolve throughout time and within our society. Keep scrolling to get more information, and how to talk to your teen about genders and nonbinary genders.
What Are Binary Genders?
In many societies the two binary genders — boy/man and girl/woman — are the only ones recognized as being legitimate. People of binary genders, whether cisgender or transgender, are unfairly privileged compared to nonbinary people.
A binary is a system only encompassing two options. The gender binary is a concept in which that a “man” and “woman” are the only two genders, that they’re opposites, and that every person must be comfortable in the gender identity, expression and role that is assigned to them at birth. The gender binary is limiting for people both inside and outside it, and it fails to reflect the true diversity of genders in existence.
The gender binary also can assume that sex assigned at birth and gender identity are the same thing. Meaning that being a man means one is assigned male at birth, or being a woman means one is assigned female at birth. This binary also does not reflect the real diversity of experiences in gender.
A nonbinary person is someone whose gender identity cannot be defined within the margins of the gender binary. They understand their gender in a way that goes beyond simply identifying as either a man or woman.
Nonbinary is an umbrella term for a spectrum of gender identities and expressions, including agender, bigender, genderqueer, neutrois, and genderfluid. Agender people do not identify with any gender. Not all nonbinary people identify as transgender, and not all trans people identify as nonbinary.
Are All Nonbinary People Transgender?
No. There have always been transgender people who felt that their gender identity didn’t fall neatly into the two binary categories of “man” or “woman.” In the past, trans people who felt that way used the words genderqueer and genderfluid to describe their experience. Those words are still used today, and are a part of a larger umbrella term commonly described as the “nonbinary umbrella.”
Many people who describe their gender identity as nonbinary also call themselves transgender — but not all. The word nonbinary has grown in popularity and it now means many different things to different people.
The main thing to understand is that there is no one right or wrong way to be nonbinary, just like there is no right or wrong way to be transgender. We need to listen to how someone identifies, and respect the words they use to describe themselves.
Gender and Intersex
Being intersex is different from being transgender or non-binary. Someone who is transgender has a gender (such as male, female, or non-binary) that is different from what was assumed when they were born.
Someone who is intersex developed one or more bodily characteristics that don’t fit neatly into stereotypes about “male” or “female” bodies. Someone can be both intersex and transgender, but being intersex doesn’t automatically make someone transgender or non-binary, just like being transgender or non-binary doesn’t mean that someone is intersex. Learn more in our article on intersex.
Tools for Reflecting on Your Understanding of Gender
So, how can you be more open and understanding with the teens in your life? The first step is to take the time to assess your own beliefs about gender — this helps you be more open and understanding. We recommend these tools:
My Gender Journey
Gender Spectrum has created My Gender Journey, an online exercise to help parents, caregivers, and professionals to reflect on the ways that gender expectations have influenced our relationships, education, career, and other aspects of our lives.
- My Gender Journey – for Parents and Adult Family Members
- My Gender Journey – for Professionals who work with children or families
My New Gender Workbook by Kate Bornstein
My New Gender Workbook is a fun and provocative book that examines gender in light of issues like race, class, sexuality, and language, and offers quizzes, puzzles, and exercises to help the reader challenge and question their own ideas and assumptions about gender.
Remember, there’s no timeline or rush when it comes to understanding and exploring gender identity. As an adult, it’s essential to model this behavior — whether it’s ongoing reflection and/or open communication, self-love, or something else — take time to process. And, always encourage a young adult to take the time they need, to lean on supportive friends, family, or community members, and to always be proud of who they are every step of the way.