The Gender Binary

Written by Jen Bell

  |  Reviewed by Mason Dunn

A binary is a system only encompassing two options. The Gender Binary is the idea that “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.

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.

Nonbinary Genders

A nonbinary person is someone who’s 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?

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.