What Is Non-Binary? Meaning, How To Be Respectful, Non-Binary Celebrities & More

All you need to know about the enby gender.

Non-binary – or enby, for short – is a term that has been in circulation for a few decades but has gained more prominence in recent years, thanks to more conversations, more people identifying as non-binary, and greater acceptance.

Non-binary, as a topic, can be a delicate one, more so because there are still people in our society that don’t understand it or don’t accept it because it deviates from what society deems to be ‘normal’. Unfortunately, the “it’s none of your business” argument continues to fall on deaf ears.

More education is needed, then, and we hope with this article that we can help to inform more people about what it means to be non-binary, how you should interact with someone who identifies as non-binary and ultimately have you walking away understanding it with greater clarity.

What does non-binary mean?

The official definition of non-binary says that a person is non-binary if they don’t fit into the binary genders of male or female. Gender, of course, is different to biological sex, as it relates to characteristics classified as masculine or feminine. A biological man could have what are deemed to be feminine tendencies, for example.

Non-binary is an umbrella term that can have multiple interpretations. There are other terms one can use if they feel they don’t fit into the ‘male’ or ‘female’ gender categories, such as agender, bigender and gender queer.

Some people may say those who identify as non-binary could be transgender, while others may say they’re agender (they identify as having no gender at all). Ultimately, it is completely up to the specific individual who identifies as non-binary, as to how they feel in their own being.

Unfortunately, some members of society believe those who identify as non-binary are just following a ‘fad’ or going through a phase, but this isn’t the case. In fact, the belief and knowing that one doesn’t fit being either male or female, has been around for centuries.

El Styles, an Australian who came out as non-binary in 2022, says they are non-binary gender-fluid, which means the way they express themselves on a daily basis may change. “Sometimes I wake up and feel like I want to express myself (through the way I dress) more masculine, and sometimes I feel more feminine.”

“I guess if you put a Man and a Woman on either end of a sliding scale, my most common resting spot is probably somewhere past the halfway point, closer towards the male side,” they say.

How a non-binary person identifies themselves in regard to gender, will be separate from how they identify their sexuality.

How to know if you’re non-binary?

Knowing if you’re non-binary, gender-fluid or any other gender that deviates from the traditional definitions of masculine or feminine, isn’t always easy. And it can be even harder to understand any feelings you might have, and to then act upon and accept them.

El has shared their story of coming out as non-binary, saying, “I’d never felt comfortable being called a girl/woman/feminine, ever since I can remember. The moment I knew it was something I needed to explore, was when it started feeling like an insult when someone would refer to me as a girl or a woman, it didn’t fit me and actually made me quite angry which was interesting.”

“Mel (El’s wife) noticed in Jan 2022 that it was causing problems for me and my mental health, I was definitely feeling depressed and confused, I just wasn’t my usual happy self.”

“I went to see my GP to get a referral to see a psychologist to discuss my gender because I really didn’t know what was going on. I remember breaking down crying at the doctor’s feeling so ashamed like there was something really wrong with me, because the gender assigned to me at birth, didn’t fit with how I felt within myself – it was a pretty scary time.”

“After a couple of sessions with my psych, I became more confident in the way I felt and made the difficult decision to start telling my close friends and family. Even though that was hard, just because people didn’t understand why it was so important to me at first, the euphoria I felt from coming out and having it out there in the world was just incredible.”

El does want to stress that “the way people experience gender is so different, so this is just my own personal experience and shouldn’t be taken as a set of blanket rules for everyone who is non-binary, gender-fluid or genderqueer.”

Non-binary pronouns

While non-binary people don’t identify as either male or female, they may still prefer to be referred to as he/him or she/her. However, the majority of people who identify as non-binary will be referred to as the singular they/their/them. Using the correct pronouns can sometimes be difficult for the general population to get right, but only because it goes against common habits.

As El says, “It is definitely hard having people get my pronouns wrong on a daily basis, but when someone gets them right it makes up for all the mistakes tenfold!”

“I feel so seen and happy and just stoked, to be honest. When friends and family make the effort to try, and especially when they are interested enough to ask me questions about my gender, that means so much to me!”

How to be respectful towards a non-binary person

El understands why it can be hard for some people to adopt the correct language, but says, “In terms of how people should approach a non-binary person, I think the first step is to change your thinking when referring to people in general.”

“If we can all stop assuming people’s gender based on the way they look to us, and start talking about/asking pronouns – this will mean a lot to Enby and gender non-conforming people in general. This is definitely the way of the future.”

“When you meet someone saying, ‘Hi, my name is El! My pronouns are they/them, what about you?’ this makes it clear that it’s a safe space for them to share, and will really help to change society’s collective idea that there are only two valid genders.”

Non-binary flag

Image: Stonewall

The non-binary community has its own flag, comprising yellow, white, purple and black horizontal stripes. It is used as an alternative to the genderqueer flag.

Each colour has been chosen to represent the different facets of non-binary. The yellow stripe represents people whose gender exists outside of the binary, the white stripe represents people with many or all genders, the purple is for people with genders considered a mix of male and female and the black for people who identify as not having a gender.

Non-binary celebrities

Thanks to greater awareness, a number of high-profile celebrities have come out as non-binary, which has in turn helped to generate greater awareness and acceptance. Celebrities who have come out as non-binary include:

  • Demi Lovato
  • G Flip
  • Sam Smith
  • Janelle Monáe
  • Elliot Page
  • Ruby Rose
  • Jonathan Van Ness
  • Cara Delevinge
  • Amandla Sternberg
  • Olly Alexander

International Non-Binary People’s Day

International Non-Binary People’s Day is celebrated on the 14th of July. Its main purpose is to raise awareness of non-binary as a gender term and the issues faced by those who identify as non-binary. International Non-Binary People’s Day was first observed in July 2012 and the 14th of July date was chosen specifically because it falls halfway between International Men’s Day and International Women’s Day.

Unfortunately, most countries around the world still don’t consider non-binary to be a legal gender, instead choosing to only recognise male and female. Change is occurring, however, with countries including Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and New Zealand allowing residents to identify themselves as non-binary on their passports.

The United States of America is also making progress, with 24 of the 50 states, including Washington DC, allowing residents to mark an ‘X’ on their driver’s license.

While other countries may not recognise non-binary as a gender, they may recognise a third gender as an option on documentation, or genderqueer. Argentina, for example, passed a Gender Identity Law in 2012 that allows transgender people to identify their general on official documentation. In July 2021, a decree was passed in Argentina that allows a third gender option on national identity cards and passports, in the form of an ‘X’.