To understand the term non-binary, one must understand what “gender binary” means in the first place. The majority of people identify as either male or female. The prefix bi- means two, and so the word binary corresponds with the distinction between these two gender identities. But for millions of people globally, neither male nor female appropriately describes their gender. While they may be born with male or female as their biological sex, gender identity can be a separate distinction.
When Eastside asked four non-binary and gender non-conforming students at Cherry Hill High School East to share what “non-binary” meant to them, there was a diverse set of responses. (Due to the sensitive nature of LGBTQ+ students’ identities, all student names were changed to pseudonyms, protecting the identities of non-binary students who spoke with Eastside on the condition of anonymity.)
River Goodwin (‘23) said that to them, being non-binary was “a neutral point” among a spectrum of many gender identities.
“To me, it just means that I understand that things are [going to] change with how I feel about my gender in the future,” said Charlie Hawkins (‘23), who further explained that determining each day how they feel about their gender is an important part of their life.
“It means that I don’t have to identify myself as a boy,” Blake Stephens (‘23) explained, saying that they had had a lot of discomfort with that identity in the past and that this personal definition of non-binary was more comfortable for them.
Another student, Sam Porter (‘22) said that to them, non-binary means that “you don’t feel like you fit into the categories that society wants you to fit into.”
In addition to personal perspectives, the medical and scientific communities have developed perspectives on non-binary identity as it relates to human psychology.
In 2021, that year’s president of the American Psychological Association (APA), Dr. Jennifer F. Kelly, stated “There is a growing body of research that shows that transgender or non-binary gender identities are normal.” Further affirming the validity of non-binary and transgender identities, Kelly said “Attempts to force people to conform with rigid gender identities can be harmful to their mental health and well-being.”
Ultimately, the word non-binary means many different things to many different people. At its core, it is a recognition that for millions of people, who they are cannot be defined by simply being male or female.