Some trans people don't identify as either male or female - or with a binary view of gender.
What is non-binary?
Gender is often referred to as a ‘binary’, meaning two – male and female. The term ‘non-binary’ refers to people who don’t believe that there are just two genders and who exist outside of the gender binary.
Non-binary people class themselves as neither exclusively male nor female. They are under the trans umbrella but may not consider themselves trans.
A key thing to know is that if this describes your experience and you identify as non-binary, your gender identity is valid and deserves respect.
There are many terms that people find useful to describe their non-binary identity. ‘Genderqueer’ is a blanket term used for individuals who do not define their gender in binary terms. It covers a range of identities - from those who feel their gender is fluid, to others who feel they have no gender to speak of.
Individuals may feel their sex cannot be identified in binary terms either and may also use ‘genderqueer’ to describe their sex. You may identify as trans or you may feel that the term doesn’t fit or feel useful to you. Equally, you may transition medically, or you may not. As with binary transmen and trans women, this does not make you any less trans or invalidate your identity.
What is non-binary medical transition?
We use the term ‘transition’ to mean a range of changes made so that you are living in a way that fits your sense of yourself. As with binary identified trans people, this can include a wide range of social, legal and medical changes, or barely any. Although we use the term transition on this page we acknowledge that some people who do not relate to having a sense of gender or who may identify as non-binary, may not identify with the term transition in being who you are as a person.
It is possible to transition outside of the binary model, that is, to not undergo all of the feminising or masculinising processes available. While some trans people may seek to transition medically (have certain surgeries for a variety of reasons), transitioning medically outside of the non-binary model may mean different things to different non-binary people. Some non-binary people may wish to try hormone replacement therapy to see what its effect is, or undergo surgery.
Each non-binary person will feel differently about medical transition and what it means for them.
NHS Gender Identity Clinics do facilitate non-binary medical transition, though the conversation about what you hope to achieve may be more involved. Hormone regimens are intended to be permanent and long term to meet your body’s needs, and a ‘mid point’ for hormone therapy is unlikely to be possible. Surgery carries the same permanence that it does for binary identified people.
If you feel that you are being denied access to transition due to your non-binary gender identity, you may wish to take this up with the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) at your hospital.
Some trans people, both binary and non-binary, have no desire to transition medically. There are a variety of reasons non-binary people may choose to not medically transition which will be individual to their needs.
Explaining non-binary gender identity
Just because you are not medically transitioning does not mean that you don’t exist as a trans person, if that’s how you identify. You may find that there is little public understanding of non-binary identities in general, and some people may confuse non-binary gender identities with intersex conditions (this is where a baby is born with both male and female features).
If you choose to explain your identity to someone, even if they have some knowledge of non-binary identities or know non-binary people, you may need to explain exactly what being non-binary means to you. This could include:
- how you identify
- which pronouns you prefer
- which terms you use for your body
- whether any of these are constant or fluid.
It’s good to be able to discuss these matters openly with people. Not having to explain your gender identity or how you like it to be recognised is a binary privilege - you have just as much right to have your identity respected. It is helpful to communicate positives as well as correcting someone’s mistakes: thanking them for acknowledging a change of identity or a pronoun, or being a good ally.
In social and legal transition, there is unfortunately limited recognition of non-binary identities. However, an increasing number of institutions, particularly universities and colleges, are recognising non-binary identities - providing a third gender option or a ‘Mx’ option alongside ‘Mr’, ‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs’. A number of sexual health and wellbeing clinics for trans people, such as cliniQ and Clinic T, have been set up recently and these are very accommodating of non-binary people.