When you live in a world where a strict gender binary of male and female is imposed at birth and the extensive history of non-binary individuals has been either suppressed or erased, coming to terms with your own gender identity that lies outside of this harmful binary can be a very tumultuous and often confusing journey.
If you are currently in the grips of your own journey of self-discovery or self-acceptance as it pertains to gender, it is important to remember three things: 1) you are valid just as you are 2) you are loved and 3) there is a community of people out there who will understand you and accept you with open arms. You are never alone.
This pride month, Love What Matters had the pleasure of speaking with fourteen gender non-binary individuals to share their thoughtful responses to the following questions:
What does being non-binary mean to you?
What advice would you give to someone who has just recently discovered they identify as non-binary?
Do you have any words of wisdom, encouragement, or positive affirmations you can share for non-binary/questioning individuals?
We also asked each person to share photos of themselves in which they feel most confident. We hope that whoever you are, wherever you are, these words of support, love, and affirmation can bring some positivity into your life today. (And if you’re not non-binary/questioning and are just here to learn, thank you for being here!)
“Identifying myself as non-binary means finally understanding my identity after so many years of trying to figure out who I am, and not feeling comfortable within the gender norms and binary. It means freedom and authenticity.
I think one of the most important things would be to search within ourselves, and not care about what society or others tell you; we all experience gender in different ways, and no one knows you better than yourself. Also, non-binary does not look a certain way. You do not have to have a specific style/look for this. Clothes have no gender either.
Always remember that you are incredibly worthy. I know life can be so confusing sometimes, but everything passes. And if you’re struggling with yourself and your identity at the moment, there’s a big community around the world always willing to help out!”
Pronouns: they/them (out of drag), she/they (in drag)
“To me, being non-binary means that I am not defined by gender expectations or norms. Whether that is how I dress, the work I do, or how I date. Basically, in all aspects of my life, I don’t adhere to heteronormativity. And as a non-binary individual, I just get to be, however I may look in that day and moment.
If you have a queer interest, thought, or desire, commit to saying ‘yes’ for a season. The binary often tells us to say ‘no.’ In trying to say ‘yes,’ you may not like every yes, but along the way, you’ll discover more of what non-binary/gender/queerness means to and for you. Saying ‘yes’ was one of the most radical versions of self-love I gave to myself. A lot of authenticities were born from it.
Being non-binary has been so rewarding and being authentic makes me breathe better in this world. At the same time, falling outside of the cisgender world can be exhausting. You may have to fight for your pronouns at times (or just simply correct people), and decide how queer to show up in certain spaces based on safety, job opportunities, etc. It can be tough at times, so I would recommend finding other queer people in the community and queer spaces where you are able to be and show yourself however you queerly need.”
“To me, being non-binary simply means freedom. Growing up, I internalized so many expectations of how to conduct myself based on my assigned gender at birth. As an AFAB individual (assigned female at birth), I felt socialized to take up as little space as possible, physically, socially, and intellectually. Non-binary culture continually reminds me that gender norms are a construct that is limiting and often harmful to both trans and cis folks. There is so much unlearning to do, but so much joy comes out of the process.
It’s been so exciting to truly understand my gender for the first time. Understanding myself has made me engage with gender in a way that wasn’t possible before. Instead of having expectations pushed onto me, I have been able to engage with masculinity and femininity on my own terms, in a way that feels truly authentic to me. It’s been incredibly healing to find affirmations in the community that I am valid and there are as many ways to experience gender as there are humans on the planet.
I wouldn’t change being non-binary for the world. There may be challenges, but the level of authenticity and inner understanding that is possible is a uniquely beautiful experience that makes me excited to be alive.
The two biggest pieces of advice I would offer are find your community and find good representation. For me, both seeing and talking to people like me were the most impactful aspects of my coming out journey. Non-binary representation is still majorly lacking in mainstream media, but I found so many amazing non-binary people to follow on social media: artists, musicians, activists, authors, and new friends. Seeing others living their truth joyfully and openly was a very uplifting experience, especially at times when I wasn’t yet ready to be out. Along the way, I also found trans non-binary friends – in my workplace, from volunteering, and old friends from school. Everyone in the queer community has been through a lot of the same challenges, and we are all cheering each other on, even from afar. If there’s someone you’ve been meaning to reach out to, it can be an amazing way to expand your community.
There is literally no wrong way to be non-binary, and don’t let anyone tell you any different. There can be this perception that non-binary is inherently androgynous, but this is absolutely not true. Non-binary just means you identify outside of the gender binary, and that’s it. You don’t have to change your name, pronouns, or gender presentation to be non-binary, and you may still identify as your assigned gender at birth to some extent, but feel that it doesn’t fully resonate with all of you. If non-binary is something you feel you are and it gives you the ability to be a more authentic you, then embrace it. No matter what anyone else thinks.
To any QTIPOC (queer, trans, or intersex person of color) humans reading this, finding ourselves being represented is that much harder, but believe me, we are here. There are so many amazing content creators out there and you will find them. For me, finding black and mixed-race trans non-binary representation was a very important part of my journey. There are so many intersectional aspects to gender and race, and sometimes it can be hard to even find the words to describe what we are living through. But engaging with creators and friends with similar experiences can really help us to process our reality and move through the world with confidence and joy.”
“For me, being non-binary is synonymous with being of Yoruba descent. The Yoruba language isn’t gendered, and as an oral culture, reflects the historical approach to gender in Yoruba culture. I grew up surrounded by people who were ‘women’ and ‘men,’ but subverted absolutely all ideas around sex and gender that show up in the Western world that feel unnatural to me. Being non-binary and growing up in Britain is a constant acknowledgment of my Black body in this environment, and how it doesn’t fit comfortably within the Eurocentric determined binary. My culture liberates me of preconceived notions, is a call to action for me to continually unlearn any ideas around gender projected on me, and thereby means I can construct a sense of self that is much more holistic.
Define it for yourself. Non-binary doesn’t have to mean another box. I know it’s hard because in its very construction it refers to a binary, but try not to feel limited by it. It’s okay if you still want to manifest anywhere across the gender expression spectrum. Your identity is always valid. It’s more about you than how other people perceive you and as long as you remind yourself of that, you will be able to stay grounded.
You got this. The binary can feel particularly oppressive to Black bodies in Eurocentric social environments. The world is changing though and our existence is evidence that our identities can never be erased, no matter how much discourse can make it appear that way. You’re more real than any online conversation.”
“To me, non-binary does not have to do with being anywhere in between, but somewhere else entirely beyond. I’ve done a lot of work to not compare myself to any binary gender, but to get comfortable in the space that I occupy as my authentic self instead. It is to hold multiple experiences and perspectives and ideas within one being. It’s to see the world and its participants as complex and dynamic.
The advice I would give to anyone who is discovering themselves as non-binary would be to go easy on yourself. It isn’t your job alone to undo gender or change the world. It’s okay to rest and you should give yourself credit for all of the courage it takes to be honest about who you are and show up every day to a world that often does not see you fully. Keep living. That’s the revolution.
You’re a superhero. Period. You saw what you were spoon-fed about the way that you should behave and accept gender, and you saw past it. You know yourself enough to know who you are in the face of lots of messaging that denies your existence. You are brave. Many people will live their whole lives just accepting and never digging deep within to truly understand themselves. You are not one of those people.”
“Being non-binary means being free from others’ expectations of me. It means I get to express myself freely and without restraint.
I think it’s really important to find community. Often you’ll find that online. When you find a group of people who experience life similarly to you, and you can share in the triumphs and tribulations of navigating your identity, things become just a little less overwhelming. Community is everything.
There is no correct way to appear non-binary. You don’t have to be androgynous to be valid. Even if others misgender you or don’t understand your identity, you’re still non-binary enough. You also don’t have to hate or change your body to be non-binary. Everyone’s experience in their vessel is unique to them. Lastly, you don’t have to be fully ‘out’ to be proud. You’re allowed to take your time discovering your identity and sharing it with those you feel safe doing so with. Our identities are fluid and ever-evolving and that’s what makes humans so beautiful!”
“To be non-binary means to be free of anything form of gender oppression. It means to live within your own means and by your own rules. It means that only you can make a decision about how you feel about yourself and in your skin.
I would advise others to take their time when discovering their gender identity. It’s not a race and you don’t have to be sure of it because feelings change. Be who you are and love whatever you deem to be called. My words of wisdom would be to just live for yourself, love yourself, and always know you are celebrated because you made the decision to be who you are.”
“To me, non-binary means being free. I feel more comfortable being myself with an expression of my gender whether that be masculine, feminine, or androgynous. My gender changes from feeling like a shapeless blob to very femme or masc, so I use the term non-binary to describe my experience.
Remember that expression does not equal gender; you can be femme or masc and still non-binary. You do not have to be exclusively androgynous to be non-binary. Your identity can change and that is okay! You can use non-binary as an umbrella term or find a more specific term under the umbrella that fits you, whatever you feel is best. Also, pronouns do not equal gender. You may be non-binary and use they/them, but you could also be non-binary and use she/he. You can use any pronouns, even neopronouns, and still be non-binary.
You can be non-binary no matter what you look like. You may be fat, skinny, have big boobs, a penis, be intersex, or anything else and you can still be non-binary. You are valid and loved in your identity. You look amazing. You know you better than anyone else in the world. Don’t let anyone tell you, ‘You aren’t non-binary because of XYZ.’ I wish you the best of luck in your journey called life.”
“I am still very new at this and I am giving myself time to process it. So far, I have only come out as non-binary to a few close friends and my wife. My given name is Laura and I am keeping it for now, even though I feel agender to the female identity.
Sometimes, being perceived as and expected to be a woman is causing effort for me. I have moments of gender dysphoria when I force myself to fit, and gender euphoria when I let myself be. My advice is to follow non-binary folks on Instagram. Find a group near you of non-binary themed meetings. I also recommend looking up #bwya (be who you are) for support as well as looking into gc2b, a brand of chest binders, if that is something you may be interested in. Another option to look into is trans tape. Just make sure to be safe when you use it though; you can ask other non-binary people for help if needed. Let yourself explore and take your time.
You don’t owe anything to anyone. There is room on this planet for everyone. And letting people be who they are is making everyone richer. It is precious to have all this diversity. And it’s a privilege to participate in the journey of people discovering who they are. Whether they are LGBTQ+, people of color, neurotypical, or exceptionally ordinary.”
“Being non-binary means letting go of the toxic binary I was raised in and embracing the things that bring me joy and make me feel whole.
If I could offer any advice, I’d say give yourself a LOT of grace! You’ll likely not know exactly what feels right at first, maybe for a while. And that is very much normal and okay. Sexuality and gender expression are fluid and it’s normal to change your mind!
Clothes don’t have gender. Hobbies don’t have gender. Jobs and names and words don’t have gender. Society uses the gender binary as a suppressive weapon against the citizens and not fitting into that binary is natural. Every expression of gender joy is beautiful and it’s okay to prioritize your happiness.
You also don’t have to be one thing because you’re another (like if you’re non-binary you don’t have to be gay, etc). Labels are fun to try on and sometimes they fit, but they don’t have to. They can be a very effective tool for helping us figure out who we are, but we don’t have to keep them. You are worthy of love and of joy.”
“Being non-binary means freedom to just be myself! The gender binary was literally made up by white male scientists to help reinforce the political idea that white women were second-class citizens. It’s literally not real or based on science. So being non-binary (literally existing OUTSIDE of/separate from the pretend male-female binary) means that I don’t have to play into stereotypes, assumptions made about how I should look or behave based on my gender, etc. It’s a free pass to create your own identity based on your personal experience with gender that can flow and change from day to day. I’m not playing the white supremacist misogynistic gender binary game anymore; it’s so stifling!
It’s confusing at first because identifying with a certain label usually means you ‘match’ somehow with other people who identify the same way — gay men all like to have sex with other men, trans women are all women, etc. There’s a sense of community and belonging because you have things in common. For non-binary people, however, everyone is SO different when it comes to gender, sexuality, presentation, pronouns, etc. You might not see much in common between you and other non-binary people, which can feel weird or lonely at the beginning. However, the thing that connects all non-binary people together is the act of taking the fake binary model and throwing it in a metaphorical trash can!
Everyone who is non-binary, regardless of how they dress, who they have sex with, what gender(s) they identify as, etc. are similar in that. We’ve all moved beyond wanting or needing only two boxes for people to fit into to make sense of the world. I don’t care if your gender ‘matches’ what’s in your pants or that you fit into the binary; I care about whether or not you’re chill and kind. I guess there’s just less of an importance placed on gender at ALL; it’s way more about sharing who you are as a human being than being able to list all your labels so people can know how to pigeonhole you.
I want to reinforce that being non-binary is choosing freedom for yourself! The non-binary community and our allies are taking a step towards a better community/country/world, where random factors like your sex, how feminine/masculine/androgynous you present, your pronouns, etc. don’t determine or affect how you’re treated as a person. Instead, we all just agree that sometimes our gender is a certain song or a bowl of chicken noodle soup on a cold day. Or the smell after it rains. Or a guy but in the way that I’m a ‘little guy,’ not like I’m a literal guy. Or however you feel in relation to your gender on any given day. Enjoy your freedom and practice NOT existing to please other people with the way you exist. Focus on making your inner child giddy with excitement about how f**king cool you are now, and you’ll be on your way.”
“Being non-binary means freedom to me. I consider myself a non-binary transfemme. Being socialized to be a ‘man,’ my exploration into gender has liberated me to seek more authentic ways of being in my body and expressing myself. I dislike the binary boxes I was handed and really just love the breadth of being that the non-binary experience provides. I know so many people that are non-binary and each of them has totally different expressions and looks, yet we are all valid.
You don’t need to ‘transition’ or feel body dysphoria in the binary sense. Heck, you don’t even need to change anything about yourself at all, you just have to feel like the binary isn’t serving you. Non-binary is the negative of the binary so it has no real stereotype or standard. I love to see how people show up within the non-binary umbrella. The non-binary community has always been the only one in which I feel fully seen and respected. I love to talk about gender with other enby folks because it’s always fascinating what I discover about myself and about society as a whole. Another relationship I have to non-binary is the sense that I am achieving my natural state as a creature in the world. The physical world doesn’t prescribe to strict binaries and now I am just an extension of it. Our western society has taken gender to mean light and dark, but I look at gender like a time of day. High noon, sunset, dusk, midnight, full moon, etc. There are infinite ways to be and I love it.
For those who have just recently discovered they are non-binary, I recommend you experiment with different ways of self-expression. I started out small with my household, then friend groups, and then the public. There is no timeline or prescription for what any of this looks like and that can be freeing and frustrating at times. I would also suggest meeting other enby folks in the wild. I started my journey with online meet-up opportunities like this one. Play with all pronouns (neo and classical), try them on yourself by narrating what you’re doing, or have a loved one/friends do it for you. Remember gender feelings can change and there is no shame if your gender journey leads you to discover you were cis or binary trans all along! The important thing is to investigate your feelings and seek out your euphoria, whatever that ultimately looks like! Know that I am so excited for you to start your journey.
On a slightly more realistic note, I have to bring up the obvious fact that the rest of the world probably won’t understand, respect, or even think about your gender expression, but please do not despair. Eventually, you will find the right spaces (friends), gain confidence, and learn to set boundaries for people to respect your existence. On that note, I like to remind everyone that the world we live in was designed for cis white men and it’s okay to speak up to ask for accommodations or point out that someone misgendering or deadnaming you is hurtful and that they need to correct their behavior. For me, this was an absolute must because I was internalizing people’s actions as being malicious, but in reality, most people are oblivious. Gah, I can go on for days. (If you ever want to share experiences with me, feel free reach out!)
This is something I use a lot for myself whenever I have a bad day where people harm me with misgendering and deadnaming: ‘At least I showed up today as my authentic self.’ Give yourself a lot of grace because what we do goes totally against the grain of established social norms, but that’s what makes you tough, awesome, authentic, and unique! Remember, it’s a journey and it’s okay to question your gender and not know. Just relax because at the moment you are being the best you that you can be! Oh and if you haven’t already, listen to the ‘Gender Reveal’ podcast. It’s amazing and super affirming.”
“Non-binary to me is acceptance, self-acceptance of ‘I am enough, just as I am.’ It means however I choose to show up is worthy of love and acceptance, to be celebrated and respected.
I’m so proud of you! Welcome to the family! We are such a beautiful community and I know it took a lot of courage to discover and accept this of yourself.
It is a lot, emotionally, to be non-binary in this world. It is a lot of learning and unlearning. A lot of teaching and reteaching, but it is so worth it.
It WILL get better. Stay true to yourself, correct people when they misgender you or try to invalidate your identity—it will happen but they will learn. Some may not, and they may never—that is something you have to choose how to respond to yourself.
You are you—no one can take that from you, regardless if they understand or believe you.”
“As a non-binary person who also uses the label genderfluid, my non-binary identity is all about embracing the expansiveness and changeability of gender. There is so much more to gender than just the binary of man and woman. Discovering this for myself has helped me break free of so many societal boxes and constraints, and lean into exploring all of the potentials of what gender, expression, and existence can be.
First of all, I am so proud of you for exploring your gender, and I’m so happy that you’ve found comfort in the label non-binary! It can be really challenging to figure out this part of yourself, especially within a society that emphasizes binaries and gender roles. My advice for you is to not feel narrowed in by what society thinks non-binary is (i.e. androgyny and neutrality). Instead, take the time and space to explore what non-binary means to you (and remember that there is no right way to look or be non-binary!).
There are an infinite number of ways to look and be non-binary, and all of them are valid. I encourage you to follow your heart and exist in the ways that make you feel most affirmed! The only person who gets to decide how you identify and express yourself is you, and your comfort and validation matter above all.”
[You are not alone. If you or a loved one is in need of help, please call the LGBTQ+ national hotline at 888-843-4564. For the trans/nonbinary/queer hotline please dial 877-565-8860. Both English and Spanish operators are available.]
This article was curated exclusively for Love What Matters by Sophia San Filippo. Do you have a story to share? Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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