Non-binaries Yearn for Equality, Too

by Alan Eggleston

Gender identity. We are all probably aware of words like male, female, gay, lesbian, and transgender. Here’s another word you may not have heard: non-binary.

First, some context

Keyboarding on Twitter

Photo by Wikipedia under Creative Commons license. Angle adjusted and cropped.

I stumbled onto the word Saturday while scrolling down my twitter stream. A follower was involved in a lengthy, contentious debate with someone. That someone was giving him a hard time, accusing him of all kinds of things. I asked my follower why didn’t he just block the other person and move on.

Before I said that, I looked at the other person’s twitter profile to see what might be behind the contentiousness. That person was expressing a lot of anger over gender identity and using a lot of terms I wasn’t familiar with. It looked like that person was frustrated and angry, perhaps taking it out on my follower. Was it really worth being the focus of that person’s anger and frustration?

So I suggested my follower block that person. “It” had unresolved issues. I used “it” rather than he or she because that person didn’t want to be fit into a gender box by others.

Then I was attacked by a fourth person for calling the frustrated, angry person an “it” and then the frustrated, angry person piped in, even though I hadn’t included or addressed either of them in my tweet.

To be honest, I was butting into a conversation. But I find it more productive if people who are not involved do not butt in. So I told those people to butt out. I probably should not have butted in myself. But then, I would not have learned something – about people who don’t identify with traditional gender roles. I like learning new things. Curiosity about the world is good.

Immediately after the incident, someone else popped up with a tweet providing a hashtag: #nbrightsnow.

#nbrightsnow tweet

Now, some meaning

I explored the hashtag to learn there is a universe of people who don’t identify as either male or female or even transgender. And they are conflicted and frustrated and fighting for their right to not just be different but simply to be themselves.

Over the decades since the 1960’s there has been a sexual revolution. At first it was to be free of traditional sexual mores – to be free to have sex for more than simply to have children. Then there was the drive to be free to be gay – homosexual or lesbian. Then there was the wish to be free to express different sexual orientation – dressing or appearing as the opposite sex. Next came a desire to be able to physically change a person’s sex – transexual orientation, I suppose.

Saturday, I learned there is an even broader category of sexual orientation. All these orientations have existed, but until those who experience them vocalize them, few hear about them. Now I have learned about people who are non-binary. There is a whole vocabulary to describe them and the other orientations.

A “binary” person is someone whose sexual orientation is either male or female or even transgender. A “non-binary” is a person who doesn’t accept any of those designations. It is different from someone who is born without a gender; a non-binary may have been born with a gender but simply doesn’t associate with that gender.

If you read through the #ngrightsnow twitter stream, you will see a lot of anger expressed. That’s because those persons have lived with the discrimination and outright lack of sensitivity by those in the more prominent binary world – what non-binaries might call “cissies” (often derogatory for cisgender). It appears similar to the anger and frustration that minorities feel when discriminated against by more dominant racial or ethnic groups.

Non-binaries suggest that binaries complain that non-binaries are “just confused about their sexual orientation” or are “just trying to attract attention.” But ask yourself, are Blacks or Asians or Latinos just confused about their cultures or races or are they just trying to attract attention when they ask not to be discriminated against, when they ask merely to be respected for who they are? Or are the dominant groups simply being too stubborn to admit that there is variety in our world and that their world, while dominant, is not the only world – not the “right” world?

Part of the equality and justice movement

I write this article to bring attention to persons you may not be aware of and to help you be aware of their existence.

If you believe in a God, then understand that these people are who God made them. If you don’t believe in a God, then understand that these people are what nature made them. All they seek is to be allowed to be who they are.

As progressives and liberals, we seek justice and equality for all people. There needs to be room to recognize and appreciate and fight for equality and justice for a broader range of sexual orientation, including binary, transgender, and non-binary people.

We all have a right to be who we are, by race, by religion or no religion, by political affiliation or no political affiliation or no political orientation, and by sexual orientation or no sexual orientation. That is, at least in part, what equality and justice is about.

Update: I asked the person who sent me the hashtag to give me some feedback on this article, to make sure I got my facts right. Here are some clarifications from that feedback. “(Non-binary) isn’t a sexual orientation. It’s an umbrella term for people who aren’t 100% boy or 100% girl. (Non-binary) people are transgender. Transgender means anyone who isn’t the gender they were assigned at birth. So there are binary transgender people (trans boys and trans girls) and non-binary transgender people.” I thank xim/xer for the corrections.

© Copyright 2014. Alan Eggleston. All rights reserved.


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