Emotional Wellbeing

Mental Health



Mandy Kloppers

What it means to be non-binary

I came across an article today about Demi Lovato. She has revealed that she (they) identify as nonbinary. Here is the quote below:

Singer Demi Lovato revealed on Wednesday they identify as non-binary and are changing their pronouns, telling fans the decision came after “self-reflective work.”

“Today is a day I’m so happy to share more of my life with you all — I am proud to let you know that I identify as non-binary,” Lovato announced on Twitter and in an accompanying video, adding they will “officially be changing my pronouns to they/them moving forward.”

A nonbinary gender identity simply means that a person doesn’t identify as male or female. Instead, they feel they are neither, either between the two genders or beyond the two genders.

Nonbinary individuals may identify as genderfluid, agender (without gender), genderqueer, or something else entirely. Some people don’t neatly fit into the categories of “man” or “woman,” or “male” or “female.” For example, some people have a gender that blends elements of being a man or a woman.

People whose gender is not male or female use many different terms to describe themselves, with non-binary being one of the most common. Other terms include genderqueeragenderbigender, and more. None of these terms mean exactly the same thing – but all speak to an experience of gender that is not simply male or female.

Most transgender people are not non-binary. While some transgender people are non-binary, most transgender people have a gender identity that is either male or female, and should be treated like any other man or woman.

The history of gender identity

The term gender identity was originally coined by Robert J. Stoller in 1964. All societies have a set of gender categories that can serve as the basis of a person’s self-identity in relation to other members of society.

Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist, focused on gender identity and the jealousy that existed between the genders. He explained this theory as the Oedipus complex –  It involves a boy, aged between 3 and 6, becoming unconsciously sexually attached to his mother, and hostile towards his father (who he views as a rival).

Freud proposed, for young girls the opposite happens – she’s first attached to her mother until she realizes she doesn’t have a penis. This causes her to resent her mother for “castrating” her — a situation Freud referred to as “penis envy.” Because of this, she develops an attachment to her father.

Carl Jung, an eminent Psychotherapist was, however, the first to call the opposite situation the “Electra complex” in 1913. The Electra Complex focuses on the young girl becoming subconsciously hostile towards their mother.

These theories aren’t widely accepted these days and things have certainly changed a lot.

Cisgender people are those whose gender identity is the same as the gender correlated with the sex they were assigned at birth. Conversely, transgender is an umbrella term used to describe “the full range of people whose gender identity does not conform to what is typically associated with their sex assigned at birth.”

In the UK, Michael (formerly Laura) Dillon managed to obtain gender reassignment treatment during the war. In the late 1940s he even had a penis constructed by the plastic surgeon Sir Harold Gilles, who later became famous for his work with burns victims. Michael Dillon trained and worked as a ship’s doctor until he was outed by the Sunday Express in 1958. He withdrew to India where he became a Buddhist monk and writer until his death in 1962.

Modern transsexuality

Eight years before Dillon was outed, Christine Jorgensen, a former American GI, returned from Denmark where she had undergone the first of several operations as part of her gender reassignment, and the media picked up on the story. Overnight she became a news sensation, and was undoubtedly the most famous transsexual figure in the 20th century. Soon after, the surgeon received a flurry of letters from people who also wanted gender reassignment.

Over 40 years later, some of that stigma remains, but it is widely accepted that the only successful treatment for transsexual people is hormone therapy and surgical reassignment. A 1999 appeal court decision in the UK has confirmed this view, and it is an area of medicine that is gradually gaining respectability.

How to Be Respectful and Supportive of Non-Binary People

Use the name a person asks you to use. This is one of the most critical aspects of being respectful of a non-binary person, as the name you may have been using may not reflect their gender identity. Don’t ask someone what their old name was.

Try not to make any assumptions about people’s gender. You can’t tell if someone is non-binary simply by looking at them, just like how you can’t tell if someone is transgender just by how they look.

If you’re not sure what pronouns someone uses, ask. Different non-binary people may use different pronouns. Many non-binary people use “they” while others use “he” or “she,” and still others use other pronouns. Asking whether someone should be referred to as “he,” “she,” “they,” or another pronoun may feel awkward at first, but is one of the simplest and most important ways to show respect for someone’s identity.

Advocate for non-binary friendly policies. It’s important for non-binary people to be able to live, dress and have their gender respected at work, at school and in public spaces.

Understand that, for many non-binary people, figuring out which bathroom to use can be challenging. For many non-binary people, using either the women’s or the men’s room might feel unsafe, because others may verbally harass them or even physically attack them. Non-binary people should be supported by being able to use the restroom that they believe they will be safest in.

Talk to non-binary people to learn more about who they are. There’s no one way to be non-binary. The best way to understand what it’s like to be non-binary is to talk with non-binary people and listen to their stories.


Mandy X