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Non-binary gender is a form of identity and refers to any gender identity that does not simply fall into the category of being exclusively a man or a woman (which is a binary distinction). Enby is common slang for this, coming from the initialism NB, and enby may be used as an adjective or a noun.
It has nothing to do with aspects of anatomy that are visible or that are currently measurable by science, but rather with one's personal self-identification. Given its status as a cultural identity, objections to non-binary identities on the basis of biology is arguably a category mistake. The subject is more so the domain of cultural anthropology, but that does not discount the possibility of biological factors playing a possible role in the underlying motivations in having a non-binary identity. This is all to say that non-binary identities are the product of the cultural constructs of gender and not strictly speaking reflected or based in biological sex.
There is currently no consensus on whether non-binary identities are transgender identities. Many may consider non-binary genders a form of transgender identity, but non-binary people may or may not consider themselves to be transgender. Further, many other cultures and traditions see them as simply another way of existing, and non-binary people from those cultures don't necessarily describe themselves in transgender terms.
There is a misconception that the concept of non-binary genders is relatively new — that it is supposedly a product of the Internet age, largely spurred by an increase of discourse on the subject from users of the social media website Tumblr. However, several cultures around the world have had more than two gender types for millennia. Anthropologists who have documented these roles tend to use the term third gender.
Examples of traditional cogender identities
Not everyone who holds a traditional cogender role regards themselves as being a non-binary. They may view themselves as binary trans men or trans women. In addition, this identity might be closer to gender non conformity (like feminine men and masculine women). Little research is available in this area.
- The Maale people of Ethiopia have a gender identity called called ashtime. These are AMAB individuals who behave as women and are androphilic.
- Muxes (also spelled "muxhes") are AMAB (assigned male at birth) people in Zapotec cultures in Oaxaca (southern Mexico) who dress and behave in ways otherwise associated with the female gender; they may be seen as a third gender. Some marry women and have children while others choose men as sexual or romantic partners. According to anthropologist Lynn Stephen, muxe "may do certain kinds of women’s work such as embroidery or decorating home altars, but others do the male work of making jewelry."
- Travestis is a term used in some South American cultures to refer to AMAB people who have a feminine gender identity and are local socio-political identity. Travestis have been described as a third gender, but not all see themselves this way. By the mid-2010s, a majority of South American trans social movements and activism tend to acknowledge travesti as both a possible gender identity, and a possible socio-political identifier for trans women. Those who acknowledge non-binary genders also tend to see travesti as a possible all-encompassing label for all feminine AMAB people whose gender identity is not male dominant. (NOTE: "Travesti" may also mean "cross dresser", as it literally means "transvestite".)
- Two-Spirits (also referred to by the term berdaches in historical literature, which is considered both obsolete and offensive) is a modern umbrella term used by some indigenous North American tribes for gender-variant people in their communities. The presence of AMAB two-spirits "was a fundamental institution among most tribal peoples." According to Will Roscoe, AMAB and AFAB (assigned female at birth) two-spirits have been "documented in over 130 North America tribes, in every region of the continent." Two-spirit individuals are viewed in some tribes as having two identities occupying one body. Their dress is usually a mixture of traditionally male and traditionally female articles, or they may dress as a man one day, and a woman on another. According to Sabine Lang, many tribes have distinct gender and social roles. AMAB two-spirit people, regardless of gender identification, can go to war and have access to male activities such as male-only sweat lodge ceremonies. However, they may also take on "feminine" activities such as cooking and other domestic responsibilities. Two-spirits might have relationships with people of either sex. According to Lang, AFAB two-spirits usually have sexual relations or marriages with only females. Specific tribal identities include the Lakota Winkte and the Zuni Lhamana.
- Baklas are AMAB people in the Philippines, who generally (but not always) behave like women and usually exclusively attracted to men. Some self-identify as women rather than a third gender.
- The Bugis people of Indonesia have five genders. These genders, aside from cisgender men and cisgender women, are the calabai (pronounced "cha-lah-bye" literally "false woman"), who are AMAB people who take the role of heterosexual women, the calalai (pronounced "cha-lah-lye", literally "false man", who are AFAB people who take on the role of heterosexual men, and the bissu, who can be described as "gender transcendent", in that they are a combination of the other four and are considered necessary for all genders to harmoniously coexist. The closest equivalent to a bissu in the English speaking world would be a pangender person.
- Hijiras are AMAB people in south Asia who behave like women. They have legal recognition in India and Bangladesh as a third gender.
- Kathoeys (pronounced "kah-toy") are AMAB people in Thailand who behave like women. Some identify as women, others as men, and others identify as a third gender. They are often referred to as "ladyboys" in English, although this term is now considered derogatory.
- Yinyang ren are people in Chinese society whose personalities and behaviors appear to be intermediate between more ordinary masculine and feminine cases. Involved characteristics may include elements such as assertiveness, esthetic sensitivity, etc., as well as lack of strong discrimination between preferred sexual partners on the basis of their sex.
- Balkan sworn virgins are AFAB people who behave as men. This practice is mostly found in northern Albania, but it has been recorded as existing, to a lesser extent, in Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro. An AFAB person becomes a sworn virgin by swearing an irrevocable oath, in front of 12 village or tribal elders, to practice celibacy. Then they are allowed to live as a man. They will then be able to dress in male clothes, use a male name, carry a gun, smoke, drink alcohol, take on male work, act as the head of a household (for example, living with a sister or mother), play music and sing, and sit and talk socially with men. An AFAB person can become a sworn virgin at any age. Breaking the vow is punishable by death, but it is dubious if this is still enforced. Sworn virgins who are alive today refuse to break the vow for fear of losing the respect of their communities. There are many reasons why an AFAB person would have wanted to take this vow, and observers have recorded a variety of motivations. One said they became a sworn virgin in order to not be separated from their father, and another in order to live and work with her sister. Several were recorded as saying they always felt more male than female. Some hoped to avoid a specific unwanted marriage, and others hoped to avoid marriage in general. This practice has died out in many places, but still continues in some areas. Albanian sworn virgins appear to benefit from a certain degree of male privilege; they are allowed to smoke, visit taverns, and generally display a carriage of confidence and independence rarely found among cisgender women in patriarchal Albanian culture.
- Femminielli, or femmenielli (singular femminiello), a term that derives from the singular Italian femmina, "a female," and -ello, masculine diminutive suffix, are androphilic AMAB people with feminine gender expression in traditional Neapolitan culture. It may be hard to define this term within modern Western notions of "gay men" versus "trans women", since both these categories overlap to a degree, in the case of femminielli. It has been noted that this term is not derogatory and does not carry stigma, instead femminielli are traditionally believed to bring good luck. Ironically Achille della Ragione suggests that recent surveys have shown that Neapolitans have a generally negative view of what he calls "the politically correct model of homosexuality of a hypocritical do-gooder society" (implying the mainstream Western gay culture), yet he contrasts femminielli as enjoying a favorable attitude in Neapolitan society. Achille della Ragione has written of social aspects of femminielli. "[The femminiello] is usually the youngest male child, 'mother's little darling,' (..) he is useful, he does chores, runs errands and watches the kids." A certain incompatibility between the notions of femminiello and (often foreign-born) transgender people can be observed, e.g., a news headline reading Rivolta ai quartieri Spagnoli: i femminielli cacciano le trans ("Revolt in the Spanish Quarter: femminielli drive out the transsexuals.") They may have a historical connection to the Galli of ancient Rome.
- Akava'ines are AMAB people who behave as women among the Cook Islands Māori. While the usage of "'Akava'ine" for a binary transgender female is recent, it is known that pre-Christian Cook Islands Māori societies held the presence of a third gender. An AMAB of effeminate nature who dressed like a woman was considered neither exclusively female nor male, but was treated as an equal among women, and regarded with respect by the rest of the community, as they excelled in the domestic duties of both women and men.
- Fa'afafines are third gender people of Samoa and the Samoan diaspora. A recognized identity/role since at least the early 20th century in Samoan society, and some theorize an integral part of traditional Samoan culture, fa'afafine are (generally) AMAB, and explicitly embody both masculine and feminine gender traits, fashioned in a way unique to this part of the world. Their behavior typically ranges from extravagantly feminine to mundanely masculine.
- Fakaleitis (or leitis or fakafefines or ladies) are Tongan AMAB people who behave in a relatively effeminate manner. Although fakaleiti in Tonga do not necessarily associate with transgender or gay and lesbian identities in the Western world, those who grow up in Tongan migrant communities in New Zealand, Australia, and the United States may find a greater level of community and affinity to similar identities than fakaleiti in the island kingdom.
- Māhūs in traditional Hawaiian culture are third gender persons similar to the Tongan fakaleiti and Samoan fa'afafine. In modern day Hawaii it is a commonly used slang word for transvestite and transgender persons.
In Islamic texts
- Mukhannathun ("effeminate ones", "men who resemble women", singular mukhannath) is classical Arabic for people who might now now be called transgender women, perhaps poorly distinguished from eunuchs. Various "mukhannathun" appear in several hadith. In one hadith, the Islamic prophet Muhammad banishes a mukhannath to a region near Medina, but prohibits people from killing them. They could be said to be Muslim trans women accepted as they are "within the boundaries of Medina and Mecca". Outside of the religious text they are strongly associated with music and entertainment.
In Jewish texts
- The androgynos is a "hermaphrodite" or someone displaying both male and female characteristics. The androgynos is one of the four non-binary genders in the Talmud, Mishnah, and other rabbinic texts. The others are the tumtum, (from Hebrew טומטום, meaning "hidden") a person whose sexual characteristics are intermediate or obscured, the ay'lonit, which is an AFAB person who develops male characteristics at puberty and is infertile, and the saris, which is a person who is AMAB but develops female characteristics as puberty and/or is lacking a penis. A saris can be “naturally” a saris (saris hamah), or become one through human intervention (saris adam).
Recorded extinct cogender identities in history
- Enarees (or enareis) were Scythian shamans recorded by Herodotus, and described as effeminate or androgynous. Scythian shamanism involved religious ecstasy through the use of entheogens; they had no temples and worshiped the forces of nature.
- Gala (Akkadian: kalû) were mostly AMAB priests of the Sumerian goddess Inanna, significant numbers of the personnel of both temples and palaces, the central institutions of Mesopotamian city states, individuals with neither male nor female gender identities. Their hymns were sung in a Sumerian dialect known as eme-sal, normally used to render the speech of female gods, and some gala took female names. Androphilic proclivities are clearly implied by the Sumerian proverb that reads, "When the gala wiped off his anus [he said], ‘I must not arouse that which belongs to my mistress [i.e., Inanna]’ ". However, in spite of all their references of their effeminate character (especially in the Sumerian proverbs), many administrative texts mention gala priests who had children, wives, and large families. Furthermore, some gala priests were AFAB.
- Galli (singular: Gallus) were AMAB eunuch priests of the Phrygian goddess Cybele and her consort Attis, whose worship was incorporated into the state religious practices of ancient Rome. The Galli castrated themselves during an ecstatic celebration called the Dies sanguinis, or "Day of Blood", which took place on March 24. At the same time they put on women's costume, mostly yellow in colour, and a sort of turban, together with pendants and ear-rings. They also wore their hair long, and bleached, and wore heavy make-up. They wandered around with followers, begging for charity, in return for which they were prepared to tell fortunes. On the day of mourning for Attis, they ran around wildly and disheveled. They performed dances to the music of pipes and tambourines, and, in an ecstasy, flogged themselves until they bled.
- Koekchuch is an extinct gender identity recorded among the Itelmens of Siberia. These were AMAB individuals who behaved as women did, and were recorded in the late 18th century and early 19th century.
Emerging non-binary gender identities and terminology in the West
Two terms that can be found used as synonyms for non-binary are:
- Genderqueer is a catch-all term for any gender identity outside of the gender binary and cisnormativity.
- Enby is a contraction of non-binary used similarly to "boy" or "girl", but for non-binary individuals.
Some examples of non-binary genders include, but are not at all limited to:
- Agender (meaning "without" or "a lack of" a "gender"; also genderless, non-gendered, ungendered) is a person who identifies as "having no gender" or "without gender identity". It may fall under the genderqueer or transgender (lit. being "beyond gender") umbrella. It is related to, and may overlap with the gender identity of neutrois, defined as either a neutral or neither gender, or sometimes no gender.
- Bigender describes a gender identity that shows a tendency to move between two distinct genders, most commonly feminine and masculine gender-typed behavior, depending on context. Some bi-gender individuals express a distinctly "female" persona and a distinctly "male" persona, feminine and masculine respectively; others have shades of grey between the two. One may also find that they are two genders at the same time. It is recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA) as a subset of the transgender group. A 1999 survey conducted by the San Francisco Department of Public Health observed that, among the transgender community, less than 3% of those who were assigned male at birth and less than 8% of those who were assigned female at birth identified as bigender.
- Pangender is a gender identity in which a person identifies as being of all genders. This has been criticized and considered appropriative, as all genders presumably includes neurotype/culture specific gender, neurotype genders can only apply to that neurotype, and no one is all ethnicities and/or neurotypes at once.
- Trigender is a gender identity in which one shifts between or among the typical behaviors of male, female, and a third gender.
- Demigirl (or demiwoman, or demifemale) is a gender identity where an individual who only partially (not wholly) identifies as female. They can be any gender assigned at birth.
- Demiguy (or demiboy or demiman, or demimale) is a is a gender identity where an individual who only partially (not wholly) identifies as a male. They can be any gender assigned at birth.
- Diamoric is an umbrella term for any orientation, attraction or relationship involving at least one non-binary person, and thus defying binary terms such as "straight" or "gay".
- Enbian denotes a non-binary person who is attracted to other non-binary people (exclusively or not).
- Endospectrum is a person whose experience of any or all areas of gender, orientation, any kind of attraction, or expression is in some way and to some degree formed or influenced by their being somewhere on the autism spectrum (Aspergers/Aspie, ASD, etc)
- Maverique Is defined as a third gender, fully separate for the concept of "male", "female" or "neutral".
- Neutrois is a gender identity that is neutral or null. Neutrois people may also describe themselves variously as genderless, neither male nor female, or androgynous, or possibly agender, the lack of a gender, a term with which there is a degree of overlap, although neutrois tends to cover a neutral gender identity, whereas agender tends to cover the lack of a gender.
- Pomosexual is someone who does not fit into or rejects any sort of label on sexual orientation.
- Toric and trixic are terms to describe the sexual orientation of non-binary people. Toric non-binary people are attracted to men (exclusively or not), and trixic non-binary people are attracted to women (exclusively or not). These terms were based on Latin suffixes for masculine and feminine agent nouns ("-tor" and "-trix", as in words such as "cantor" or "dominatrix").
Xenogender is an obscure neologism for genders that "cannot be contained by human understandings of gender; more concerned with crafting other methods of gender categorization and hierarchy such as those relating to nonhuman animals, plants, or other creatures/things." The term was first coined by the tumblr user Baaphomet in 2014. Perhaps needless to say, none of this has any scientific support, as it is unfalsifiable.
Xenogenders are a result of non-binary minors and non-binary young adults struggling to describe their gender. Out of a need to have some understanding of their gender, they resort to metaphors and symbolism.
Non-binary people do face discrimination. Non binary people are more likely to experience physical assaults, police brutality and harassment than trans people with a binary gender. They are more likely to lose their job than cisgender people. About 30% of non-binary people in Australia have suffered thoughts of suicide or self harm in the last 2 weeks. Non-binary people are more likely to suffer drug problems than the general population.
- The intersection of colonialism and the insistence that there are only 2 genders (e.g. the erasure of culture-specific genders.) In a nutshell: colonialist invaders created the Western version of the gender binary.
Pros: can be used describe the experiences of nonbinary Two-Spirit Native Americans and other Indigenous people affected by binarism.
Cons: is confused with enbyphobia. It may feel as the term is grouping all nonbinary people of color's diverse experiences together. This term does not work well for nonbinary people of color who are not affected by colonialism or that the gender binary has always existed in their culture.
- The discrimination/erasure of non-binary people.
Pros: Avoids the "phobia" suffix and sounds cool.
Cons: may be confusing as it's hard to guess the definition of the term. It was coined from an American-centered perspective, thus it assumes that enbyphobia originates from Europe.
- The discrimination/erasure of non-binary people.
Pros: as it follows from trans-phobia and homo-phobia, the meaning of NBphobia is easier to guess.
Cons: uses the -phobia suffix. Might be a quick derailing by semantically stunted idiots using the "I'm not frightened by nonbinary genders, therefore I can't be a nbphobe." argument.
A common myth is that non-binary people don't experience gender dysphoria. DSM-V's definition of gender dysphoria does not exclude non-binary people, in fact it goes out of its way to include enby people by including the phrase "or some alternative gender different from one’s assigned gender" multiple times along with the phrase "the other gender":
1. a marked incongruence between one’s experienced/expressed gender and primary and/or secondary sex characteristics (or, in young adolescents, the anticipated secondary sex characteristics)
2. a strong desire to be rid of one’s primary and/or secondary sex characteristics because of a marked incongruence with one’s experienced/expressed gender (or, in young adolescents, a desire to prevent the development of the anticipated secondary sex characteristics)
3. a strong desire for the primary and/or secondary sex characteristics of the other gender
4. a strong desire to be of the other gender (or some alternative gender different from one’s assigned gender)
5. a strong desire to be treated as the other gender (or some alternative gender different from one’s assigned gender)
6. a strong conviction that one has the typical feelings and reactions of the other gender (or some alternative gender different from one’s assigned gender)
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Chiñas (p. 294) defines muxe as “persons who appear to be predominantly male but display certain female characteristics” and fill a “third gender role between men and women, taking some of the characteristics of each.”
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- Marc E. Vargo (30 Nov 2011). "A Review of " Please select your gender: From the invention of hysteria to the democratizing of transgenderism "" (PDF). Journal of GLBT Family Studies (New York/London: Routledge) 7 (5): 2 (493). ISSN 1550-4298. Retrieved 23 October 2014. "up to three million U. S. citizens regard themselves as transgender, a term referring to those whose gender identities are at odds with their biological sex. The term is an expansive one, however, and may apply to other individuals as well, from the person whose behavior purposely and dramatically diverges from society’s traditional male/female roles to the “agender”, “bigender” or “third gender” person whose self-definition lies outside of the male/female binary altogether. In short, those counted under this term constitute a wide array of people who do not conform to, and may actively challenge, conventional gender norms."
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