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In certain cultural conversations, terms like “gender nonbinary” and “gender non-Binary” are used.

Do you know what the gender is? You have come to the right place if not.

At its most distilled, “the gender binary is the false idea that there are only two genders and that every single person is one of these two genders,” explains clinical social worker and gender specialist Rebecca Minor.

It is more than that. The gender binary is going to be covered in a deeper dive.

“Gender binary refers to the societal or cultural belief that there are only two categories of gender: men and women,” says Tony Ferraiolo, director of the youth and families program at Health Care Advocates International, a public health and advocacy organization serving the LGBTQ+ community.

It is also the idea that there is a right way to be a woman and a right way to be a man. Ferraiolo says that the idea of men and women being masculine and feminine is correct.

Further, the gender binary perpetuates the idea that gender is synonymous with sex — it’s not!

Sex is a label that you are assigned at birth based on your genitals. Think of it as a boy or girl. This is marked on the birth certificate as M or F.

Gender is an internal sense of self. It encompasses a myriad of things that make up a person’s identity, including their behaviors, mannerisms, personality traits, thoughts, dreams, and more.

When someone’s assigned sex and gender are aligned, it’s known as being cisgender. When someone’s assigned sex and gender aren’t aligned, it’s known as being transgender.

The gender binary has become a topic of discussion in almost every sphere of society.

It’s almost everywhere — especially in the United States and other Western cultures, explains Abbie Goldberg, professor of psychology and director of the women and gender studies program at Clark University.

Where did the idea come from? It is a good question.

According to gender and sexuality educator Suzannah Weiss, different iterations of these ideas have existed for a longgg time.

“They say that the gender binary was probably started during the Enlightenment. Scientists and physicians adopted a two-sex model when describing people’s bodies.”

The model only had two options, and both male and female bodies were treated as opposites.

Weiss says that popular thinkers used to think of a one-sex model where male and female bodies were not the same.

Female orgasm was considered necessary for reproduction since male orgasm was turned inward.

The one-sex model had its own problems. Women were often seen as incomplete men.

The two-sex model created new problems, such as the devaluing of female sexuality and the erasure of anyone outside the gender binaries.

Goldberg says that many indigenous cultures around the world had more flexible and dynamic notions of gender until they were confronted with Western notions and theories of gender.

Many scholars argue that Western colonizers imposed gender stereotypes on indigenous people.

There are many examples to point to.

Minor says that the false belief that gender is a single sex is found in the bathroom, locker rooms, team sports, honorific titles, and occupational titles.

The gender binary rears its dirty head whenever someone assumes someone\’s gender pronouns based on how they look, and whenever groups of people are addressed by names like “ladies and gentlemen” and “men”, and if they are women or men.

The gender binary also exists in how certain doctors and bodily capabilities are named. For instance, phrases like “women’s health,” “maternal health,” and “feminine care products.”

“All of these experiences can be incredibly dysphoric and sometimes prevent nonbinary and trans folks from accessing necessary healthcare, using the correct bathrooms, and feeling safe or seen in work and learning spaces,” says Minor.

The impact of gender on both people who live within and outside of the gender binary is large.

Nope! There are many people who are not male or female.

Some of these people are nonbinary. Some are as transgender. Some identity with both labels. And others identify with neither experience.

What do the terms mean? Great question.

Minor says that non-binary is a gender identity label used by some people who do not identify with the genders of man and woman. Non-binary people have a gender that is not in the binarist gender model.

Some people identify with the nonbinary label. Some people use nonbinary as a vague umbrella term but feel that another term describes their gender more accurately.

“People who have sex assigned at birth that doesn’t match their experience of gender are called tranny.”

It is possible to be trans and have a gender other than yours. A person who is a trans person might feel that their gender fits within the binarist model.

It’s also possible for someone to be transgender and have a nonbinary gender! Someone, for example, might be transgender and genderqueer.

There are more gender terms below.

Simply, that someone has a gender that isn’t exclusively “man” or “woman.”

Someone who is bigender, trigender, or Poly gender. might identify with one or both of those two genders at some point in their life.

The meaning of nonbinary can be different for non-binary person and non-binary person.

Minor notes that there are a number of other genders that someone may identify with.

To name a few.

There are no prerequisites for identifying with any gender label or experience. The only thing you need to be a gender is to feel that gender (or genders, plural) fit(s) best.

How do you begin to understand your own experience of gender? Through reflection.

Here are some questions you might ask yourself.

  • What gender terms make me feel comfortable? Which brings me a sense of uneasiness?
  • What emotions do you get when you call a boy or girl?
  • Is there a sense of euphoria when you use certain words?
  • What is my sex at birth? Does it fit with the gender terms that I like best?

An LGBTQIA+ affirming therapist can offer you a safe place for exploring the answers to these questions.

“Don’t think that you have to identify as something other than the gender you were assigned at birth if you don’t fit the stereotype of your gender,” says Weiss. “Similarly, don’t feel like you can’t identify as a different gender even if you generally fit the stereotype of your assigned-at-birth gender.”

There are many different genders, from man to woman, non-binary or any other gender.

There are many things you can do to help challenge the genderbinary.

Minor says to talk about the gender binary and call it out when you see it in action. She says that it might look like crossing out the gender options on forms, adding your own categories, and talking with managers about adding gender-neutral facilities.

Minor also recommends educating yourself about the ways gender, cissexism, and misogyny impact your life.

How? By listening to podcasts like Gender Reveal, Bad in Bed, En(ba)by, QUEERY, and We’re Having Gay Sex. Reading fiction and nonfiction books like “Detransition, Baby,” “The Natural Mother of The Child: A Memoir of Nonbinary Parenthood,” “The Argonauts,” “Cemetery Boys,” and “The Death of Vivek Oji.”

Follow people on social media.

“Minor says that educating ourselves on these things will allow us to raise a generation of children who haven’t been socialized by the limitations of the binary.”

Anything you do to challenge the gender is going to benefit the non-binary people in your life.

Weiss says that if you own a business, you should make your products available to anyone who wants them.

If you are a healthcare professional, you should be aware of the full spectrum of the human gender.

“Weiss says that you should not make assumptions about people’s needs based on their gender.”

You can support nonbinary people regardless of your profession.

  • “Not assuming someone’s gender based on how they look.”
  • Sharing your pronouns with others.
  • Monitoring the gendered language you use when speaking to large groups of people.
  • Acquiring knowledge about the spectrum of genders.

“The gender is embedded into most Western cultures. That doesn’t mean that it’s beneficial to the people in those cultures.”

The gender binary perpetuates harmful ideas and norms that can be harmful to the individual.

The good news is that you can begin to identify the way the gender is worked into nearly every facet of your day-to-day life now that you know what the gender is.

You can begin to challenge it one small act at a time once you can identify it.

Gabrielle Kassel is a New York-based sex and wellness writer and CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. She’s become a morning person, tested over 200 vibrators, and eaten, drunk, and brushed with charcoal — all in the name of journalism. In her free time, she can be found reading self-help books and romance novels, bench-pressing, or pole dancing. Follow her on Instagram.