Demi Lovato, Elliot Page, Miley Cyrus: What Does Non-Binary Mean?

Two years ago, at Delhi's first queer literature festival when Arpit, a sexuality rights activist, reminded another friendly gay man the correct pronoun to use to address Arpit is 'them', he looked confused, and then apologised. "It's okay, I know it's hard to include them as a pronoun in your vocabulary but I will keep reminding you," Arpit had said.

On Wednesday, American pop star Demi Lovato changed their pronouns to they/them and announced they are non-binary with a tweet, "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 and will officially be changing my pronouns to they/them moving forward."



Arpit couldn't keep reminding the queer circle in Delhi the correct pronoun; the 22-year-old passed away in June 2020 while being treated for brain hemorrhage. With Lovato joining a handful of celebrities who have come out as non-binary over the past few years, the reminder is now more recurring-- on TV channels and social media platforms. Lovato's voice has helped throw a spotlight on a growing but often misunderstood community.

In 2019, "Queer Eye's" Jonathan Van Ness announced they are non-binary. In an interview, Van Ness said, "The older I get, the more I think that I'm nonbinary — I'm gender non-conforming. Like, some days I feel like a man, but then other days I feel like a woman. I don't really — I think my energies are really all over the place. Any opportunity I have to break down stereotypes of the binary, I am down for it, I'm here for it." Van Ness describes himself as "non-binary" and "genderqueer". He prefers he/him pronouns, but does not identify as a "man". Actor, model and social activist Indya Moore, too, recently announced they are non-binary.

Sara Ramirez, a former 'Grey's Anatomy' star came out as non-binary through an Instagram post. "New profile pic. In me is the capacity to be Girlish boy, Boyish girl, Boyish boy, Girlish girl, All, Neither," Ramirez captioned the photo adding the hashtag #nonbinary.



Sam Smith, too, asked their fans to use the pronouns "they/them", not "he/him", after coming out as non-binary. Six months before that, Smith said they did not feel male or female, but "I flow somewhere in between". But Smith admitted that they had been "very nervous" about announcing it because "I care too much about what people think".

In 2015, Miley Cyrus revealed that she is genderfluid. "I don't relate to being boy or girl, and I don't have to have my partner relate to boy or girl," Cyrus said.

What Is Non-Binary? The Terms You Should Know


The term non-binary alludes to someone who doesn't recognize just as a man or just as a woman. According to the glossary terms listed in Human Rights Campaign, Gender non-conforming is a broad term referring to people who do not behave in a way that conforms to the traditional expectations of their gender, or whose gender expression does not fit neatly into a category.

That definition's pretty broad because being non-binary means different things to different people.

While many also identify as transgender, not all gender non-conforming people do. Elliot Page, for example, identifies as both – but that is not always the case.

Singer Demi said they came to understand their gender identity after spending time doing "healing and self-reflective work" over the past year. The pronouns "best represents the fluidity I feel in my gender expression", the singer added.

To understand non-binary gender, one needs to understand the difference between sex and gender. According to the American Psychological Association, gender refers to the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a culture associates with a person's biological sex. In other words, gender is a social construction and a social identity. Sex, on the other hand, describes the biological sex that a person was assigned at birth. It is based on the biological characteristics of masculinity or femininity as indicated by chromosomes, gonads, hormones, and genitalia.

The idea that there are only two genders is called a gender binary because binary means "having two parts" (male and female). Therefore, "non-binary" is the term people use to describe genders that don't fall into one of these two categories, either male or female.

After JK Rowling's 'transphobic' comment created controversy and sparked a discussion around gender, Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project, suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth told CNN, that her comments were a "fundamental misconception of the difference between sex and gender." "Your sex is what you are assigned at birth, and your gender is the way that you experience your own sense of gender identity," Paley said.

A 2020 Trevor Project study showed that among LGBTQ youths ages 13 to 24, fully one-quarter now identify as non-binary. Of those, the majority use they/them pronouns, while a smaller percentage use what are called "neopronouns" — less common ones like ze/zim.

Corporates, too, have been waking up to the world of including all kinds of gender identity. Last year, TIAA, the financial services and investing giant, rolled out new gender-identity awareness guidelines for its client-facing consultants. The guidance included: "Never assume someone's gender identity" and "Be aware that a person's pronouns can change over time. They may also change based on context." Baker McKenzie, one of the biggest Big Law Firms said that by 2025 it aims to reach 40 percent women, 40 percent men and 20 percent "flexible" — which the firm said could be women, men or non-binary people. Accenture became one of the first companies in India to make a slight yet important tweak to their life insurance policy-- the benefit that was previously restricted to the employee's spouse and family members became open for employees to choose. However, there are only a handful number of companies that have created gender-neutral policies. Here's a list.


What Not To Assume About Non-Binary Gender


They are not Unicorns, it's not a trend: It's most important to understand that identifying as non-binary is not a trend and they are not confused about their gender. Non-binary identities have been recognized for millennia by cultures and societies around the world. While the term "non-binary" is on the newer side (the first court-approved gender change to non-binary happened in 2016), there have always been ways to describe those who merge, meld or refute genders.

You don't have to look a certain way: On a usual day, Arpit would drape a saree and wear chunky ear rings. He kept a beard. That was his style. There's no such thing as 'looking as non-binary'. You cannot tell someone identifies as non-binary based on what they look like, and which is exactly why it's so important to ask.

Non-binary does not always mean They/Them: "Non-binary can be used as an umbrella term encompassing identities such as agender, bigender, genderqueer or gender-fluid," according to the Human Rights Campaign. Non-binary people can have a variety of pronouns. While many go by they/them, some go by she/her, some go by both, and some go by more than that. Non-binary also doesn't mean you can't have other gender identities. Some people identity as non-binary and as a man or woman or trans or something else. Again, the only way to know is to ask.

Non-binary does not mean intersex, transgender: While some transgender people are non-binary, most transgender people have a gender identity that is either male or female. Some equate non-binary with being intersex. It's not. The term is for a variety of situations in which a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't fit the boxes of "female" or "male". Intersex people can be non-binary, but so can people who are not intersex.

The last thing to know is that this isn't about political correctness. To understand non-binary identity and educate ourselves about it makes us more supportive friends, partners, family members, and human beings. It makes us allies.

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