Is Non-Binary a Gender?

As language denotes what society considers what is and isn’t a gender, and non-binary as a concept has managed to forge its way into the conversation that today’s queer communities are having about gender, I would say it connotates itself as a gender. What makes a gender a gender is definitely a controversial and subversive topic, as gender is rooted in its binary. The non-binary identifier is a rejection of gender altogether, therefore making it fundamentally what could be considered an anti-gender or the penultimate anti-gender. However, as gender is a social construct, and being non-binary comes along with the notion of awareness of this fact, accepting “non-binary” as a gender could be a way to invite a greater conversation about why gender is significant in our society.

To say definitively whether non-binary is a gender would demand a redefining of gender in society, which goes against the nature of being non-binary to begin with. However the non-binary identifier has all the elements of what a gender has. It designates how a person prefers to display a form of gender expression. To me, this is what gender means, but without the deeply engrained historical context of the dual-gender binary (male and female) it’s hard to say whether the non-binary label can really fit into that same category.

Going off this idea really begs the question of what defines a gender beyond a simple surface-level understanding of male and female identities. Gender in today’s world is weaponized to a certain extent enough so that people feel they need to ascribe to certain modes of behavior in order to feel as though they’re “getting gender right”. As I’ve contemplated before, being non-binary purposefully goes against these ideals and non-binary people in my experience usually set out as much as they can to avoid performing gender roles because they see them as problematic.

On the other hand, one could argue that the existence of the non-binary denomination is a totally revolutionary phenomenon that should not be taken for granted as far as its potential for opening up new possibilities for completely redefining how gender is understood in society. To some, non-binary people represent a possibility for a complete reconstruction of how gender can be enacted in people’s daily lives. As gender is now commonly acknowledged, at least by young people and especially by queer people, as a social construct, it has the potential to perhaps rewire society completely on the basis of the non-binary model.

With this in mind, one might be compelled to wonder just how far an idea like this can go after the male/female gender binary has been so deeply rooted in global society since essentially the beginning of human consciousness. Whether or not general members of society would be willing to redefine the entire concept of gender in order to erase the problematic impact that gender roles have had on the development of social culture is something I could not answer in this essay, although I’m sure someone out there has hypothesized about what could happen. We know that human nature is persistent in certain elements of itself, and that many people have very strongly held beliefs about the biological difference between cisgender men and women which, according to these people, disprove any possible progress towards a gender-neutral or genderfluid society. What also seems to be true is that the people who are aware of the people who hold these beliefs dismiss them as arbitrary and transphobic. In my opinion, the dialectic of people both understanding and misunderstanding the gender binary through the lens of “science” is what prevents most people, even young people from deviating from gender roles. This is because, likely, they are so historically engrained in everyday life.

If society can simply acknowledge how much it’s grown and changed already in ways that don’t have to do with gender but have to do with other longstanding belief systems, such as homosexuality and cisgender feminism, I’m sure people will get over it, should that be the direction the world takes within the next millennium or so.

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