Courtney Act, Adore Delano, Olly Alexander, Miley Cyrus, and Sam Smith. What these celebrities have in common, besides their immense talent, is they are part of an ever-growing list of people who have come out as non-binary.
According to a recently published study by LGBTQ+ advocacy group The Trevor Project, the ranks of the non-binary are rapidly expanding, particularly among LGBTQ+ youth. In their 2021 survey of queer youth, researchers made several important findings. Perhaps the most astonishing fact is that in this year’s survey one in four LGBTQ+ youth self-identify as non-binary, or rather nonbinary as it is often spelled in this context.
Eschewing labels as they relate to one’s self identity is not necessarily a new phenomenon. Androgynous is the term that has been frequently used in the past for those who didn’t neatly fit into one of the dominant male / female gender boxes. By the 1980s genderqueer had worked its way into the common lexicon, chiefly through the use of ‘zines that proliferated in the alternative and artistic underground scenes of that period. Today, whether one uses the term nonbinary, gender fluid or queer, the idea that an individual can self-express their gender identity using inclusive pronouns and find solidarity by coming out as such is gaining momentum.
In the Trevor Project study which surveyed over 30,000 LGBTQ+ Americans between the ages of 13 – 24 from October – December of 2020 (via an online questionnaire), 26% identify as non-binary with an additional 20% questioning or not sure. The study notes that “While nonbinary identities have often been grouped under the umbrella term of “transgender,” our data show that only 50% of youth who identified as nonbinary also identified as transgender; an additional 20% were not sure or questioning if they were transgender.”
Whereas gender identification is at play in the designation of whether one is male, female, or nonbinary, the sexual preference among this quartile of LGBTQ+ youth choose bisexuality is their most cited response (with 28%), followed by pansexual (27%), queer (22%), lesbian (14%), gay (6%), and either questioning or not sure rounding out the rest.
The differences between races/ethnicities were comparable as well, with multiracial youth leading at 30% reportedly nonbinary, 27% among Native/indigenous youth, 25% in both black and Asian youth, 25% among whites, and 23% among Latinx.
The majority of nonbinary youth reported using pronouns outside of the gender binary, such as “they/them” or neopronouns such as “xe/xem.”
From the study: “When asked about ways other people can make them feel happy or euphoric about their gender, nonbinary youth overwhelmingly responded: having people in their life use the correct name and pronouns to refer to them. One youth noted, “It makes me extremely happy when people respect and use my correct pronouns, and I could literally happy cry.” Other responses mentioned feeling affirmed when people used gender-neutral compliments, or compliments not associated with the gender that youth were assigned at birth. One respondent described their friends calling them “thude” or “a mix of they and dude” as something that makes them feel good about their gender. Affirming relationships with parents, siblings, friends, and partners were also a frequently cited source of affirmation and happiness for nonbinary youth.”