Discrimination against nonbinary gender people

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Discrimination against nonbinary gender people happens in all countries, and can take many forms. People who have a nonbinary gender identity (that is, who don't think of themselves as simply female or male) face the sexism that affects all transgender people (transphobia and cissexism), along with some forms of discrimination that specifically affect nonbinary people, such as nonbinary erasure. Depending on their ethnicity and culture, they may also face binarism.

Content warnings: This page may talk about specific cases of discrimination, harassment, abuse, and violence.


A 2008 study in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey showed that genderqueer and other non-binary individuals were more likely, suffer physical assaults (32% vs. 25%), experience police brutality and harassment (31% vs. 21%), and opt out of medical treatment due to discrimination (36% vs. 27%) compared to transgender individuals who identified within the gender binary (i.e., transgender men and transgender women). This study also found that they were more likely to be people of color (30% vs. 23%) and younger (under 45) than binary transgender people (89% vs. 68%).[1]

In 2015, a petition asked for the legal recognition of nonbinary genders in the United Kingdom. The Ministry of Justice refused to grant this, saying:

"The Equality Act 2010 protects people from discrimination if it arises from their being perceived as either male or female. We recognise that a very small number of people consider themselves to be of neither gender. We are not aware that that results in any specific detriment, and it is not Government policy to identify such people for the purpose of issuing non-gender-specific official documents".[2]

The Ministry of Justice chose not to recognize nonbinary genders because it believes they are too few, and it believes that they don't face any discrimination. It didn't give proof of either of these views. It said that nonbinary people are not protected under the Equality Act, which was created to protect other kinds of transgender people. In response, many nonbinary people in the UK voiced their objections to this. Beyond the Binary, a magazine run by nonbinary people, collected responses from 80 nonbinary people about what kinds of discrimination they have faced for being nonbinary, and said of these,

"There was obvious upset at being written off as a small and unimportant group, especially when there are far more who identify as non-binary in the UK than people realise – though being a minority should not affect what protections marginalised groups are afforded in law. A strong general feeling was that if the government wasn’t aware of specific detriment to non-binary people, they should at least acknowledge the need to fund proper research and seek opinion on a diversity of experiences".[3]

The magazine's survey found the nonbinary respondants unsatisfied with how the Ministry of Justice wasn't taking them seriously, didn't know much about them, and didn't show interest in doing research to become better informed about the issue.

Some of the kinds of discrimination that nonbinary people face for being nonbinary:

  • Trouble getting health care. Doctors refused to treat them. Some general practitioners say they can't refer nonbinary people to gender identity clinics. Some had no hope that a gender identity clinic would take them seriously as a nonbinary person. Some gender identity clinics made nonbinary people wait longer than binary trans people in order to get transgender related health care. They face problems with making their medical records accurate. Doctors and health professionals call them by the wrong gender (misgendering), even when asked in writing to do otherwise. Hospital wards divided by sex can leave nonbinary patients feel there is no place for them.[4]
  • Feeling unsafe at work. Accepting being closeted and misgendered, out of fear that coming out as nonbinary at work might mean being mistreated there, or being fired. (Unlike binary trans people, there is no way to be "stealth" as a nonbinary person; you're only either closeted or out.) Self-employed nonbinary people are also concerned about how clients might react if they're openly nonbinary.[5]
  • In some regions, anti-discrimination laws protect binary trans people, but not nonbinary people. People who were victims of harassment or violence for being nonbinary sometimes find that police and officials refuse to see it as a transphobic hate crime because they aren't what those officials think of as transgender.[6]
  • Nonbinary people who have an androgynous gender expression get turned away from public places that are divided by gender, such as clothing departments, changing rooms, and public toilets. This can mean facing harassment or violence from both women's and men's areas. Androgynous people very often suffer street harassment from people speculating about their sex, which can escalate to suffering violence or rape.[7]
  • Organizations that require members to use identification-- such as libraries, schools, banks, businesses, and so on-- often make nonbinary people struggle with limited options for titles and gender markers, and how these may not match on all their identity documents, such as passports. Nonbinary people can't use any of these services without misgendering themselves, and sometimes the services refuse to take them in any case.[8]
  • Many regions let binary trans people change their gender markers on their identity documents to M or F, but few allow other options. A nonbinary person who gets a physical transition may find themself stuck with identity documents that don't match their appearance or gender identity. Any situation where they need to use their identity documents means facing officials who treat them with suspicion, make them wait, or refuse to serve them.[9]

Nonbinary erasure

Nonbinary erasure is the name for a form of discrimination against nonbinary gender people. Nonbinary erasure is the common but wrong idea that there are only two genders, female and male (the binary genders). This is a form of sexism that is harmful to people with non-binary gender identities, because it makes it more difficult for them to get recognized as nonbinary. Nonbinary erasure says that only two genders are real, so when non-binary people say they have other genders, other people think they are pretending, joking, or mistaken. Nonbinary erasure makes it difficult for them to imagine what genders other than female or male could be like at all. One specific kind of nonbinary erasure is called binarism, meaning white colonialist discrimination against nonbinary gender roles in minority cultures and ethnic groups.


In a gender binary culture that has nonbinary erasure, people grow up without hearing that there could be more than two genders. Because of this, nonbinary erasure makes it more difficult for non-binary people to come to the understanding that they are non-binary in the first place.

Nonbinary erasure can show itself as a refusal to acknowledge that someone is non-binary, when asked to do so. If a person refuses to call anyone by any pronouns other than "he" or "she," this is nonbinary erasure. If an organisation refuses to let paperwork show a non-binary person's preferred gender neutral title or legal gender-neutral markers, this is nonbinary erasure.

Some cultures are less inclined to nonbinary erasure, because they have other gender roles, for more than two genders. This shows that nonbinary erasure is not a universal way of thought. It isn't the same all around the world. This also shows that it could be possible for people in a culture that has nonbinary erasure to make it less inclined to have nonbinary erasure.


See also: Activism.

There are many kinds of activism that people can take up against nonbinary erasure.

One way to help make nonbinary erasure less powerful is to take up gender-neutral language. That way of talk doesn't give the idea that a person is male or female, so it can also apply to people who identify as other genders, outside of the gender binary. Non-binary people may prefer to be talked about in ways that don't give the idea that they are male or female.

Another way is to seek recognition for non-binary people in paperwork. Make sure that paperwork doesn't make people label themselves as either male or female. Use letter-writing campaigns and petitions to ask organisations to let people choose gender neutral titles in their paperwork.

More visibility of non-binary people can help more people question erasure. Visibility can include media coverage of real celebrities, as well as in fiction. Non-binary people can make more visibility on a local scale, starting by coming out, and talking to others about their identities. This shows binary people that they live around non-binary people. It also helps other non-binary people feel safer about coming out.


Binarism is the common but wrong idea that there are only two genders, and this idea is put into action in a way that is part of racism, colonialism, and Western imperialism, which are systems of oppression. Binarism is a kind of sexism that makes it unsafe or impossible for people to take up their ethnic nonbinary gender roles and identities. Binarism forces other cultures and people of color to fit into the white, Western gender binary system.

Binarism is one kind of nonbinary erasure, which is prejudice based in the idea that there are only two genders. Binarism is based in that, too, as well as in racism and cultural prejudice. That is the difference. Don't use the word binarism if you're not talking about ethnicity. Say nonbinary erasure instead.

Related forms of sexism

Sexism that discriminates against nonbinary people has some relationship to these other kinds of sexism:

  • Oppositional sexism, a way of thought in which female and male are thought of not only as the only two sexes/genders, but as opposites that can only have opposite characteristics, such as "strong" and "weak".
  • Cissexism, a way of thought in which only cisgender people are seen as normal or right. A more actively harmful form of cissexism is transphobia. Cissexism is harmful to all kinds of transgender people, including non-binary people.
  • Dyadism, the common but wrong idea that there are only two physical sexes. Dyadism is harmful to people who were born with intersex conditions.
  • Biological essentialism, the idea that your body is the main thing that makes you who you are. It is supposed to define you forever, no matter what you change about yourself, think about yourself, or anything. It says the gender you were assigned at birth-- which was decided by a look at your body, as seen through dyadism-- must be your only real gender. Biological essentialism is used to justify most forms of sexism. It is harmful to virtually everyone, of any sex or gender.

See also

External links


  1. Jack Harrison, Jaime Grant, Jody L. Herman. "A Gender Not Listed Here: Genderqueers, Gender Rebels, and Otherwise in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey." Harvard Kennedy School. LGBTQ Policy Journal Vol. 2, p. 22. 2011–2012 http://www.thetaskforce.org/downloads/release_materials/agendernotlistedhere.pdf
  2. https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/104639
  3. "#SpecificDetriment: what you told us." Beyond the Binary. September 19, 2015. http://beyondthebinary.co.uk/specificdetriment-what-you-told-us/
  4. "#SpecificDetriment: what you told us." Beyond the Binary. September 19, 2015. http://beyondthebinary.co.uk/specificdetriment-what-you-told-us/
  5. "#SpecificDetriment: what you told us." Beyond the Binary. September 19, 2015. http://beyondthebinary.co.uk/specificdetriment-what-you-told-us/
  6. "#SpecificDetriment: what you told us." Beyond the Binary. September 19, 2015. http://beyondthebinary.co.uk/specificdetriment-what-you-told-us/
  7. "#SpecificDetriment: what you told us." Beyond the Binary. September 19, 2015. http://beyondthebinary.co.uk/specificdetriment-what-you-told-us/
  8. "#SpecificDetriment: what you told us." Beyond the Binary. September 19, 2015. http://beyondthebinary.co.uk/specificdetriment-what-you-told-us/
  9. "#SpecificDetriment: what you told us." Beyond the Binary. September 19, 2015. http://beyondthebinary.co.uk/specificdetriment-what-you-told-us/