The term “non-binary” can mean different things to different people. In its basic definition, it is used to describe someone whose gender identity isn’t exclusively male or female.

This is not to be confused with intersex individuals, whose biological sex is not completely/definitively male or female. Being non-binary means nothing about someone’s physical characteristics, although where dysphoria is concerned, a person may want to surgery, or to take treatments to correct particular areas of their body.

To understand a non-binary identity, it is essential to gain an understanding between the terms gender and sex because there is a distinct difference. The main difference between sex and gender is that the term ‘sex’ refers to the biological and physiological differences between males and females whereas, ‘gender’ refers to the social differences between men and women.

The term: ’sex’ largely comes from the biological and physiological differences between a male and a female due to the processes of reproduction. These differences include hormones, chromosomes, and internal and external sexual organs.

The term ‘gender’ refers to the social and cultural differences between men and women. This considers features like gender roles, behaviour, expectations, and attributes that are considered appropriate by the society. Gender can be mainly divided as masculine and feminine. This addresses the social role assigned to men and women.

Australian men have often been stereotyped throughout the world as being tough and masculine, with women as their feminine counterpart. For people who do not adhere to either of these two behavioural types, they are often labelled and persecuted as being different sexual orientations outside of a heterosexual male or female. This could not be further from the truth, as a person consists of their biological sex (genitalia) and gender brain, and due to a number of biological factors we are all diverse with how the two areas interact.

“The notion that both sex and gender are binary — with everyone fitting into either a male or female box— is a social construct. This system has historically been used to differentiate between biological and gender-related traits in males and females.”

Non-binary can also be used as an umbrella term, encompassing many gender identities that don’t fit into the male-female binary.

From an Australian perspective, non-binary is often regarded as a new idea, when in reality, it has been around in other cultures for as long as civilization has.

If someone tells you they’re non-binary, it’s always important to ask what being non-binary means to them. Some people who are non-binary experience their gender as both male and female, and others experience their gender as neither male nor female.

Dave Wells has always been an idealist and has educated towards reaching a time when transgender people would one day be accepted as an individual without pressure to conform to either a male or female, and be respected as an individual, however they wish to present or identify. Now that non-binary identity is more broadly understood and accepted by many in our society, hopefully this will translate to people accepting themselves as individuals, rather than a “one size fits all” approach to Male and Female gender. Dave Wells views the understanding an acceptance of non-binary as a bridge towards enabling a greater acceptance for all people to live in harmony with their sex and gender.

Non-binary pronouns

We live in a world where all people are divided by gender. It is common for groups of people to be referred to as “ladies and gentlemen”, “men and women”, “he and she”, or “his or hers”, and an assumption is made about a person’s gender identity is based on their appearance, personality, and behavioural features.

For many non-binary people, pronouns are about more than just how they want to be addressed, they have become a powerful way to assert an aspect of their gender that’s often unseen or unaligned with others’ assumptions. Because of this, pronouns have the power to either affirm or invalidate a non-binary person’s existence. Some non-binary people use binary pronouns, such as:

  • she/her/hers
  • he/him/his

Others use gender-neutral pronouns, such as:

  • they/them/theirs
  • ze/hir/hirs
  • ze/zir/zirs

Although these are the most common gender-neutral pronouns, there are others. The pronouns someone uses can also change over time and across environments. For example, some non-binary people may use gender-neutral pronouns only in spaces where they feel safe. They may allow people at work or school to refer to them using traditional binary pronouns instead of their preferred pronouns.

It is respectful that if a person shares that they are diverse gendered that you enquire about how they wish to be addressed using their correct pronouns. It is also important to remember that we have all been raised in an ignorant society in relation to anything outside of only “male” and “female” and as a result, people often can find it difficult to instil a broader vocabulary of pronouns. Awareness, and the attempt to refer to a person by their preferred pronouns should be paramount, over any mistakes made using the incorrect pronouns. The only way to over-come these types of barriers with language is to work together to create change, without the fear of being reprimanded.