Gender noncomformity is not a new concept and living outside of the binaries is not a new identity, though the term nonbinary was coined more recently, growing more popular around 2014.
Gender nonconformity has existed nearly as long as recorded history. In Indonesia, folks assigned male at birth but who identify as women are called waria and date back to the early 19th century. In ancient Egypt, in order for a woman to be reborn, she must first become a man. In Native American and Indigenous cultures, the identity of Two-Spirit is recognized as a kind of third gender and was historically respected. In 1789, William Marshall recorded the English gender-inclusive pronoun “ou, a.”
Obscure but well-known artist Claude Cahun, adopted a gender ambiguous name in 1917 and is known for gender nonconforming self-portraiture. Christpher Isherwood’s “Berlin Stories” — adapted to “I am a Camera” and eventually the well-known “Cabaret” — depicts gender fluidity with an emphasis on fashion and performance. Folks still identify as genderqueer, which gained popular usage in the 1980s.
Still, in the U.S., the coinage, use and identity of nonbinary is incredibly relevant. Folks who are nonbinary use a variety of pronouns and may or may not also identify as trans, but the wide usage of “they” has shifted lagnuage. Style guides, like the Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Stylebook now accept “they” as a singular pronoun. Clothing companies for trans, nonbinary and gender nonconforming folks by TNGNC folks are becoming more and more prevalent and popular. Origami Customs, run by a “nonbinary queer femme” who has a “transmasculine partner,” offers gender-inclusive size-positive clothing including binders, bra inserts, transfemme undergarments and packing bottoms — all of which can be customized. Tomboy X was founded by two self-identified tomboys, and offers a variety of gender-inclusive swimwear and underwear. MI Leggett is a nonbinary artist who transforms “discarded materials” into clothing and art with Official Rebrand.
Celebrities too are disregarding the gender binary, such as Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness who recently came out as nonbinary and Lachlan Watson who identifies as pansexual and nonbinary, “Pose” star Indya Moore, who prefers they/them pronouns and also identifies as nonbinary and King Princess who identifies as genderqueer.
A recent study showed that over 7,000 people have identification cards with the designation “X” and while Arkansas offered the possibility of using “X” in 2010, they did so quietly. It wasn’t until 2017 when Oregon allowed for it that states began to follow suit, totaling now 14 who have the option or plan to have the option; it’s safe to say, 7,000 will likely increase with changes in legislation and increased visibility.
While millennials and those in Generation Z have made great strides toward visibility in the U.S. for those identities outside of the gender binary, we, they, all of us, specifically in the LGBTQ community, are also in conversation with other countries and cultures and other generations who laid a foundation and provided a path for a way of living outside of a two-gender system.