Being non-binary: A primer on the term and what it means

·6 min read
Lucky Fusca is the executive director of the P.E.I. Transgender Network, and came out as non-binary a couple of years ago. Fusca now uses the pronouns they/them rather than she/her.  (Lucky Fusca - image credit)
Lucky Fusca is the executive director of the P.E.I. Transgender Network, and came out as non-binary a couple of years ago. Fusca now uses the pronouns they/them rather than she/her. (Lucky Fusca - image credit)

You may have seen it as part of people's email signatures these days, identifying their preferred pronouns: she/her, he/him and they/them or a combination of any of these.

They/them usually refers to someone who identifies as non-binary (BN), a term used by those whose identities do not fit into a strictly male/female binary.

Lucky Fusca is the executive director of the P.E.I. Transgender Network, and is also the chair of Pride P.E.I. They are non-binary, and they agreed to answer some questions about what it means.

What is non-binary? 

"Non-binary is kind of an umbrella term folks use when they neither identify as male or female," Fusca said. "I don't want to say that it means that it's somewhere in between — non-binary is usually something that is very personal to the individual.

"I really don't feel like either of the ends of the binary are anything that resonate with me. I do feel more comfortable outside of the identity box in general."

A few years ago, Fusca, 28, moved to Prince Edward Island, where they first heard the term non-binary. "It really resonated with my inner child, how this child really felt out of alignment with the gender or sex that I was assigned at birth."

They'd been assigned female at birth, and said they struggled from the age of five or six to conform to pressure to be and act what society considers female. In fact, they eventually conformed really well — wearing their hair long, applying makeup and dressing femininely. It was exhausting, they said.

Desmond Picotte
Desmond Picotte

Everything changed when Fusca came out as lesbian a couple of years ago and started hanging out with more queer people, and met someone who was non-binary. "That gave me access to the language, gave me access to the representation and visibility, which allowed me to go back and say 'Wait a minute, I think this might be me!' and it was super liberating," they said.

Fusca is an artist, and describes non-binary people as the blending of blue for boys and red for girls: if the two are mixed, many shades of purple emerge — those are like the many different kinds of non-binary people. Some non-binary folks feel more in alignment with the masculine end of the spectrum, and others "feel more femme," they said.

If there's a Pride flag of any kind in your establishment and you have gendered bathrooms, you either need to remove your Pride flag or get rid of the signs on the bathroom doors. — Lucky Fusca

Coming out as non-binary has freed them of the internalized shame and hate passed on from the world around them, Fusca said.

"I have so much more energy to put into other things that I care about, that isn't being concerned about how the world is perceiving me," they said. "Really I just go out into the world and live my authentic truth ... I'm just doing and being."

What pronouns should people use for non-binary folks?

The safest way is not to assume anyone's gender, ever, no matter how you perceive them.

Check their social media for their pronouns, Fusca suggests. If you're not sure, refer to people by their name, if you know it. If you don't know it, introduce yourself and state your pronouns, which may open up a safe space for others to share theirs. Many non-binary people use they/them while others use she/them, he/them or a combination.

Fusca said it is important to try to use proper pronouns and names, and misusing them intentionally, known as misgendering, can be a form of violence. However if someone does it accidentally, Fusca is happy to educate people and says it's "a beautiful thing to watch the process of folks moving away from gendered language."

Who do non-binary people love? 

Being non-binary has nothing to do with sexual orientation, Fusca said. "They're two completely different things."

Submitted by Lucky Fusca
Submitted by Lucky Fusca

Sexual preference for NB's can be cisgender heterosexual men or women, gay men or women, other NB's are pansexual, asexual or demisexual — the entire rainbow of genders and sexual identities.

Fusca said some lesbians are negative toward non-binary or trans folks identifying as lesbians — such hardliners are known as terfs: trans-exclusionary radical feminists.

"Sexuality, just like gender identity, they are things that can be very fluid for most people. Right now I would say I identify as a non-binary queer person," Fusca said.

Do most non-binary people change their name? 

Fusca changed their name and says many others in the non-binary and transgender community have or are heavily considering it, while others do not.

Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images
Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

"And even pronouns — not all non-binary people use they/them pronouns," they said. Some will use a combination, like she/them.

"All words are 'made up,' every single one of them," Fusca said. Some people want to get away from any word used to describe their past self, while others "are happy to continue to use them as long as the people around them treat them with respect and still perceive them to be the non-binary person that they are."

Is non-binary the same as androgynous? 

No. Androgynous means presenting as neither distinguishably masculine nor feminine.

"Non-binary people do not owe the world androgyny," Fusca says. "We don't owe people any explanation around the way that we dress versus the way that we identify."

Do most non-binary people modify their bodies? 

It is common for non-binary people to modify their bodies, Fusca said, noting there is a wide range of options for medical transitioning.

Options include top surgery (a double mastectomy) and bottom surgery to create a penis or vagina. Some folks may masculinize or feminize their faces using injections.

Many non-binary folks including Fusca quit shaving legs and armpits and grow out their body hair.

Where do non-binary people go to the bathroom? 

"I've been trying to figure this out for quite some time now!" Fusca said.

Heidi Barrett
Heidi Barrett

They said right now they'd choose the women's bathroom. "I'm going to take what feels to be the safer of the two poor choices."

Fusca urges business owners, especially those who indicate they are an LGBTQ ally or queer-safe space, to provide non-gendered bathrooms.

"If there's a Pride flag of any kind in your establishment and you have gendered bathrooms, you either need to remove your Pride flag or get rid of the signs on the bathroom doors," they said.

How can I learn more?

Fusca suggests reading the "easily-digestible" Beyond the Gender Binary, by Alok Vaid-Menon.

They also enjoyed the episode of Johnathan van Ness's Netflix Show Getting Curious in which the Queer Eye celebrity hosted Vaid-Menon.

People could also watch the bittersweet comedy Sort Of on CBC Gem.

Fusca said the new Charlottetown Public Library is planning to offer a wider range of literature for the queer community and those wanting to know more about the community.

Follow the P.E.I. Transgender Network on Facebook for profiles of some non-binary Islanders, featured for international non-binary people's day July 14.

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