Gender Identity 101

Check out this guide on understanding gender identity and pronouns.

Gender Identity 101 (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

ChicagoAs understanding of sexuality and gender definitions expand, so do the words we use to describe people. One of the terms that have been floated around include nonbinary, which means that an individual does not fit into the traditional binary categories of male or female. 

Here’s a guide to what that means and what gender identity is, according to Yahoo Life.


Nonbinary means “existing or identifying outside the sex/gender binary, neither man nor woman, or being partially or a combination of these things," said Lee Phillips, ED.D. and psychotherapist, noting being nonbinary is an umbrella term for a gender identity. “Gender identity is an identifier someone uses to communicate how they understand their personal gender, navigate within or outside our societal gender systems, and/or desire to be perceived by others.”

Dr. Chelsie Reed, Ph.D. and LPC said  gender refers to the mind while sex refers to the body. 

 "Gender identity is a social construct of what we think is masculine or feminine and where we think we fit in those categories.” she said. “Gender identity does not have to be connected to our bodies, it is more about how we feel we fit in our community and society as a whole."

Gender Identity

Gender Identity is how a person sees themselves and defines themselves. That means a person chooses to define their gender identity and can ask to be referred to with pronouns that align with their truth. 

Dr. Reed cautions against confusing someone who is nonbinary with someone who identifies as transgender. 

"Transgender is when somebody has a different identity than the body parts they have," said. Dr. Reed. "Most people still use the term after having their insides and outsides 'match,' and others feel that transgender is describing not only the dissonance, but also the experience of their gender formation and transformation."

Different Types of Nonbinary Genders

The term nonbinary is a catch-all for a person who doesn’t identify with male or female genders. The term also includes different types of gender identities. Some of them include:

  • Bigender: refers to someone who experiences two genders.
  • Trigender: refers to someone who experiences three genders 
  • Multigender/polygender: refers to someone who experiences multiple genders
  • Demigender: refers to someone who experiences a partial connection to gender(s) in question 
  • Genderfluid: refers to an individual

How to Use and Understand Pronouns

If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, ask. 

"Nonbinary people may use they (subject pronoun), them (object pronoun), and theirs (possessive pronoun)," said Dr. Phillips. "There are many reasons why a nonbinary person may use 'they' pronouns. One reason is that 'they' does imply any information about a person’s gender."

A great way to ask about someone’s preferred pronouns is by sharing yours first. You can say, “My pronouns are he/him. What about you?”

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