Non-Binary: in trans or alongside trans?

By Os Keyes

A continual and seemingly small piece of linguistic dispute is how you refer to non-binary people, either alone or in the context of trans issues. Is it “trans people and non-binary people”? Is it “trans and non-binary people”? Is it “binary and non-binary trans people”?

You’ll see different uses in different places - there’s even a reddit thread on it! - and a lot of confusion over what the best option is. Should non-binary people be grouped under the “trans” umbrella by default, or not?

This is ultimately a political choice: classification, as they say, has consequences. And my answer, when referring to myself specifically or non-binary people generally, has been: yes, non-binary people are a subset of trans people, and yes, non-binary issues are a subset of trans issues. When writing about gender, I use “binary and non-binary trans people” to capture groups and people.

This is not to say that all non-binary people self-identify as trans; some don’t. This is to say that the political implications of excluding non-binary people as a population from the “trans” umbrella are heinous, and we can see that happening in practice. For example, even though non-binary people are less likely to want medical interventions, those of us who do want them are less likely to be able to get them, even in “trans-inclusive” contexts. Why? Because society defaults to not considering non-binary people “real” trans people. And even though society is making (some, tentative progress) around trans inclusion, non-binary people continue to experience far worse mental health outcomes than binary trans people. Why? Because progress around trans issues often defaults to considering a particularly normalised view of what “trans” is: white, binary, middle class. And many of the non-binary people who do not identify as trans do so because this narrative leads them to worry that they don’t count - and as a result serves as an additional psychological barrier to coming out, negotiating acceptance, and getting access to support and community.

In other words, excluding non-binary folk from “trans” is not just a question of language: it is also a question of resourcing. Whether non-binary folk are in “trans” or not, some of us will still seek medical care; all of us will seek community, acceptance and normalisation. But if we are outside, then the provision of these things will not be a requirement of “trans-inclusive” spaces and processes - which in a society where non-binary people are fundamentally seen as “less real” than binary trans people, means they will take far longer to make an appearance. Classification has consequences, and the consequences of our choice on this question are very, very clear.