Beyond masculine and feminine

Here in the U.S., most of us grew up with the understanding that people are divided into just two genders--masculine/men and feminine/women.

Today, that understanding is changing to incorporate a concept of gender that is more flexible and fluid.

Researchers have begun to explore the broad spectrum of gender identities that people can have. These studies show that gender identities are not limited to boy/man or girl/woman. Gender identities can be a mix of feminine and masculine or some other gender identity; these identities are sometimes referred to as non-binary.

People with non-binary gender identities have existed throughout history, but western cultures like the US haven’t had a clear vocabulary to acknowledge and communicate them. That is beginning to change, as researchers learn more about the nature of gender identity and people with varying identities express themselves more openly.

One of the best-known examples of a third gender comes from south Asia, where the Hijras—who can be eunuchs, intersex, or transgender—have been an acknowledged part of recorded history since antiquity. While subject to discrimination for centuries, Hijras have now been formally recognized by the Indian Supreme Court as a distinct third gender, neither fully male nor fully female.

What about sexual identity? Gender identity is not the same thing as sexual identity. People with non-binary gender identities can fall anywhere on the spectrum of sexual identities—gay, straight, bisexual, or some other identity.

A recent article in the International Review of Psychiatry (2016) explores some of the non-binary gender identities that people can have. The list of terms might seem overwhelming at first, and that’s ok—you’ll have a chance to learn more about these identities as you continue to explore identiversity:

“Those people who incorporate aspects of both [masculine and feminine] but who have a fixed identity, may identify as ‘androgynous’, ‘mixed gender,’ or sometimes ‘pangender’ as the latter is a flexible term. In contrast, people who move between genders in a fluid way may identify as ‘bigender’, ‘gender fluid’ or sometimes ‘pangender’ again. Some people move between more than two genders and so identify as ‘trigender’, and sometimes ‘pangender’ as it is a flexible term. Some people identify as a specific additional gender (either between female and male or otherwise additional to those genders) and sometimes again as ‘pan-gender’.
Then there are those people who disrupt the gender dichotomy through challenging its very ontology and/or veracity and so identify as ‘genderqueer’ . . . And there are also people who have no gender and so identify as ‘agender’, ‘gender neutral’, ‘non-gendered’, ‘genderless’, ‘neuter’, or ‘neutroise’.” (Richards, et al., 2016)

Researchers have also begun to explore gender identity in the broader population, where they are finding that a lot of people think of themselves in ways that contradict binary notions of gender. Authors of a recent study in Israel (2013) based on “normative” individuals (not gender minorities), came to the following conclusion:

“Our results show that the current view of gender identity as binary and unitary does not reflect the gender experience of many ‘normative’ individuals. Replacing this view with a less dichotomous and more flexible and fluid view of gender identity, which better describes the experiences of ‘normative’ subjects, will also accommodate the experiences of transgender individuals and enable them to express their felt gender identity without having to be at risk of becoming socially unintelligible. We call for a new conceptualization of gender identity, which emphasizes and celebrates multiplicity and fluidity in the experience of gender identity.” (Joel, et al., 2013, p. 25)


Joel, D., Tarrasch, R., Berman, Z., Mukamel, M., & Ziv, E. (2013). Queering gender: Studying gender identity in ‘normative’ individuals. Psychology & Sexuality, 5(4), 291–321.

Khaleeli, H. (2014, April 16). Hijra: India's third gender claims its place in law. Guardian.

Richards, C., Boumanam, W.P., Sealb, L., Barker, M. J., Niederd, T.O., & T'Sjoene, G. (2016). Non-binary or genderqueer genders [Abstract]. International Review of Psychiatry, 28(1), 95-102.

Gender Identity Gender identity icon Our core sense of who we are as a man, a woman, a mixture of both, or neither.

Gender Expression Gender expression icon How we show up in the world through choices like clothing, hair style, mannerisms or tone of voice.

Attraction attraction icon How we feel toward others sexually, romantically and/or emotionally.

Biological Sex Biological sex icon Physical attributes such as reproductive organs and genitalia, chromosomes, genes and hormone levels.

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