Non-binary people who aren’t trans

As it says on the sidebar, one of my most important activist projects has been analysis of ace community demographics. More specifically, I volunteer expertise for the AVEN Community Census. As far as activism goes, it isn’t as glamorous as blogging, but IMHO the glamour of survey analysis is way underrated.

Anyway, let’s talk about the results on gender from 2014:

gender history

This figure was originally published here, but I made a slight revision. The width of each line is proportional to the percentage of the ace community. The color of each line indicates how many people in that subgroup identify as trans or unsure. “Other” refers to people who indicated that they were neither men nor women, but throughout this post I will refer to this group as non-binary.*

Within this figure is a cross-section trans politics. The biggest surprise to me was how few non-binary people identify as trans. But I should first offer brief comments about other features of the data.

  • The most obvious result is that women and non-binary people greatly outnumber men. We don’t know why this is, but the result has been consistent across ace community surveys. It doesn’t necessarily mean that asexuals are most likely to be women, and could merely say something about ace communities in their current manifestation.
  • Among non-binary people, AFAB (assigned female at birth) people greatly outnumber AMAB (assigned male at birth) people. This suggests that whatever is causing the gender imbalance in ace communities is more strongly correlated with assigned sex rather than gender per se.
  • Many women who were AMAB do not identify as trans. Speculation: I know it’s a thing for some women to identify as transsexual rather than transgender, because they are able to transition so fully that it becomes a non-issue in their lives. This is a subject of some controversy, as other transgender people complain that transsexual women are just trying to avoid association with the rest of the transgender umbrella.
  • A small number of people identify as trans despite indicating that their genders match their assigned sex at birth.

Readers are invited to speculate about any of these observations, although please note that open transphobia is against my comment policy, and will be deleted in favor of more productive discussion.

Now, back to the single observation that most surprised me: most non-binary people in our survey do not identify as trans.

There are, of course, multiple definitions of “trans”, but the one I most accept is “someone whose gender does not match the sex assigned at birth”. I would go so far as to say that I advocate this definition, in opposition to the others. But advocating a particular definition becomes rather thorny when I am a cisgender person, and when many non-binary people apparently disagree with me. Surely I should never tell non-binary people that their preferred identity terms are wrong.

On the other hand, perhaps some non-binary people want to identify as trans, but choose not to because of identity policing (i.e. other people complain when they identify as trans). If that is the case, then by advocating a broader definition of “transgender”, I am helping non-binary people by taking a stance against identity policing. Of course, in the process, I should still respect the preferred identity terms of non-binary people.

So all of this depends on how non-binary people see it. And so I’ve (politely) asked nonbinary people for their thoughts on a few occasions.

Some of the first answers I got were that “trans” connotes transition, a moving from one side to another. Non-binary people don’t necessarily see themselves that way, so they prefer not to identify as trans.

Later, I asked the same question on Tumblr, and it was funny how different the answers were. Most people said that the problem was identity policing. They regularly saw messages from binary trans people that non-binary people weren’t welcome. They were told that non-binary people were mostly just kids following the newest trend. Tumblr has a reputation for being an SJW haven but in reality it can be so vicious.

The ironic part is that among people who don’t match their assigned genders, the largest groups (AMAB women and AFAB nonbinary people) are precisely the same groups that are least likely to identify as trans. I don’t know what that says exactly, but I’m tentatively facepalming.

So, uh, clearly there are multiple reasons why some non-binary people don’t identify as trans. To any non-binary readers, why do you think many non-binary people don’t identify as trans?

*BTW I’m aware that most trans people consider their gender to have been the gender they always were.  Thus sex assigned at birth is not really part of their “gender history”, but rather, part of a history of being assigned the wrong gender.  I’m not really sure how else to title the graph though.


  1. Siobhan says

    I’ll say that it’s a fantastic graph, speaking as a binary AMAB trans woman who freely and openly identifies as trans. I consider most of your speculative hypothesis to be very plausible. I also advocate for your definition of trans, but share the problem in that I am binary. One of the great difficulties in actually confirming trends in gender variant communities is the obstinate refusal to include trans identifiers in surveys, so I appreciate your work.

    other transgender people complain that transsexual women are just trying to avoid association with the rest of the transgender umbrella.

    That’s definitely a thing. Also a fun one to try and measure. Some trans women who leave the community go so deep stealth they won’t even admit in confidence they were AMAB, and the only reason that’s ever even known about them is because the community knew them before/while they were transitioning. I don’t blame trans women for going stealth considering the tremendous cost of transmisogyny, but it does make discovery of trans trends more difficult.

    A small number of people identify as trans despite indicating that their genders match their assigned sex at birth.

    Maybe cross-dressers? Cross-dressers are often included in the gender variant umbrella. Whether or not I agree with that is another debate, but it could be that those cis folk associating with the trans umbrella are the ones who consider cross-dressing one of the components within the “trans” group. It could also be people who don’t feel they have asserted their gender identity and are closeted or early in their transition. Or they could be questioning–the graphic seems to lack an identifier for questioning.

    Most people said that the problem was identity policing. They regularly saw messages from binary trans people that non-binary people weren’t welcome. They were told that non-binary people were mostly just kids following the newest trend.

    Also definitely a thing. I know a few enbies who’ve shared stories of hostility from binary trans folk, being told that they discredited the trans movement. I’m with the enbies on this one: Cisnormative heterosexists are tripping over themselves to find any reason to discredit trans people, I’m not going to scapegoat enbies for that.

    As for AMAB women disassociating from the trans identifier, I credit the tremendous cost of transmisogyny for that. I disagree that refusing to identify as trans will actually reduce transmisogyny, but it is a brutally dangerous intersection to occupy (triply so for transmisogynoir), and I see out-grouping other trans people as a survival strategy (if an ineffective one).

  2. The Mellow Monkey says

    I’m trans and non-binary, but unless I make a big deal about the trans part it’s usually erased by fellow trans people. The enby part often is as well, though. Much like there are biphobic assumptions that if someone isn’t constantly taking partners of different genders, there is also a binarist assumption (from both cis and trans people) that if an enby’s presentation isn’t deemed a suitable mix of masculine and feminine (and who gets to decide what those even are?), they’re really just a cis person playing special snowflake.

    We’re all–whether trans or cis, binary or non–steeped in a cisheteronormative stew of ideas from the moment we’re born. Any of us can have the biases of a binary cis person and labor under them or project them onto others. I’m sure there are plenty of biases on this topic I’m still laboring under.

    I’m not non-binary because I like dresses but I also like growing facial hair, but you wouldn’t know that to listen to some binary people. I’m trans because my identity doesn’t match what I was assigned at birth and I’m non-binary because my identity is outside of the binary. It seems straight-forward enough to me, but clearly isn’t to all. So, at times, I may drop the trans identifier because I don’t want to go through the hurt and tears all over again of being told my identity is wrong.

  3. Emily (luvtheheaven) says

    So “enby” and “enbies” is slang spelling online for NB and NBs (a non-binary person or plural, non-binary people)? I didn’t really realize that until reading this comment thread.

    Thank you for the graph, Siggy!

  4. The Mellow Monkey says

    Emily, yep. Not all non-binary people use it, so I wouldn’t suggest using it for a specific person unless you know they prefer it, but for some us it’s much more comfortable than a big descriptive phrase. I’m happy to be an enby!

  5. AMM says

    I also consider myself non-binary, in my case because I don’t identify as any gender. I’m AMAB and I’m presenting (well, trying to present) as female, so I usually label myself “non-binary trans woman,” but I’ve never thought of myself as either a man or a woman (other than anatomically) and have felt oppressed by society’s insistence on stuffing people into gender boxes. I get along with binary trans people, but I’ve noticed that when I’m in larger groups with a mix of binary and non-binary trans people, it’s the non-binary people (of whatever flavor) that I feel most at home with.

    I describe myself as trans — since I’m going to be rather obviously living as a gender different from what I was assigned at birth, and I’m not planning to move away from everyone I know, it seems pointless to argue that I’m not.

    I’ve been wondering lately if I should label myself as ace. I’d never thought of myself as asexual, but when I described my feelings about sex to my therapist, she said the word for it was “demisexual,” which I learned is on the asexual spectrum. (Actually, I’ve realized I don’t know if I even know what sexual attraction feels like. I’ve always assumed I like sex, but since the part I remember is always the cuddling and closeness, I might actually be fully ace. This stuff is so confusing!)

    So maybe I fit on your chart, maybe not.

  6. Vivec says

    I’m agender and ID as trans both bc I don’t identify with my assigned gender, and also because I want to transition (although the kind of surgery/transitioning I want doesn’t seem to be a thing yet. )

    That being said, I don’t generally talk about being trans, bc people assume I want to transition to some binary gender when I would ideally prefer physical neutrality.

    (( Suffice to say, androgynous robot characters and media with people going into genderless robot bodies a la chappie are some of my favorites ))

  7. says

    One of the things I wonder is whether there are differences among nonbinary people depending on their specific identity – for example, do people who ID specifically as “agender” differ from those who ID as, say, “genderqueer” in terms of whether they consider themselves trans?

    I still categorize myself as basically cis-female, despite having agender-aligned genderfeels, so I’m not necessarily part of the specific demographic being discussed here, but in conversation with other folks who fall into the “not really identifying as their assigned gender, but not necessarily identifying with any other gender identity” side of things (which includes a lot of agender people) it seems (anecdotally, at least) much more common to not feel completely comfortable with “trans” either – after all, “someone whose gender does not match the sex assigned at birth” still implies having a gender in the first place!

    (Maybe I’ll try and run those numbers myself soon…)

  8. says

    I’m with the “trans connotes transition” people — I just don’t know how meaningful it is to call someone trans if they, e.g., identify as agender but are comfortable in their body, have a gender presentation typical of their assigned gender and don’t mind being read as that gender, etc. I tentatively identify as nonbinary, but I wouldn’t consider myself trans until and unless I decide to take some definite step toward some form of physical or social transition (there are things I’d like to do, but it’s still an open question whether the tradeoffs in terms of money, social penalties etc. are worth it to me).

    One of the things I wonder is whether there are differences among nonbinary people depending on their specific identity – for example, do people who ID specifically as “agender” differ from those who ID as, say, “genderqueer” in terms of whether they consider themselves trans?

    I have read that, at least historically, people who ID as nonbinary are more likely to consider themselves trans than people who ID as genderqueer. No idea whether that’s still true, though.

  9. says

    @Akili Kuwale
    Another part of the survey asks non-binary people to choose the term that best describes them (i.e. genderqueer, neutrois, agender, etc.). My analysis supports the hypothesis that people who identify as nonbinary are more likely to consider themselves trans.

  10. Vivec says

    I just don’t know how meaningful it is to call someone trans

    I don’t see why the matter of their personal identification needs to necessarily be “meaningful” the way you’re implying. If they’re uncomfortable enough with their birth assignment to identify themselves in a different way, I think that’s meaningful enough.

    I’m probably never going to actively seek social or physical transitioning, because the former isn’t feasible for my appearance and the ideal form of physical transitioning for me doesn’t exist. That being said, I still ID as trans.

  11. says

    @Vivec – I just think it’s useful to have a term specifically meaning “people who transition” — historically “transsexual” has been that word (in contrast to the broader “transgender umbrella”, which could include literally anyone who decided to identify with it for any reason), but the former term has become increasingly unpopular and the two meanings have essentially been merged into one under the word “trans”.

    But I think it’s useful for people who transition to have a word that’s specific to them and their experiences, and that’s separate from the concept of “literally anyone who’s gender-nonconforming in any way”, and I think it makes sense for “trans” to be that word. I’m not going to police anyone who uses it differently, but that’s how I will use it when defining my own identity.

  12. says

    I’m glad you distinguish transsexual and transgender. I thought the latter was taking the room of the former as an euphemism, when they are different word with different meanings, in the same way “sex” and “gender” are. Maybe we need a concept of “intergender” (for want of a better word) for those whose gender is too far from their birth sex for being cisgender but too far from the opposite sex in the binary for being transgender, in the same way we have the word “intersex.” Otherwise, I get the same feeling as when bisexuals were classified as heterosexuals or homosexuals according to binarist criteria.

  13. says

    Data point: I remember hearing briefly from a nonbinary person on why they themselves don’t ID as trans. Not sure I understood them correctly, since I didn’t press for elaboration, but the impression I have is — words aren’t just associated with technical definitions, but with *narratives.* And so someone can be “technically” trans (by the definition endorsed in this post) but still feel like their life/story arc/identity doesn’t “look” like a trans narrative, so trans still doesn’t belong to them. The transgender umbrella is very big and covers so much, it can feel like a stretch to use one word for it all.

    Data point: I also remember seeing at least one trans woman talking about “trans as an identity label vs. trans as a material reality,” which sounded like it was also talking about this kind of distinction — basically between the experience of “internally not IDing with your assigned gender” and “externally being disenfranchised by the most focused antitrans violence,” or something like that.

    It’s a sticky issue.

  14. Vivec says

    I don’t think, even under the “person who doesn’t identify with their assigned gender” definition of trans, it would include “literally anyone who’s gender-nonconforming in any way.”

    Cis crossdressers are still cis.

  15. says

    I was referring to the original meaning of “transgender” (or at least, the meaning it had when it first became popular I think in the 90’s) which referred more to gender nonconformity than to gender identity. But my point is that I feel like trans is more useful as a word describing a certain collection of experiences than a collection of identities (or at least, that I think there should be a word to describe those experiences, and that right now “trans” seems like the most convenient word to use for the purpose; I’d be willing to accept a different word, though). I don’t see much significant difference between the experience of someone who crossdresses sometimes but identifies as cis and that of someone who identifies as genderfluid and presents as their assigned gender sometimes and as the opposite gender at other times. But I also don’t believe there’s an objectively-existing immutable thing in the brain called a “gender identity” that everyone is born with and that cleanly separates the cis people from the trans people. I think gender identification is made up of a collection of feelings people have about their physical body and their relationship to the social construct of gender as it exists in their culture and social milieu — so, in the case of someone who doesn’t experience severe physical dysphoria, their decision of whether to identify with their assigned gender or not can be fairly arbitrary (or at least based more on their personal ideology about What Gender Means than on anything inherent to their mind or personality). That doesn’t mean this identification shouldn’t be respected — just that it seems to me like a less significant/consequential difference than the decision of whether to transition or not, which is why I think that a word marking the latter distinction is more useful and important to have.

    I’ve just written a longer post about this here.

  16. Vivec says

    This is where I flounce out of this conversation, because I have no interest in talking with someone that would label me cis just because I’m not seeking to legally or medically transition.

  17. says

    The distinction between transsexual and transgender is a distinction I was observing, and not, in fact, a distinction I endorse. I don’t have much of an opinion on the merits of the distinction, but when people emphasize the distinction it can often be a red flag. There are transsexual groups out there who make the distinction precisely because they don’t care for non-binary people or crossdressers.

    @Akili Kuwale
    In the OP, the definition of “trans” that I provided was “someone whose gender does not match the sex assigned at birth”. Therefore, I find it strange that the only two definitions you can think of are “people who transition” and “literally anyone who’s gender-nonconforming in any way”. There’s at least one other definition right there. The way you put it, it sounds like you think my definition lets “literally anyone” be trans–by implication, even the people who don’t rightly deserve it.

  18. says

    Also, @Akili,
    My main reaction to your theorizing is, “Nice hypothesis there. Be a shame if someone were to test it.” This survey doesn’t have data on who transitions (transitioning being such a complicated thing that it would be impossible to ask a simple question about it), but I highly doubt there would be a one-to-one correspondence between transitioning and trans identity. If you’re proposing a descriptive theory, I think you’re probably wrong. If you’re proposing a normative theory, own up to it and stop it.

  19. says

    I do think that definition lets literally anyone be defined as trans, pretty much. Which is fine, but then I think we need a different word for “people who transition” because I feel like that’s a meaningful category of people that the word “transsexual” used to describe and that doesn’t have a convenient descriptive term anymore. It’s not a matter of who “rightly deserves” what; it’s just a matter of wanting to have the language available to describe certain kinds of experiences. I think having general, fuzzily-defined terms that include anyone who wants to be included — like “nonbinary” or “gender-nonconforming” — is good; but in some contexts it can be useful to have more specific terms too.

  20. says

    I highly doubt there would be a one-to-one correspondence between transitioning and trans identity.

    Well, obviously not; that’s the exact thing I’m complaining about. I’m not sure what you mean by “normative theory”, but if you mean that I don’t really like the way some people are currently using the word “trans”, then… yes? I thought it was obvious that’s what I was saying? People are using language in a way that seems un-useful and inconvenient to me, and it bugs me. Obviously I can’t actually do anything about it, except try to use words in ways that both make sense to me and hopefully won’t confuse too many people. You asked why some nonbinary people don’t call themselves trans, and my answer is: because I think the word “trans” is more useful when it’s applied to a narrower subset of people. I also don’t think this is taking anything away from non-transitioning nonbinary people, because we already have other words to describe ourselves (like “nonbinary” itself). We don’t need “trans” too.

  21. says

    “I do think that definition lets literally anyone be defined as trans”
    No, clearly not. I am not satisfied with the level of the discussion you’re contributing, and ask that you carry it elsewhere.

  22. Vivec says

    Flouncing back in to point out the repeated assertion that “Transsexual” generally fits the definition they’re looking for, and the insistence to – rather than use an existing term that they acknowledge is mostly correct – redefine “trans” in a way that would inherently deny the identity of others.

    “Yes, I know this meal is exactly what I ordered, but I’d rather have that person’s over there. I know it’s not quite what I ordered, but I want it because reasons.”

    Not to mention the whole problem of people like me, who would seek to transition socially/legally/physically if such a process existed, but cannot. Under the proposed redefinition, I’d count as cis, despite heavy dysphoria and the desire to transition.

  23. seachange says

    The crossdressers I know are happy with their birth-assigned gender, every single one of them. They are pleased with their particular kink and wish to comfortably do so in public. What they may say or do to be able to be with transfolk and do their ‘thing’ in a group who may enjoy their skill at it, or enjoy their fabulous clothes (even though they may NOT be skilled at it and know that they aren’t) or who may simply not be interested in violence in response to it, this is just a white lie to them. Most choose to not say anything and only comment if pressed, they’re not trying to be impolite or lie or anything. Based on my experience, you shouldn’t expect them to ID as anything other than their assigned gender if push comes to shove. [br]

    I’m non-binary, and it didn’t even occur to me that I couldn’t or wouldn’t claim transgender. It was first hard for me to even grok that you couldn’t just perform whatever gender you wanted whenever you wanted back and forth, that was decades of confusion on my part. Not everyone matches their gender exactly, and the definition of gender seems to change with time and some flowed along with it and were superhip and some stuck with whatever def they liked at some time in their life and just didn’t bother or deliberately chose not to change along with society. I thought people just wanted to vary here and there just like I did. (pretty silly, right? What a dumb kid I was) [p]

    Once it occurred to me that there were binary folks who really couldn’t be anything else, I was all ‘yeah, OK transgender is what I am. I’m a weird one yeah, in that I see surgery as a dangerous risk and most human bodies are beautiful whatever form they’re in, and mine’s one of those’. [p]

    It’s nice to belong to groups, we’re all human after all. But I don’t insist on it, so if any particular trans group/person wishes to tell me I’m not I’m all *shrug*. My experience is that some transfolk are expecting my position to be not-real and a disingenuous attack and that I’m telling them that they should be like me. I try hard to behave in such a way to specify I’m not, but in the end folks will believe what they believe. Is it damning that I don’t care, when it applies to me? I dunno. Just like I could not imagine a person finding their assigned gender particularly compelling, I think they find it equally hard that someone doesn’t.

  24. says

    i’m late to the party, but feel like commenting anyway.
    as someone who identifies as non-binary but not trans and has vocally identified as such for years, i can’t help but find the results of this survey surprising. back in 2012 – 2013, i distinctly remember being met with various levels of bewilderment whenever i told a trans-identified person (binary or non-binary) that i identified as non-binary but not trans. a great deal of these reactions happened in the gender forum on AVEN as this was prior to me using Tumblr, which is part of why i find this AVEN survey from 2014 especially surprising. when i made a vlog about my non-binary identity (which included talk of how i explicitly do not identify as trans) in 2013, it was met with a lot of positive responses from other non-binary people who left comments saying that they’d never come across someone ‘divorcing’ non-binary identity from trans identity in the way that i was but that what i’d said resonated with them. that, or they identified with both non-binary and trans but understood and respected where i was coming from.
    …at the time it felt like i was doing something radical by being vocal about identifying as non-binary but not trans and now this survey that came out a year later suggests that i was far from alone by 2014? ah, the feels…! *wipes away fake tear* either way, it feels like there’s been a shift in the non-binary community… a growing number of non-binary people are not identifying as trans and i’m curious as to what triggered that shift.
    my personal reason for not identifying as trans has pretty much remained the same over the years, even though my feels about certain things commonly tied to trans identity have changed. i disidentify with trans as an identity because of the implied movement or crossing from one gender to another. i also disidentify with the term “transition” for similar reasons, even though i will pursue things that many people class as “transition”. there are other minor reasons, but that’s the main reason that has remained unchanging for me over the years. some would say that it’s ridiculous for me to get ‘hung up’ on semantics like that. i’d say it’s more than semantics, but also so what if it is just semantics? i couldn’t care less either way.

  25. says


    …at the time it felt like i was doing something radical by being vocal about identifying as non-binary but not trans and now this survey that came out a year later suggests that i was far from alone by 2014?

    One of the most rewarding things about doing the survey is when we find out how common something is that used to leave people feeling isolated. Perhaps you remember some years back when people realized that repulsed aces weren’t some tiny minority of the community, but make up about half.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *