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Resources, Important Facts For Kids And Parents: Understanding Nonbinary Identities

A bookshelf packed with children's books. (Catherine McQueen/Getty Images)
A bookshelf packed with children's books. (Catherine McQueen/Getty Images)

Editor's Note: Kimm Topping and Jeff Perrotti with the Massachusetts Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students provided assistance with this post.


Here are some common questions and answers about nonbinary identities. Below, there are also links to resource pages if you would like to read more, as well as book suggestions for all ages.

What does it mean to identify as nonbinary?

Nonbinary is a term used by people who identify as not strictly male or female, but instead fall somewhere else on the gender spectrum. Some may describe themselves as a combination of masculine and feminine, or as in-between these categories and some identify with neither. Genderqueer, gender expansive, gender fluid, gender non-conforming and agender are some of the other terms used by people who do not consider their gender to be binary.

What's the difference between nonbinary and transgender?

Some nonbinary people see themselves as part of the trans community and others do not. For them, nonbinary is a distinct gender identity. Transgender describes someone whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. Cisgender describes people whose gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth.

What pronouns do nonbinary people use?

Nonbinary people may use many different pronouns. This could include “they, them and theirs." Some use more than one set of pronouns. If in doubt, you might ask and share your own pronouns. For some nonbinary people it's a sign of respect to ask but don't press if the person seems reluctant.

How many people in the U.S. are nonbinary?

We haven’t seen numbers for U.S. residents overall but a 2015 survey of people who identify as transgender conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality found that 35% of nearly 28,000 respondents identify as either nonbinary or genderqueer. A 2019 poll found that 18% of Americans know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns.

In Massachusetts, data collected from school districts shows 478 students have requested a nonbinary gender designation (N) on school records. This is surely an underestimate. There are several reasons for this, including that many students and schools are still learning that this gender marker is an option, or may not feel comfortable requesting the designation.

Does being nonbinary relate to a person's sexual orientation?

No. People who are nonbinary may identify with any sexual orientation.

Do people who identify as nonbinary look or dress androgynous?

Sometimes. Nonbinary people can express their gender in any way they choose. There is no single way to be nonbinary.

Do nonbinary children, adolescents and adults seek any particular medical care in regards to their gender?

Nonbinary children may decide to use hormone blockers to delay the onset of puberty. In later years, some nonbinary people may use hormone treatment or surgery as they pursue a medical transition. A few states are advancing bills that would ban this care for transgender and nonbinary people.

Are there restrictions on participating in sports for nonbinary athletes?

In Massachusetts, transgender and nonbinary elementary and secondary students have the right (though are not required) to play on teams consistent with their gender identity. The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Associations says "students are not permitted to try out simultaneously for MIAA sports teams of both genders."

In a wave of legislative actions, three states have passed laws this year that require students to play on teams consistent with their sex assigned at birth. For college students, the NCAA says athletes can play on teams consistent with their gender identity.

Are there restrictions on the bathrooms or changing rooms that nonbinary people can use? What protections do they have?

Forty-four states and Washington, D.C., bar discrimination in public accommodations that is based on a person's sex. This includes spaces like bathrooms. Eighteen of those states, including Massachusetts, have laws with specific transgender protections.


Additional Resources

Books For Children

  • Jamie is Jamie by Afsaneh Moradian
  • Neither by Airlie Anderson
  • It Feels Good to Be Yourself by Theresa Thorn
  • Who are You? The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity by Brook Pessin-Whedbee
  • When Aidan Became A Brother by Kyle Lukoff
  • Introducing Teddy by Jessica Walton
  • My Rainbow by Trinity Neal and DeShanna Neal
  • Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima
  • Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall
  • They, She, He, Me: Free to Be! by Maya Christina Gonzalez and Matthew SG

Books For Adolescents

  • Beyond the Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon
  • King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender
  • Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Books For Adults

  • The Gender Creative Child by Diane Ehrensaft
  • Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by C. Riley Snorton
  • Histories of the Transgender Child by Julian Gill-Peterson
  • A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson
  • Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son by Lori Duron
  • Raising Ryland by Hillary Whittington
  • Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt
  • The Transgender Teen by Stephanie A. Brill and Lisa Kenney
  • The Transgender Child by Stephanie A. Brill and Rachel Pepper
  • Raising the Transgender Child by Michele Angello and Alisa Bowman

Resource Websites

This article was originally published on April 01, 2021.

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Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.

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