Just in time for International Nonbinary People’s Day, on July 14, the Trevor Project has released a report with new research on nonbinary youth. This latest brief uses data from the organization’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, which aimed to capture the experiences of 35,000 young people ages 13-24. The research finds that 26% — about one in four — of LGBTQ youth in America identify as nonbinary. An additional 20% of LGBTQ young people reported that they are not sure or are questioning if they are nonbinary.
The nonbinary community has gained considerable visibility within the past few years, as numerous celebrities have come out as nonbinary, most recently Demi Lovato and Elliot Page. Despite more visibility and public awareness, the nonbinary community, their identities, and the term itself are still widely misunderstood.
According to the Trevor Project’s definition, nonbinary “is a term used to describe people whose gender identity does not fit within the traditional construction of gender as a binary choice between exclusively male or exclusively female.” As nonbinary creative Jennalynn Fung writes, “Being nonbinary is not a ‘third gender,’ but a stance and viewpoint that gender is a spectrum.”
Nonbinary identities have typically been grouped under the umbrella term of “transgender” (which can refer to other identities beyond the gender binary), though the Trevor Project’s new research shows that only 50% of LGBTQ youth who identified as nonbinary also identified as transgender. It’s also important to note that the study’s rates of youth identifying as nonbinary were relatively comparable across races, ethnicities, and age groups, showing that nonbinary identities emerge regardless of someone’s background.
“Young people are using a variety of language to describe the nuances of their gender identity outside of the binary construction of gender,” said Jonah DeChants, research scientist for the Trevor Project, in a statement. “These data emphasize that, while there is certainly an overlap, youth understand ‘transgender’ and ‘nonbinary’ as distinct identity terms — and you cannot assume one’s identity simply based on the pronouns they use.”
The majority of nonbinary young people reported using pronouns outside of the gender binary, such as “they/them.” When surveyed on ways in which other people in their lives can make them feel happy about their gender, the overwhelming response was using “the correct name and pronouns to refer to them.”
Using the correct pronouns can make nonbinary young people feel supported, affirmed, and positive about themselves — something that the research shows actually makes an impact on their lives. Nonbinary youth who reported that “no one” respected their pronouns had more than two and a half times the rate of attempting suicide compared with those who reported that “all or most of the people” they know respected their pronouns.
“These findings emphasize the need for policies that affirm nonbinary youth in their identities, such as respecting their pronouns and allowing them to change their name and gender marker on legal documents like driver’s licenses and birth certificates,” DeChants stated.
According to the Movement Advancement Project, 42% of the American LGBTQ population currently live in states that allow their residents to choose a nonbinary identity marker on their driver’s license. Yet, just this year, more than 100 bills have been introduced directly targeting the rights of transgender people, jeopardizing the well-being of transgender and nonbinary youth across America. Some bills propose the prohibition of trans health care, while others criminalize trans youth for participation in school sports based on their gender identity or entirely forbid them from participating. The Trevor Project’s affirming new research arrives at a time when the urgency for trans and nonbinary visibility has reached a new high.
“Being that something as simple as respecting pronouns can be lifesaving, we must work to expand training and improve understanding of transgender and nonbinary identities among schools, medical facilities, and youth-serving organizations and adults.”
International Nonbinary People’s Day, a day dedicated to the global celebration of the nonbinary community, is observed annually on July 14.
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