According to a new study released by The Trevor Project, nearly one in four LGBTQ+ youth identifies as nonbinary. Nonbinary is an umbrella term that refers to anyone whose gender identity does not conform to the traditional confines of being exclusively female or exclusively male.
Nonbinary gender identities are nothing new. Nonbinary people have existed and expressed themselves throughout human history, but in recent years public awareness has grown dramatically. A 2018 poll from Pew Research Center points out that 35% of young people, ages 13 to 21, know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns, and many states are now recognizing nonbinary identities on driver’s licenses and birth certificates.
As public awareness of nonbinary gender identities continues to grow, the complex composition of the community becomes more apparent. The report sheds light on the diverse array of identities contained beneath the nonbinary banner by identifying how nonbinary youths express themselves and the impact acceptance of their identity has on their mental health.
The Trevor Project collected the data for the study between October and December of 2020 from an online survey conducted via social media. Nearly 35,000 LGBTQ+ youth between the ages of 13–24 from across the United States responded. Race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity labels, and pronoun frequency data were calculated using a subsample of nonbinary respondents. One item regarding suicide attempts, was taken from the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
Nonbinary identities have commonly been grouped together under the term transgender. However, The Trevor Project report shows that only 50% of youth who identify as nonbinary also identify as transgender.
Jonah DeChants, Research Scientist for The Trevor Project, noted that “while there is certainly an overlap, youth understand ‘transgender’ and ‘nonbinary’ as distinct identity terms.” Another 20% of the respondents indicated that while they identify as nonbinary, they are unsure whether or not they are transgender, further solidifying the distinction between the two.
More than 70% of the respondents said they used the term nonbinary to describe their gender identity. But it was only one of many terms young people used to describe themselves. Twenty-nine percent identified as queer and 27% as gender non-conforming. Genderfluid, genderqueer, and androgynous identities accounted for about a quarter of respondents each. Some of the less reported but also popular gender identities included agender, demigirl, demiboy, genderflux and bigender.
“Young people are using a variety of language to describe the nuances of their gender identity outside of the binary construction of gender,” DeChants observed. “…you cannot assume one’s identity simply based on the pronouns they use.”
Other key takeaways from the survey include:
- Most of the young people surveyed used pronouns outside of the gender binary, such as “they/them” pronouns or neopronouns such as “xe/xem.” Though some did report using “they/them” in some combination with gendered pronouns. Neopronouns are words created to serve as pronouns without expressing gender.
- Identifying as nonbinary is relatively comparable across racial and ethnic lines, with 30% reporting multiracial backgrounds, 27% Native or Indigenous backgrounds, 25% Asian American and Pacific Islander, 25% Black, 25% White, and 23% Latinx.
- Most reported being multisexual or attracted to multiple genders. Twenty-eight percent identified as bisexual, 27% as pansexual, and 22% as queer. Less than 1% described their sexual orientation as straight.
Importance of Correct Names and Pronouns
When asked what others could do to make them feel happy or euphoric about their gender, the overwhelming number of respondents replied: having the people in their lives use the correct name and pronouns.
When young people who identify as nonbinary reported that “no one” respected their pronouns, they were two-and-a-half times more likely to attempt suicide compared to those who reported that “all or most of the people” they know respected their pronouns. Among those who didn’t have anyone in their life who respected their pronouns, more than a quarter attempted suicide in the past year. The rate dropped to 15% when “a lot of people” respected their pronouns and 10% when “all or most people” respected their pronouns.
“These findings emphasize the need for policies that affirm nonbinary youth in their identities,” DeChants said, “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. Being that something as simple as respecting pronouns can be life-saving, we must work to expand training and improve understanding of transgender and nonbinary identities among schools, medical facilities, and youth-serving organizations and adults.”
The Trevor Project is dedicated to ending suicide among all LGBTQ+ youth. Their Crisis Service programs and TrevorSpace are available 24/7 to ensure all nonbinary youth have a safe space where they can find support and be affirmed in their identity. To contact The Trevor Project or learn about the resources they have to offer visit their website.
The Trevor Project: The Trevor Project Research Brief
The Trevor Project: National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2021
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey
Pew Research Center: Gen Z Looks a Lot Like Millenials on Key Social and Political Issues