Story at a glance

  • As American society gradually becomes more inclusive of LGBTQ+ identities, more people are coming out “of the closet.”
  • There is very little data or research on the transgender and gender-nonconforming communities.
  • A new study reveals insights on the mental health, economic status and other experiences of the 1.2 million nonbinary Americans in the U.S.

While much of America is required to choose an identity of either male or female on legal documents, and even socially, a growing number of Americans are rejecting the gender binary altogether. The first study of its kind, a survey by the Williams Institute, has finally identified that number: 1.2 million. 

“That number says, ‘This is part of who you’re talking about when executive orders are signed to protect people against discrimination,’” Bianca Wilson, one of the study’s authors, told The Washington Post

Indeed, dozens of states across the country have introduced or even passed laws targeting transgender and gender-nonconforming youth in particular, who are particularly at risk for suicide. The study found that three-fourths of nonbinary adults are between the ages of 18 and 29 and most are white urban residents, but the privilege of publicly identifying as nonbinary and living at risk of discrimination means that other parts of the population may be underrepresented. 


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Many reported being abused or assaulted as children or adults, and the study found that 94 percent of nonbinary adults had considered suicide — with more than one-third actually attempting suicide.

“Research has shown that the stress from being a minority — stress from being a sexual and gender minority in particular — is related to psychological distress,” Wilson said. “And being nonbinary is a unique kind of gender minority experience because you are constantly surrounded by binary-identified people.”

Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic, which disproportionately affected the LGBTQ+ community and particularly LGBTQ+ communities of color, has exacerbated inequities and hardships for nonbinary Americans. 


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In order to address these and other issues facing the LGBTQ+ community, especially the nonbinary community, there’s still a lot more to understand. While the term nonbinary, which refers to all gender identities that fall outside the male/female gender binary, is relatively new, similar expressions of gender-nonconforming identities have existed for much of history. The limited research that does exist suggests that even these labels can be restricting and that the aim of decolonizing the gender binary of male and female is not to create another of cisgender and transgender. The growing population of these and other communities, however, makes the matter more urgent.

“Given data from large-scale youth surveys illustrating that 2-10% identify with gender minority labels, and many of them identified with gender nonbinary terms, both cisgender and transgender nonbinary subpopulations are likely to be a growing dimension of the LGBTQ population,” the researchers said in the study.


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Published on Jun 23, 2021