“Agender” and “nonbinary” are terms that may describe a person’s experience of gender. They are often confused but have different definitions.
Your gender identity is your personal sense of your own gender.
Some people find that their gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth (typically male or female), which means they are cisgender. Others find that their gender does not align with their sex, which means they are transgender or nonbinary.
“Nonbinary” and “agender” — two identity terms that fall under the transgender umbrella — describe different experiences of gender:
- Nonbinary. This means that your gender identity falls outside of the gender binary. You see yourself as neither exclusively a man nor a woman.
- Agender. This means that you see yourself as having no gender identity, or a lack of gender. Agender identities fall under the nonbinary umbrella.
There are many gender identity terms. Some have overlapping definitions, so it can be tricky to know which terms to use. Finding a gender identity that feels right to you can be incredibly rewarding.
The gender binary is the idea that there are two separate genders: man and woman.
The idea of binary genders is dominant in Western societies, which is why people address groups as “ladies and gentlemen,” and why you usually see only two gender marker options on official forms.
However, across many cultures, people have gender identities that fall outside of this binary, such as two-spirit people in North American Navajo cultures and Hijras in South Asia.
“Nonbinary” is a term that can be used by anyone whose gender falls outside of the gender binary. People who identify as nonbinary don’t identify as only men or only women. Some nonbinary people use the term “enby,” a shortened form of nonbinary.
Nonbinary means different things to different people. Nonbinary people can experience gender in a variety of ways, including:
- a combination of man and woman
- neither man nor woman
- something else
Nonbinary identities fall under the transgender umbrella. By definition, the term “transgender” means that your gender identity is not the same as the sex you were assigned at birth.
Some nonbinary people consider themselves transgender while others do not describe themselves in that way. It’s up to each person to determine which labels they’d like to use. It’s really a matter of personal identity.
The term “agender” means you don’t identify with any particular gender or see yourself as having no gender identity. Some people describe being agender as having a lack of gender, or being gender-neutral.
Agender identities fall under the nonbinary and transgender umbrellas.
That said, not all agender people identify as nonbinary. Some people argue that agender identities aren’t truly nonbinary gender identities because they describe a lack of gender identity rather than a gender identity that is outside the man-woman gender binary.
Again, it’s up to you to decide which terms apply to you. Some people identify exclusively as agender, and others identify as both agender and nonbinary.
Other terms that describe the agender experience include:
Are sex and gender the same thing?
People often use the terms “sex” and “gender” interchangeably, but they have different meanings:
- Sex refers to the physical characteristics that differentiate male, female, and intersex bodies.
- Gender refers to a person’s identity and how they feel inside. Examples include man, woman, nonbinary, and agender. A person’s gender identity may be different from the sex they were assigned at birth.
“Nonbinary” is a term used to describe a gender identity that doesn’t fit into the man-woman gender binary. A person who uses the term “agender” sees themselves as having no gender identity.
Though nonbinary and agender identities are similar, the term “nonbinary” is broader and can describe other gender identities outside of agender.
Since everybody’s individual experience of their own identity is personal, there’s no way to quantify the number of gender identities in the world.
Some popular terms are useful for describing nonbinary identities. It’s up to you whether you want to use one, many, or none of them.
Nonbinary identities include:
- Androgyne: a person whose gender identity has both masculine and feminine characteristics
- Bigender: someone who identifies with two discrete genders
- Demigender: someone who identifies partly as a man, boy, or masculine (demiboy) or partly as a woman or feminine (demigirl)
- Genderqueer: people who experience their gender as neither exclusively man nor woman, which can encompass many other nonbinary identities
- Genderfluid or genderflux: a person whose gender identity changes over time
- Graygender: someone who feels ambivalent about their gender identity
- Pangender or polygender: someone who experiences all, or many, gender identities either at the same time or over time
Gender identity differs from gender expression. Knowing someone’s gender identity doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about their gender expression or vice versa.
While gender identity refers to your personal sense of self, gender expression is the way you express your gender identity or present yourself to the world. Your gender expression might match your gender identity — or it might not.
In other words, you can’t tell how someone identifies just from the way they dress or act, or the roles they take on.
Nonbinary and agender people can use any pronouns they wish. While the pronouns they/them/their are commonly associated with nonbinary identities, people might use other pronouns or multiple pronouns.
Simply put, nonbinary and agender people can use any pronouns that feel right. Many nonbinary and agender people use the pronouns she/her/hers or he/him/his.
There are other pronouns that someone might use. These can include:
Some people may prefer to use a mix of pronouns, such as she/they. Some people change the pronouns they use over time.
If you’re unsure which pronouns someone uses, consider asking them politely and without judgment.
Many people believe that agender people fall under the nonbinary umbrella. While some agender people consider themselves nonbinary, others do not. It’s up to you to decide how you’d like to describe your gender identity.
No matter how someone identifies, they deserve to have their gender identity respected. This includes using the correct pronouns for them. Healthline has a helpful guide on talking with transgender people in a respectful way.
If you’re nonbinary, agender, or both and you need mental health support, Psych Central has a guide to trans-friendly support hotlines.
Want to learn more? Some useful resources include:
- “64 Terms That Describe Gender Identity and Expression“
- “How to Support Your Child Exploring Their Gender Identity“
- PFLAG: Nonbinary Resources
- The Trevor Project: A Guide to Being an Ally to Transgender and Nonbinary Youth
- GLAAD Transgender Resources
- All Your Questions About Gender Neutral Pronouns Answered