1 in 4 LGBTQ youths identify as nonbinary, a new study finds. It's important to include them in the conversation, experts say

Steven Vargas
USA TODAY

About 1 in 4 LGBTQ youths identify as nonbinary, or someone who does not identify within the traditional gender dichotomy, a new study released on Tuesday finds. 

The Trevor Project, which published the research ahead of International Nonbinary People's Day on Wednesday, collected survey data between October and December of 2020 from almost 35,000 LGBTQ youth between the ages of 13 and 24 across the U.S. via social media. The data was used to identify how nonbinary youths express themselves and the impact identity has on their well-being.

According to the survey, which examines the diversity of nonbinary youths, about 20% of those surveyed reported that they were unsure or questioning if they are nonbinary.

“Young people are using a variety of language to describe the nuances of their gender identity outside of the binary construction of gender,” Jonah DeChants, a Research Scientist for The Trevor Project, said in a press release. “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.”

"Nonbinary" refers to someone who does not identify only as a man or a woman, i.e., the traditional gender binary, according to the Human Rights Campaign. They could identify as both a man and a woman, in between the two genders, or not a part of any gender category at all. GLAAD offers a similar definition and recommends calling someone nonbinary only if they claim that identity themselves.

Only half of those who identify as nonbinary also identify as transgender, according to the study. Even within the term "nonbinary," there is an umbrella of identity labels utilized by people to describes themselves, including "genderqueer" and "gender non-conforming," the study said.

'I can't separate my identities':For LGBTQ people of color, discrimination is worse, researchers say

'Go past Pride': Trans activists want the Biden administration to address ‘epidemic’ of violence

According to the study, 72% of the youths surveyed preferred the term nonbinary. Twenty-nine percent identified as queer and 27% identified as gender non-conforming. Genderfluid, genderqueer and androgynous identities accounted for about a quarter of respondents each. Of the less commonly reported, 15% identified as agender, 10% identified as demigirl, 8% identified as demiboy, 4% identified as genderflux and 4% identified as bigender, according to the study.

Other highlights from the survey: 

  • Most of the youths surveyed used pronouns outside of the gender binary, such as they/them pronouns and neopronouns such as xe/xer. Twenty-one percent reported using a combination of pronouns such as they/she/he.
  • Along racial lines, about a quarter of each racial group identified as nonbinary: 30% of multiracial youths, 27% of Native or Indigenous youths, 25% of Asian American and Pacific Islander youths, 25% of Black youths, 25% of white youths and 23% of Latino youths.
  • Of the nonbinary youths, most identified as multisexual or attracted to multiple genders. Twenty-eight percent identified as bisexual, 27% identified as pansexual and 22% identified as queer.

“It’s clear that nonbinary young people are not a monolith – they use a wide variety of labels and pronouns to express the nuances of their gender identities,” Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project, told USA TODAY. “Understanding this will help promote the acceptance and inclusion of nonbinary youth at every level of society.”

Paley said the study comes at a pivotal moment when state lawmakers have passed a record number of bills targeting trans and nonbinary youth.

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health suggested that those who reported “no one” respected their pronouns were 2.5 times more likely to have attempted suicide in the past year compared with those who had “all or most of the people” they know respected their pronouns.

“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,” DeChants said.

Related:LGBTQ students need inclusive sex ed – but less than 10% in US are receiving it, report says

More stars are identifying as nonbinary:What does that mean?

The study also found that nonbinary youths overwhelmingly said what makes them feel happy or euphoric about their gender was having people in their life use their correct name and pronouns.  

One respondent shared in the study that it made them “happy cry” and another shared how friends would use the term “thude” or “a mix of they and dude” as a more inclusive way of being referred to. 

“It’s important to raise awareness about concerning statistics that underscore the severity of LGBTQ youth suicide because it is a public health crisis that demands urgent action,” Paley said. “But it’s equally important to underscore what works to prevent suicide and how young people find joy and strength every day in order to help us save young lives.”

Contributing: David Oliver, USA TODAY