A Quick Guide for Non-binary Dating
The world of dating can be a bit different for non-binary people than it is for cis or binary trans people (defined below). This guide covers Dating a Non-binary Person and Dating While Non-binary and can be used as a quick reference for your dating life, whether you’re non-binary yourself or cis and dating someone who is.
First off: what is non-binary? And some very quick gender basics
Non-binary is a spectrum of gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or exclusively feminine—identities that are outside the gender binary.
Non-binary people may identify as having two or more genders (being bigender or trigender); having no gender (agender, nongendered, genderless, genderfree or neutrois); moving between genders or having a fluctuating gender identity (genderfluid); being third gender or other-gendered (a category that includes those who do not place a name to their gender). Another way to refer to a non-binary person is an “enby” (pronounced NB).
Transgender or trans people are people do not identify at the gender they were assigned at birth. Non-binary falls under the trans umbrella. Not all people who are non-binary also call themselves trans, but many do.
Cisgender or cis means identifying as the gender you were assigned/ assumed to be at birth. AMAB/AFAB means assigned male at birth and assigned female at birth, respectively.
Dating a Non-binary Person
Society is very binary! From the time we are babies, we are surrounded by gendered clothing, toys, language, and ideology. As you get to know your non-binary partner, you may start to notice all the ways society sections things off as male or female, and how human behavior is expected to fall in line around this division.
As a cis person, you may have questions about dating a non-binary person, and what special considerations there are in doing so. Here are some best practices to employ when you begin getting to know a non-binary potential partner.
- Ask your date their pronouns, and use gender-neutral pronouns like they/them until you know for sure. This will help your date feel validated and seen! Use ungendered terms like partner, sweetheart, or simply “the person I’m dating/seeing.”
- Never ask for a non-binary person’s deadname. It is considered rude to inquire about the name someone was given by their parents if they go by a different name today. Call them by their chosen name. If they want to share their deadname someday, that’s their call to make.
- Ask how they want to be introduced to others. In a heteronormative dating world, being your authentic, non-binary self can be invigorating, but it can also be a risk. Non-binary individuals are often targets of harassment, prejudice, and even violence. “They”-ing your non-binary partner to a friend or a stranger can be a coming out moment for them. Create a game plan with your partner before walking into a potentially unsafe situation.
Your date may be out to their friends, family, workplace, some combination thereof or none of the above; context matters, so it’s important you know the right terms for the right situation. This includes which pronouns and name to use, but also, when the time comes, which term that describes your relationship. Ask your partner what they would like to be called (again, some options are: partner, the person I’m seeing/dating, or even sweetie or sweetheart if you’re feeling cute). Your non-binary person may be fine with--or even prefer--girlfriend or boyfriend; just make sure you ask instead of assuming!
- Ask how you can help. Non-binary people often have specific preferences around behaviors related to or in opposition to their assigned genders. (For example, even if you are a cis woman, your non-binary partner may prefer that you be the one to initiate intimacy most of the time.)
Let them know that if you ever make them feel insecure or like their gender identity is being erased, they should feel comfortable telling you so you can change your behavior. Don’t get defensive or upset-- simply listen, ask clarifying questions if you don’t understand, and promise to do better next time. Make yourself a safe person to give critical feedback to. This is a noble endeavor that will serve you in other areas of your life as well.
- Ask them how they like to talk about their body. Many, though not all, non-binary people experience dysphoria as a result of their gender identity. Dysphoria is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because their gender identity does not match their sex assigned at birth. This can have different implications when it comes to being intimate.
You may not be used a potential sex partner about this; most of the time, it’s assumed that everyone is comfortable with the usual terms that describe bodies and behavior. It’s a good exercise for you to think about your answers, too, to put it in perspective!
- Don’t expect them to educate you on their non-binary experience. It’s natural to be curious! Just be aware that non-binary people often have to explain and justify their existence, so sometimes being asked to answer questions can feel like a burden.
Appending “if you feel like talking about this” to your question about being non-binary can be a good way to show your person that you honor their time and energy.
- Be prepared to educate others! Dating while non-binary, or dating a non-binary person, can awaken your senses to just how binary our world is. This can put stress on your relationship, some friends & family might start treating you differently, and you may get some awkward, or even transphobic, reactions while out in public. Walk beside your partner with confidence, and remember to be there for each other whenever needed. Read up on trans and non-binary people and the important issues that affect them, and be ready to be your person’s best ally.
- Finally, truly see them as they are, not just the gender that makes the most “sense” based on their appearance. Also, you or your partner’s gender can change throughout your lifetime. You may have even met your partner before they came out as non-binary. This can also mean that what you want in a relationship can change. Remember that change doesn’t make you or your partner’s wants, needs, and feelings any less valid. With any relationship, leaving room for change creates a healthy foundation.
For more tips on being an ally to non-binary and transgender people, check out the GLAAD website.
Dating While Non-binary
Existing outside the binary can be a challenge on the best of days, and when it comes to dating, things can easily become complicated or frustrating. Here are some tips to help you navigate the exciting world of dating while non-binary. This is not an exhaustive list, and suggestions are welcome.
- Consider putting it in front and center of your profile. We all know that not everyone will necessarily read it, but being up front from the get-go can help avoid awkward conversations later on, as well as weed out the obvious bigots and chasers.
If, for privacy or safety reasons, you’re trying to minimize the number of people who see that you’re not cis and thus don’t want to share this information with just anyone, that is totally legitimate. Try this next step instead.
- Ask them directly about their views. Wait until after you’ve exchanged some messages and determined you want to keep pursuing it. Being worried about transphobia is a very real concern. Ask, “are you accepting of transgender individuals?” If they say no, then you’ve saved yourself a lot of unnecessary time and effort. “If not, then our conversation ends here.” Block them and move on.
- Prioritize your comfort and communication. You don’t need to continue talking with someone who wants a “spirited debate” on anything to do with trans rights, even if they’re well-meaning. People who don’t understand why you’re not interested in that probably don’t deserve your time. Love yourself first; if someone is asking a lot of questions and demanding education from you, you’re not obligated to deliver the answers they seek.
- Know yourself/ what you want. Figure out what you’re looking for, because many people you encounter may not know themselves as well as you know yourself. As a non-binary person, you’re accustomed to thinking deeply about gender, whereas cis people take their gender for granted.
Having a clear picture of what your ideal relationship looks like will help you determine quickly whether someone is a good match for you.
- Pick your battles. If a potential partner seems to be asking you questions in good faith, sometimes, it may worth educating them. They might be confused or ignorant at first, but they want to get to know and understand you. You can set the terms for this discussion by saying, “I’m happy to answer a few questions about this; just understand that I get questions like these a lot, so if at some point I run out of patience I’m going to refer you back to Google.”
- Do what keeps you safe. Barring STI status, you do not owe a potential partner any information about yourself you deem to be too personal. Your safety comes first. Always remember that you don’t owe anyone anything. Dating while non-binary doesn’t automatically mean that you have to “come out” to anyone and everyone you decide to spend your time with. Dating on your own terms doesn’t mean that you have negative intent or are being “deceitful”. You should approach your partner about your gender identity when the time is right for you, not for them.
- Don’t be afraid to turn someone down, and don’t be afraid to break up. Ending relationships can be messy and hard, but necessary as people change, and their wants and needs change along with them. You are just as worthy as a cis person of walking away from something that doesn’t feel right anymore.
Many of us non-binary people fret sometimes about the dating pool being smaller for non-binary people (see the next point), and we may feel tempted to stay in relationships that no longer work out of the fear that we may never find someone else. Try to look at the bigger picture, though: do you want to invest in someone who isn’t right for you?
- Expect some disappointment. A study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found more than 87 percent of people would not consider dating a transgender person at all. There are many demoralizing statistics about trans people, and this is just one of them. But, guess what? That means you just weeded out 87% of people you wouldn’t want to date anyway. OkCupid's Match Questions are a great way to see who is open to dating trans and non-binary people.
- Try dating other trans and non-binary people. Many non-binary people have found more success and happiness dating each other than trying to get cis people to understand them. Not having to explain fundamental aspects of your experience of gender can be a huge relief from everyday life. The dating pool may be smaller, but what our community lacks in quantity we make up for in quality!
OkCupid uses Match Questions to help you match on what matters. Here are some questions which you may find helpful:
Would you date a transgender person?
Should bathrooms be gender neutral?
Are gender and sexuality labels important to you?
Do you have any gay, bisexual, or transgender friends?
If you still need help, you can email a friendly human.