Has Gender Always Been Binary?


While the idea of transgender and non-binary identities often feel new in Western cultures, according to Dr. Karen Blair, “there is actually a long history of gender not being viewed in such a black and white manner.” In her article, Has Gender Always Been Binary?, Blair goes on to say, “Indeed, many indigenous cultures around the globe held more fluid and dynamic understandings of gender before encountering Western theories of gender. Even within Western cultures, the characteristics associated with one gender or the other have changed stripes so many times through history that it is almost surprising how adamantly we now argue that heels, wigs, makeup, and the color pink are only for women and girls, when all of these things were previously reserved only for men and boys.” [Emphasis and links from original.]

Gender identity has a long and interesting history that can be explored in many different ways. Interested to learn more? Here are some resources to help you get started:

History of Non-binary and Transgender identities:

Beyond Gender Binaries by Rita Santos

Genderqueer and Non-Binary Genders by Christina Richards

Davis-Young, Katherine. “For Many Native Americans, Embracing LGBT Members Is a Return to the Past.” Washington Post. Accessed 18 Nov. 2019.

Understanding Gender and Being an Ally:

How to Understand Your Gender : A Practical Guide for Exploring Who You Are by Alex Iantaffi

“Has Gender Always Been Binary?” Psychology Today. Accessed 18 Nov. 2019.

“Understanding Non-Binary People: How to Be Respectful and Supportive.” National Center for Transgender Equality, 9 July 2016.

“A Beginner’s Guide to Being an Ally to Trans People.” GLAAD, 7 Nov. 2019.

For more ways to research this topic check out the library’s Gender and Sexuality subject guide!