Sharing the Umbrella: The Crossover of Transgender and Nonbinary Terminology

“Are transgender and nonbinary synonymous?”

Short answer, yes. Long answer, no.

Well that’s confusing, so let’s dive deeper shall we?

Transgender is an umbrella term. What’s an umbrella term?

“An umbrella term, or a hypernym, is a word or phrase used to generally, rather than specifically, describe a group of varying but identifiably related subjects.”

Alicia Sparks at

Under the umbrella that is “transgender” we have the gender spectrum. Cisgender people exist on the polar ends of said spectrum, outside the transgender umbrella, though even this is being reworked a little (more on this in a bit). As the photo above depicts, there are two small umbrellas underneath the larger transgender umbrella, and those are “binary” and “nonbinary.”

In the binary category, we have transgender men and women. They are under the binary umbrella because trans men and women are just that, men and women. That’s the classic binary code of gender, 1 or 0.

In the nonbinary category, we have genderfluid, genderqueer, bigender, agender, demigirl, demiboy, neutrois, and more. The more people explore what gender means to them outside of the binary, the more terms we find to be fitting. This does not lessen the validity of binary genders (cis or trans), but instead expands our understanding of what gender is at large. Gender is a spectrum, after all (and it gets less linear everyday). The one thing I will point out in disagreement with the picture above, is that genderqueer is more of a synonym for transgender than it is an identity under the nonbinary umbrella. Genderqueer is often used as its own umbrella term, describing people’s “non-normative experience with their gender,” which can encompass anyone under the transgender umbrella, binary or nonbinary. In saying this, however, one can and many do use genderqueer as a stand-alone identity, often depicting their nonbinary gender.

To me, ‘genderqueer’ represents a queering of gender, so to speak. It’s a deliberate playing with gender in a very political sense, and being provocative around gender norms to highlight the gender stereotypes of our culture.

– Laura A. Jacobs, an LGBTQ+ psychotherapist in an interview with VICE

Are Nonbinary and Transgender Interchangeable?

They can be! Because transgender begets nonbinary (as in the umbrella model), many nonbinary folx use trans and nonbinary interchangeably, myself included. But many nonbinary people do not identify as trans, and that’s okay. It all comes down to individual preferences.

I am also now learning that “nonbinary” can be used to further qualify cisgender identity as in “I am a nonbinary woman,” which is where my aside from before comes back into the conversation. Despite normative rhetoric, we CAN be multiple genders. Us humans are beautiful in our complexity! When it comes to being nonbinary, an individual who identifies as such can also identify as bigender, poly-gender, or some other multiple-gender concept that includes their assigned gender at birth (AGAB) to be at least one of those identities, as is the case for the aforementioned nonbinary woman.

Many nonbinary folks may not be bothered by their assigned gender at birth and feel like it still describes them in some way so they don’t want to fully adopt the trans label.

– a queer Facebook commenter
  • Some nonbinary people will not claim trans for themselves because of internalized transphobia (whether they realize it or not).
  • Some nonbinary people will not claim trans for themselves due to not feeling “trans enough” (which, let me be clear, if you’re gender non-conforming in identity, and you want to be a part of the trans community, you ARE trans enough).
  • Some nonbinary people will not claim trans for themselves because they still identify with their AGAB as the quote above describes. This can be conflated with demigirl/boy identities.

For me, it depends on the situation. Sometimes it’s just easier to use trans as a shorthand, as I can feel vulnerable in getting specific about my gender identity. Sometimes I use trans for the shock value, as most people misgender me. “Trans” empowers me to stand in my identity because I feel the support of the whole community behind me when I use it (not that nonbinary doesn’t do that too, but most people know what trans is, whereas not everyone knows with nonbinary is). Other times nonbinary is more fitting because I feel too vulnerable saying trans in fear of being the recipient of transphobia, as if nonbinary is less in-your-face trans? That definitely plays into my own internalized transphobia, but the fear of external transphobia is real, and this is how my brain rationalizes things in order to deal with them.

Nonbinary is under the trans umbrella because it is rejecting the binary as we traditionally know it.

– Me, in my post Nonbinary and Me

I’ll admit now that “rejecting the binary” was not the best way to phrase things. Not all nonbinary people reject the binary, as bigender people exist, as well as genderqueer/genderfluid folx who play with gender within the binary. This is only amplified more when we consider nonbinary cisgendered people. To be transgender, then, is to participate within the gender binary in untraditional, counter-normative ways, with the possibility to reject the binary altogether.

Humans are WAY too complex for us to say anything in our lives is a paradox. “We contain multitudes.”

– same queer Facebook commenter

There is so much nuance when it comes to human identity and the words we use to describe ourselves. As time progresses, we’re relearning just how expansive humanity can be. We do not fit neatly into the same few boxes! And even when we do, those boxes are often subjected to change or overlap, over time.

So are transgender and nonbinary synonymous? It all comes down to the individual at hand, so always ask before you assume!


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