Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, and then there is non-binary…

International Non-Binary People’s Awareness Day

In Africa, we have the existence of non-binary as far back as there were humans on the continent. Throughout various cultures. The different languages and terminology such as non-binary, gender-queer, agender and genderfluid may not have existed– but the people were there! There is evidence of different genders on the continent long before colonisers arrived. 

What is Non-Binary

While non-binary people generally identify themselves as being outside the binary of male:female, there are many ways to be non-binary: some identify as a third gender, while others identify with more than one gender, both genders, no gender (agender), being fluid between the genders (genderfluid), or having a gender identity that is fluid and changes. Non-binary people see gender as a spectrum, rather than a binary construct.

Victor Mukasa leads the way

In contemporary times, in 2002 Victor Mukasa, from Uganda claimed an identity, as a Transgender Lesbian, saying that “Yes, I am both a lesbian as I am romantically and otherwise with women, but I am also Transgender as I do not feel like a woman”.  In those early years of trans visibility across African countries, persons who identified outside of the heterosexual or lesbian and gay boxes grappled around, creatively finding meaningful ways to self-assign identity. Within the mainstream LGBT movement at the time, Victor faced a lot of critiques as “you cannot be both a Lesbian and Transgender, you have to choose” – and Victor DID NOT settle to choose. Settle to any rules – are not running in the blood of Victor’s veins. It was during this time that Victor also ascribed the pronoun “che” as the usual he/she binary was not what Victor had in mind. In all senses Victor was a trailblazer on the African continent and with his gender identity, self-assigned descriptions and pronouns Victor was a leader and not to be told. This was before influences of the Social Media-boom of recent years and Victor was his authentic self, leading the way. 

Estian Smit campaigned for non-binary since early 2000s

Estian Smit from South Africa campaigned since the early 2000s being non-binary, for non-binary pronouns as can be seen in the 2005 publication “The Gender of Psychology” (Chapter 15, p250) where Estian promoted the use of the term “e” to replace he/she, “per” for him/her and “pers” for his/hers.

A screengrab of Estian Smit's chapter in the book "The gender pf psychology"

Neo Musangi: Non-binary artist from Kenya

Neo Sinoxolo Musangi (Kenya) queer and non-binary activist/artist and Co-founder of Iranti continuously uses art and public performances to raise awareness about gender non-binary people’s experiences. In this 2013 performance in Nairobi, Neo took an informal street audience through various aspects of non-binary experiences and challenges – with the last of the 3 video clips collecting the viewpoints and confusion of bystanders.

Gender DynamiX employs non-binary activists on a volunteer basis

In academic circles, B Camminga is no stranger, with work focussing on migrants and refugees who find themselves at the crossroads of borders and gender, published widely on the topic and presented in conferences across Africa and internationally.  B uses they/them pronouns and as a student volunteered at Gender DynamiX. 

Although not African, a dearly loved and respected non-binary or genderqueer activist who volunteered a few times at Gender DynamiX is Alok Viad-Menon who explains gender non-binary in terms of “men are from Mars, Women come from Venus, and then there is a whole galaxy…”

Non-Binary explained

As with transgender people, non-binary people have different gender expressions. Gender expression is the way you visibly present your gender: masculine, feminine, or androgynous. This means that there is no correct way to be non-binary. It is a common misconception that non-binary people are all androgynous (where it is difficult to tell what gender the person is based on the way they look and present themselves). Non-binary people can present as masculine or feminine, and some non-binary people fluctuate between presenting masculine and feminine.

Many non-binary people experience gender dysphoria, and some are treated with hormones and choose to undergo gender-affirming surgery. Some of these people identify as transgender, while others do not. Some non-binary people socially transition (change the way they look and changing their pronouns), while others do not. This variety in the way non-binary people approach transitioning has caused a lot of controversy, particularly within the transgender community, with many trans people refusing to acknowledge non-binary people who also identify as transgender as authentically transgender. Many trans people also refuse to acknowledge non-binary as a gender identity. Within the cisgender community, there is also a lot of misunderstanding and controversy surrounding non-binary people, as they see non-binary people who do not transition as “confused”, “looking for attention”, or “going through a phase.” But, as non-binary author, Kate Bornstein says, “All the categories of transgender [including non-binary] find a common ground in that they each break one or more of the rules of gender: What we have in common is that we are gender outlaws, every one of us.”


This controversy within the cisgender community is based on the increasing rise within societies of teenagers and young adults identifying as non-binary. But, as with transgender as an identity, this rise is due to the increasing visibility of celebrities coming out as non-binary, and the increasing presence of non-binary adults on platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok.


One of the ways in which some non-binary people affirm their gender is to go by the gender neutral pronoun “they/them” (for example, “They left their umbrella. We should return it to them.”) This too has caused a lot of controversy as trans and cis people insist that using the pronoun “they” is grammatically incorrect. This, however, is incorrect. The pronoun “they” was used as early as the late 14th Century. Other pronouns used by non-binary people include the neo-pronouns xe/xem, zey/zem, per/pers, or ne/nim. Another way in which non-binary people are claiming their gender is through refusing titles such as Ms, Miss, Mrs, and Mr, instead using the title Mx


Non-binary people experience prejudice, just as transgender people do. As discussed above, this prejudice comes from within the trans community itself. Part of this prejudice is that most countries in the world do not recognize non-binary as a legal gender, meaning that their identity documents and passports state that they are male or female. There is an increasing push to create a third option within legal documents, using “X” instead of “M” or “F” to indicate non-binary identity.

International Non-Binary People’s Day

International Non-Binary People’s Day was launched in 2012, on the 14th of July. This day also signals the fact that just as non-binary people have been part of society since about 3,000 years ago, they will continue to be part of society, and their rights and freedoms need to be protected.