Exploring nonbinary people’s mechanisms and processes for navigating gender norms


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Nonbinary people encounter gender norms resulting from the gender binary on a day-to-day basis and can experience depression and anxiety at higher rates than cisgender and transgender people as result of gender-based discrimination. Using constructivist grounded theory methods and analysis, this study sought to understand and identify processes nonbinary people use to navigate gender norms internally and interpersonally, paying attention to contextual factors, in order to inform helpful, inclusive therapeutic interventions and to counter the negative mental health impacts of gender-based discrimination. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 21 racially diverse, nonbinary people to answer research questions related to the active processes nonbinary people use to navigate gender norms in their daily lives. Results from this study indicate that the contextual factors of societal and cultural expectations of gender; community and being seen; and the contextual impact of multiple identities inform nonbinary peoples’ internal processes of reclaiming ways of being and creating affirmation and authenticity as well as processes in interpersonal relationships by navigating the complexity of visibility and creating space from non-affirmation. Based on the results of this study, family therapists should engage in self-education about the gender binary, practice from intersectional frameworks to embrace the multiple identities nonbinary people may hold that inform their relationships to gender norms and work with clients to deconstruct the impact of the intertwined nature of cissexism, heterosexism, classism, and racism on nonbinary peoples’ lives. Additionally, family therapists should work with nonbinary clients to construct ways they can affirmatively connect to themselves and communities with shared identities as well as plan for ways nonbinary people can navigate interpersonal relationships in ways that affirm their authentic selves.



Nonbinary, Gender norms, Gender-based discrimination

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Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Applied Human Services

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Amber Vennum