What It Means To Be Bigender: Signs, Relation To Other Identities & More
There are many different genders and gender identities beyond the binary of man and woman. Under the umbrella of transgender, the identity of bigender describes a person who has two distinct gender identities.
What does it mean to be bigender?
A bigender person is a person with two distinct gender identities, which they either experience alternately or simultaneously. For example, a bigender person could be a man and a woman, or a woman and agender.
According to sex therapist Aliyah Moore, Ph.D., a common misconception about bigender people is that they necessarily must have two genders which are somehow "opposites" on the gender spectrum, but this is not the case for everyone.
Bigender is a transgender identity, in that it describes someone whose gender does not align with the one that they were assigned at birth. A bigender person is also, more specifically, nonbinary. This means that their gender identity does not fit neatly into one of the two binary genders of man or woman.
History of the term.
The term bigender began to be used around the 1980s and became more solidified in the LGBTQ community through its popularization on the microblogging site Tumblr during the 2010s. Through Tumblr, bigender identity gained a pride flag, for example.
Today, bigender is offered as one of the gender options on Facebook, and there are a small handful of notable, out bigender people in the public eye, including the writers R.B. Lemberg and James-Beth Merritt, the latter of whom wrote a memoir about living life as a bigender person.
Signs you could be bigender.
While there are some things that might unite bigender people, Moore is careful to stress that there is no one way to be bigender, and therefore it can look different for everyone. "There's no right or wrong in how a bigender individual expresses their gender identity," she says. With that being said, here are some things that can be useful to look out for:
You feel like your gender identity doesn't fit into a neat box.
Bigender people may initially experience feelings of confusion around their gender, according to AASECT-certified sex therapist Janet Brito, Ph.D., LCSW. "You may feel misunderstood, confused, alone. You may not know the best label to describe your inner experience."
You might have very strong feelings of womanhood for a while, which then switch over to equally strong feelings of manhood, and then back again. You might even find that your feelings of womanhood are weaker or less frequent than your feelings of manhood, or vice versa, which can further confuse you. This could be a sign of being bigender. You may even feel periods when you have no strong sense of gender identity, while sometimes you feel very connected with being a man, woman, or another gender identity.
You might feel discomfort in your body.
Gender dysphoria—which is a sense of incongruence, distress, and discomfort between your body and your sense of gender identity—can be a feature of being bigender, says Brito. It can be especially difficult if your two gender identities have markedly different expressions. (That said, not all bigender people experience gender dysphoria!)
You want to express yourself in many ways.
Moore suggests that you may want to "dress up in both feminine and masculine ways simultaneously" and express yourself in ways that point to masculinity and femininity through hair, makeup, and body modifications. Alternatively, she says, you might want to stick to what might be perceived as a decidedly neutral gender expression and even feel more comfortable using neutral pronouns such as they/them/theirs or neo-pronouns such as xe/xem/xyr.
How is bigender related to other sexual and gender identities?
People often confuse bigender with other identities related to sexuality and gender. Here we lay out the differences between some commonly mixed-up terms.
Bigender vs. genderfluid
There are certainly similarities between being bigender and genderfluid. A person may even identify as both bigender and genderfluid. Genderfluid usually refers to someone whose sense of gender fluctuates and moves between at least two different identities (rather than only two, as is the case for a bigender person).
Like a bigender person, a genderfluid person may also feel that they can experience their different gender identities alternately or simultaneously. However, while a genderfluid person may identify with a new gender regularly, a bigender person feels statically attached specifically to their two genders.
Bigender vs. nonbinary
There is a crossover between bigender and nonbinary because bigender is essentially a nonbinary gender identity. That is, it is a gender identity that doesn't fit neatly into the cisgender binary of man or woman.
Someone can be nonbinary and not be bigender, however. People who are nonbinary can describe themselves as having a gender identity that is "beyond" the categories of man and woman, or as being "between" or a mix of the categories of man and woman. They may not see themselves as having two distinct genders, as a bigender person might.
Bigender vs. bisexual
"A lot of people confuse bigender with bisexuality," says Moore. Bigender is a gender identity, but bisexuality is a sexual orientation. Gender has to do with who you are, whereas sexual orientation has to do with who you're attracted to. To be bisexual means to be someone who can experience romantic and/or sexual attraction to people of more than one gender.
How to support a bigender loved one:
Don't assume anything.
Since there is no one way to be bigender, there is no way to "know" everything about someone else's sense of themselves. For example, it's very important to ask your loved one how they want to be referred to instead of just assuming they will change their pronouns.
Respect their right to peace.
Don't badger your friend, lover, or family member to serve as a sounding board for all and every thought and idea you might have about gender expansiveness. "It's not your bigender loved one's obligation to come out to or educate people around them if they don't feel like it," says Moore.
A little education on your own can go a long way when used in conjunction with respectful and pertinent questions. (Think "Would you like me to correct people when they misgender you?" instead of "So, does this mean you're going to get genital surgery?")
Whenever someone opens up to you about their bigenderness, Moore says it's a big deal that they've trusted you. Pay them back the same kindness by not questioning or invalidating their sense of themselves. "Don't shame them," Brito adds. The support of one's nearests and dearests is instrumental in fostering a stable and secure life.
Be an ally even when they're not around.
Don't let it slide if you hear people making jokes about trans or nonbinary people. You don't need to out your loved one in order to say, "That's not funny or acceptable."
Whether you think you might be bigender or want to support someone who is, the best thing to remember is that everyone's gender identities are important and deserve respect and space to be explored.
Kesiena Boom, M.S., is a sociologist, writer, and poet. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Manchester and a master’s degree in Gender Studies from Lund University. Her work has been featured at Slate, Buzzfeed, Vice, Autostraddle, and elsewhere. Her writing focuses on sex, pleasure, queer experience and community, feminist theory and practice, and race and anti-racism.