Non-binary Lesbians Have Always Existed: An Educational Thread 🧵 (With Sources)
So, let’s get started. What does Non-binary mean? Non-binary is any gender identity that falls outside the binary experiences of manhood and womanhood. It falls under the trans umbrella (though not all non-binary people consider themselves/identify as transgender.)
Non-binary is a term that covers any gender identity outside of the binary and is not a single gender. Even though the terminology for it wasn’t coined in the U.S. until 1992, gender has existed outside the binary for a long time in many cultures, including in lesbian culture.
So, how am I defining non-binary here, outside the terminology? In terms of lesbian culture, I am defining this experience as gender non-conformity within lesbianism, a subversion of womanhood either through masculinity, androgyny, or even femininity (when it’s not done for men.)
Lesbianism has always been a haven for gender non-conformity. Being gay in and of itself is, of course, a form of GNC. The way gender is shaped by society is inherently rooted in cisheternormativity. If you’re a woman attracted to women, your sense of gender is already unique.
This disconnection that many lesbians feel towards womanhood is so strong that it changes the way we experience gender, but is this new? Not even slightly. Let’s travel back in time to explore GNC in lesbian culture and how it eventually connected to modern non-binary identities.
According to “Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America” by Lillian Faderman, women would dress up in men’s clothing and work factory jobs in the late 1800s and many of those same women had “romantic friendships” with other women.
These women can be thought of as the earliest butches in American Lesbian culture. Fast forward to the 1940s and 1950s, and lesbian bar culture begins, a space where butch/femme dynamic took a strong hold on gender identity and expression within these growing communities.
Due to the drag laws at the time, Police officers would wait at the bars to catch women in two or less articles of feminine clothing. The butch lesbians who wanted to express their masculinity had to try to “pass” as men in public, using he/him pronouns and going by men’s names.
In the bar, however, these butches were not trying to pass as men, but rather subverted the strict expectation of feminine womanhood. It was this masculinity outside the realm of manhood, providing strength in the community, that cemented butchness in lesbian culture to this day.
The lesbians who were comfortable with their femininity identified as “femme” and this butch/femme dynamic quickly became a staple of lesbian culture. The rules of gender were different, they were redefined. Masculinity took on a new form and over time, it became its own gender.
One notable butch lesbian who used pronouns other than she/her was Stormé DeLarverie. I’m going to plug a thread by @BellaRizinti that goes into his life story and his gender non-conformity better than anything I can do in this thread. He/him lesbians have always existed.
In the 1990s, during a resurgence of butch identity, Leslie Feinberg, a butch lesbian and activist, began publishing novels based on hir life, transgender issues, and fictionalized accounts of a then obsolete lesbian bar culture. This changed the way we view lesbians and gender.
Hir novel “Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come” widened the term transgender to include any type of gender variation, including gender non-conformity. Hir other book, Stone Butch Blues, explores the complexity of gender identity within a lesbian framework.
In the same decade, trans person and activist Riki Anne Wilchens coined the term “genderqueer”, the first non-binary identity label popularized in American culture. In 1995, they used the term to describe “anyone who is gender non-conforming” in an interview with In Your Face.
Leslie Feinberg hirself once said “I like the gender neutral pronoun ‘ze/hir’ because it makes it impossible to hold on to gender/sex/sexuality assumptions.”

Ze officially identified as “female-bodied,” stating in 2006, “I am a butch lesbian, a transgender lesbian.”
So, while some butches today consider themselves cisgender, as they still feel connected fully with their womanhood, others do not. Some butches even consider “butch” a non-binary lesbian identity, a gender in and of itself. In fact, I’m one of those butches.
Gender non-conforming within lesbian culture has an overlap with trans identity because to live, love, and exist outside the bounds of gender expectation is to experience gender differently. This may affect your entire gender identity and for many lesbians, it does.
Now that non-binary identities have come into the modern lens, lesbians have taken that concept as our own in a major way, using it to finally ascribe an inclusive label to a phenomenon we’ve experienced through history: the disconnect from our assigned gender at birth.
Casey Legler, a French-American author and butch lesbian, called themselves a “trans-butch identified person — no surgery, no hormones” in an interview by Kerry Manders in the New York Times. Transmasculinity is a non-binary concept within lesbianism too. See infographic below.
So, if you acknowledge that transgender identity includes gender non-conforming experiences according to the person who coined the term “genderqueer,” it’s easy to see that non-binary lesbians have ALWAYS existed and we always will, and this goes way beyond butch culture.
Identities like femme, butch, and even lesbian itself can serve as gender experiences and these can be outside the binary. For more of an explanation on this, I’m plugging another thread of mine below. Lesbianism and GNC/non-binary experience are married concepts.
He/him lesbians in particular are historically tied to lesbian gender identity. Even if this was initially for safety purposes, it slowly became ingrained in our culture. He/him lesbians may still identity as cis lesbian women, but many do not, and they are still real lesbians.
When the most common gender neutral pronouns were ze/hir, a lot of butch lesbians (and even non-butch lesbians) used them, and this is evident within the book “Butch Is a Noun” by S. Bear Bergman. Since the popularization of they/them, there are more they/them lesbians than ever.
In summary, not all gender non-conforming lesbians consider themselves non-binary, but many do, since their experience of gender as lesbians feels so detached from traditional cishet womanhood. Respect all non-binary lesbians and believe us when we say: we’ve always been here.
P.S. Even if this thread wasn’t convincing of the historical basis and existence of non-binary lesbians... look around at the present. LGBTQ+ culture is always evolving and expanding. It’s one thing to erase history, it’s another thing to erase the lesbians who are alive today.
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