The term “enby” is short for nonbinary. Someone who is nonbinary has a gender that doesn’t fit exclusively into the categories “man” or “woman.”
Maybe you saw someone wearing an enby pride T-shirt. Maybe a friend, relative, or mutual connection on social media recently came out as enby. Maybe you saw the term in an Instagram caption.
Whatever the impetus, you asked Google “What does enby mean?” looking for a definition.
You’ve come to the right place. Here’s what you need to know.
“Enby” is shorthand for nonbinary.
As a refresher: Someone who is nonbinary has a gender that doesn’t fit exclusively into the categories “man” or “woman,” says Jesse Kahn, LCSW, CST, director and sex therapist at The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York City.
According to them, it could be used by anyone whose gender is:
- neither man nor woman
- somewhere between man and woman
- beyond the gender binary
- more expansive than one single gender
- completely independent of the gender binary
Because it means so many different things to different people, to know exactly what someone means when they say they’re nonbinary, you’d have to ask them.
And in case you were wondering: Enby is pronounced exactly as you might guess — en-bee.
Enby is simply the phonetic pronunciation of “NB,” which is an abbreviation of the word “nonbinary.”
Curious why the term enby is used instead of NB? It’s because NB is widely known as the abbreviation for Non-Black, and is a way for Non-Black People of Color to self-identify.
Nonbinary and trans communities began to use the phonetic pronunciation of NB as shorthand, rather than the two letters themselves, to prevent confusion or appropriation.
The term has been in circulation for nearly a decade. It was first defined on Urban Dictionary in 2013 and made its first appearance on Tumblr that same year.
More or less, the terms have the same definition. However, the terms cannot be used interchangeably.
Why? Because some people who are nonbinary and feel affirmed by the identifier “nonbinary” may not feel the same way about the term “enby.” (More on why below.)
So, while some people who are nonbinary identify equally with both terms, not all do.
First things first: Only use the term for someone who has explicitly stated that they feel affirmed by being called or referred to as enby.
“When in doubt, spell it out,” writes nonbinary sexologist Jamie LeClaire, who educates at the intersection of sexuality, gender, and identity. “Cis people, I don’t care if one or several nonbinary people you know told you it was okay. If that’s the case, use it ONLY with them.”
As for how you’d use the term in a sentence when referring to those who enjoy the term?
“Basically, you’d use it in place of boy or girl, man or woman,” writes Twitter user @nonbinarythings. Or, any other gender for that matter! “It may also be used in place of male or female.”
The reasons you might choose to use the term “enby” are similar to the reasons you might choose to use any other identifier:
- It gives you a sense of comfort.
- Using the term for yourself, or hearing the term used to describe you, gives you a feeling of coming home.
- It feels fun, playful, or light.
- It connects you to your community.
Remember: Using the term now isn’t a promise to use and identify with the term next week, next year, or even tomorrow!
Maybe it’s the phonetic similarities between baby and enby. Maybe it’s the fact that the bulk of nonbinary communities who use the term are on the younger side. Maybe it’s the fact that the term is most often used alongside other gendered terms that imply youthfulness, like boy and girl.
For these reasons and more, some people find the term “enby” condescending.
“It can feel infantilizing and childlike,” writes LeClaire. “The ‘cuteness’ of the term often causes many to feel dysphoric.” (Meaning, disconnected from their body or unseen in their gender.)
According to LeClaire, another reason some people dislike the term is that it’s often used as a noun, rather than an adjective.
“You wouldn’t call someone ‘a gay’ or ‘a Black’ right? It sounds dehumanizing,” writes LeClaire.
Yes! There are many, many different words used to describe each person’s experience with gender.
“There’s often a misunderstanding of nonbinary as a sort of third gender,” says Kahn. “There’s this false idea that you can be a man, a woman, or nonbinary.”
But there are more gender identities than just those three options. To name a few:
- gender fluid
Click here for a complete guide to terms that describe gender identity, presentation, and expression.
Put simply, “enby” is just a shorthand way to say nonbinary. Despite that, don’t use the terms interchangeably to describe someone unless they’ve given you explicit permission to do so.
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.