“Enby” is the phonetic pronunciation of “NB,” which stands for “non-binary.”
Do “enby,” “NB,” and “non-binary” all mean the same thing?
Depends on who you ask. In a 2018 piece for the online resources Verywell Mind, Elizabeth Boskey defined “non-binary” as meaning “someone whose gender identity is neither male or female, also referred to as NB or enby.”
On the FAQ for the blog “Ask a nonbinary person,” “enby” is defined as:
- it’s a noun, it comes from a phonetic pronunciation of the abbreviation of non-binary. Non-binary -> nb -> enby.
- Some non-binary people use enby as the non-binary equivalent to girl or boy.
- Not everyone likes it, for various reasons. You can use it to describe those people who use to describe themselves.
But not everyone will see it as the “non-binary equivalent to girl or boy,” nor will everyone see it as interchangeable with “non-binary” and “NB.”
Where does “enby” come from?
In a blog post for radicalcopyeditor.com, Alex Kapitan wrote of the term’s origin:
Enby was invented by non-binary people as a shortened form of non-binary; it’s a phonetic pronunciation of the initialism NB, for non-binary. It started gaining traction in late 2013—that’s when it was added to Urban Dictionary and first used on Twitter.
Why change “NB” to be “enby”?
Writer and activist Ana Mardoll explained in a blog post that the term came from white non-binary people not wanting to use “NB,” which had already been used to mean “non-black.” Specifically, it was used as part of “NBPOC,” short for “non-black people of color.” Thus, as part of “NBPOC,” Mardoll explained, “NB” already had meaning. The term NBPOC was used when discussing people of color who were not black. To have “NB” also mean “non-binary” could create confusion, as “NBPOC” could be interpreted as “non-binary people of color.”
So “enby” was created so as to not use “NB”?
Right. Mardoll said that it was this sensitivity to black activists that inspired “enby”:
“Enby” was created to avoid using NB. It is, in my mind, a successful example of white people agreeing not to appropriate Black language. It wasn’t “cutesy.” I understand it reads as “cutesy” to some people now, but I am frankly proud of the fact that white people listened. Low allyship bar met!
So while I think there’s still room to discuss this in the community, I think it’s more important to not steal Black activists’ terms. That is why I use “enby” as an umbrella term and try to avoid using “NB” for nonbinary unless it’s absolutely necessary.
How has “enby” been received?
Like any term in the LGBTQ+ community, there’s no one agreed-upon view. As Mardoll alluded to, there are people who find it cutesy. In a 2018 thread on Reddit, some users said they didn’t want to be referred to as “enby.” There were a few different reasons, including:
…it just feels oddly infantilizing in a way for me, even though it is easier to say than “nonbinary”. I can’t really pin it down, it just doesn’t work for me?
Another user expanded upon that idea:
I like nonbinary because it’s a very neutral term, and enby is extremely uncomfortable for me. Being referred to with infantiliziing or “cutesy” language causes me dysphoria. I desperately wish people (especially overbearing and borderline fetishistic cis allies) would stop shortening “nonbinary people” to “enbies” and expecting me to continue identifying with it, as if it doesn’t have massively different connotations.
But then there was a user who said that enby’s whimsical nature was its appeal:
I like “enby” precisely for its cutesy-ness. It’s a fun play-on-words (goodness, how much I love wordplay), and I would thus consider myself an enby in queer spaces as a fun way to self-identify. But, I can’t imagine asking non-queer people to call me an “enby.” It would be like asking everyday people to call me by a roleplaying handle. I guess that it just has too much of a geeky subculture vibe to me to use it with the rest of the world.
But then there are people who do not find it cutesy and who use it?
Of course! Sam Hope is a genderqueer and transgender person living in the UK who runs a blog called “A Feminist Challenging Transphobia: Personal tales inspired by the fight against transphobia.” In a 2017 post, Hope wrote:
…if “non-binary” exists, there is no binary and “non-binary” becomes too vague a term because it includes everyone, including people who are just men, and just women – cis, trans, intersex, male, female, enby. I will use “enby” from here to differentiate from “non-binary,” meaningless as that term is in the absence of an authentic binary. I use “enby” for people who cannot live within the artificial legal/social binary that is imposed on us. And enby people need everyone else to understand this legal/social binary is not fixed or objectively real, and can be reshaped or dismantled without hurting anyone, to allow for the reality of our existence, and to give us the civil rights everyone else has.
So how will I know whether to use this term for someone?
In the aforementioned post, Kapitan said:
…when writing/speaking for a general audience, a good general practice is to use non-binary, not enby. Enby is not a word that the average cisgender (non-trans) person knows, and using it puts up a barrier to understanding, because to understand enby a reader/listener generally needs to know the word non-binary (itself a relatively recent term), to get that non-binary shortens to NB, and to follow that NB phonetically spelled out is enby.
As is the case with many terms, it’s best not to use a term for someone unless you know that person would use it.
Learn more about The LGBTQ+ Experiment here.
Follow us on Twitter here.
Follow us on Facebook here.
Check out the LGBTQ+ Experiment Discussion group here.
Sign up for the LGBTQ+ Experiment newsletter here.