Current events

Celebrities lead the non-binary way


Photo: Delia Giandeini / Unsplash

Joan Antoni Guerrero
Big names from the world of music and show business have become role models for those people who do not identify with the traditional binary view of gender

In May of this year, an article in Insider magazine highlighted the names of 14 personalities from the international world of culture who have publicly identify themselves as non-binary. Under the title 14 celebrities who don't identify as either male or female, the publication gave a list of international celebrities who have embraced the non-binary identity. Big names from the world of music and acting such as Demi Lovato, Janelle Mone, Sam Smith, Brigette Lundy-Paine and Jonathan Van Ness are just a few in a long list of world-renowned artists who do not conform to gender labels.

This growing public exposure of the non-binary gender identity through international stars from music, film and other audiovisual media is helping give increasingly greater visibility to a group that is witnessing the birth of new points of reference. In Spain, the political discussion around the "Trans Law" draft bill and the debate in Catalonia about the use of inclusive language in public bodies have given non-binary identities prominence in the public agenda, a prominence that is also partly due to gender activism, as pointed out by Begonya Enguix, the coordinator of the UOC's consolidated research group MEDUSA - Genders in Transition.

According to this UOC expert, non-binarism is being addressed in the public debate more than it was ten years ago, but this is not just because of "political action" but also – and mainly – "because of the activism and personal work of many people to highlight it, a task that has been helped by social media". In fact, social media have become "the privileged loudspeaker of gender dissent" at the same time as "giving visibility to an option". According to Enguix, this means that "people who felt discomfort but had not asked these questions because they only had access to traditional discourses can now see themselves reflected and find answers to those questions".

In her opinion, the presence in the media of celebrities who identify as non-binary gives non-binary people "the chance to see themselves in them" and rid themselves of complexes thanks to role models that "allow them to think from a different place". The growing visibility of non-binary identities is also helped by the fact that new generations are growing up with "access to information from a variety of media that help them think in non-binary terms, rethinking normative binarism".

The world of fashion has become another potential fertile ground for non-binarism. In 2015 the UK's department store chain Selfridges launched a campaign for a non-binary clothing collection called Agender. Enguix explains that transgender models have been used in the fashion world for some time, and that "the neoliberal market will almost certainly assimilate these new attitudes, which have always existed but can now make themselves more visible".


Limits in marketing and advertising

For now, however, despite the visibility given to non-binary identities by celebrities and the fashion world, the advertising and marketing world seems disinclined to include them in their messages. According to Neus Soler, a course instructor with the Faculty of Economics and Business, brands still consider non-binary people to be "a very minority target audience" that is not "appealing" to them. In Soler's opinion, "targeting advertising or marketing at this audience would not be profitable for business". Furthermore, she added that "this is a delicate matter that must be dealt with appropriately", because a mistake in the message could lead to "undesirable effects" for the brand itself, something that has happened before with the gay audience.

The group's size and purchasing power are two key factors when it comes to arousing brands' interest: "Even if the campaign was a resounding success, it would not be worth it for the company", said Soler, "because targeting a minority group is only financially worth it if its purchasing power is very high, for example if they are being sold a luxury product. Otherwise, the brand has to make a profit by selling a large number of units that cannot be single-handedly bought by such a small group." What can be done, however, is carry out campaigns that avoid "classifying" the product based on gender by presenting the product as unisex.

In Soler's opinion, brands may choose to avoid gender binarism when it suits them, but they can also choose to emphasize it when it's in their interest to do so. In any event, she considers that non-binarism "is not being exploited, at least for now," and that the reason this hasn't yet happened is because no one has seen it as profitable yet. However, as Soler points out, the LGBTI+ group as a whole does arouse interest, not only because of its high consumption and brand loyalty but also because of its size. "Having said that, breaking this group down and choosing only the non-binary segment reduces the size of the group to the point that it's no longer profitable," she concluded.


Photograph of Begonya Enguix Grau

Begonya Enguix Grau

Lecturer in the Arts and Humanities Department
Director of the interuniversity bachelor's degree programme in Anthropology and Human Evolution

Expert in: Anthropology of genders and sexualities, bodies and identities, urban anthropology, and LGTB media and activism.

Knowledge area: Social and cultural anthropology.

View file

Neus Soler

Faculty of Economics and Business course instructor

Expert in: digital marketing

Knowledge area: Social and cultural anthropology.