The word “genderqueer” is a term used to describe one whose gender identity may or may not necessarily fit categorically as male or female. Gender identity is an inner sense of who one is: a male, a female, both male and female, or neither.1 Though many individuals identify as either male or female, some people openly reject this strict gender binary. Some may consider themselves somewhere in the middle of man or woman, or not consider themselves man or woman at all. These individuals challenge the idea that gender is simply “black or white.” This phrase can be mistaken for androgyny. Androgyny is a term that has become more common as a description of how one identifies in how masculine or feminine one is. While some genderqueer people may embrace androgyny, others may choose not to.
The Genderqueer flag. Androgyny is represented by the lavender stripe, which reflects the mixing of the two traditional male and female colors of blue and pink. The white stripe represents the gender neutral (agender) identity. Finally, the green (the inverse of lavender) represents the third gender and people who do not identify with the gender spectrum at all.
Traditionally, people are explicitly told that they are a boy or girl by their families and friends based on external genitalia. This gender assignment occurs immediately at birth (and sometimes before). Even as infants, many families tend to make gender a salient aspect of life by choosing certain colored clothes—like pink for girls and blue for boys—or incorporating gendered phrases like “A’tta boy” to reinforce one’s identity. This creates a rigid category of male or female that doesn’t adequately account for the multitude of gender identity and expressions. Gender should be regarded as a continuum rather than simply two distinct categories. Thus, many genderqueer persons see gender as flexible, a part of them that can change everyday.
Genderqueer people are a part of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) movement. Discrimination against LGBT-identified people has sadly been widespread. For example, nearly 19% of trans* people have been refused a home or apartment because of their gender identity, while 11% have been evicted. It is difficult for trans* people to find safe places in certain situations such as public restrooms, where they are free from harassment because of their gender nonconformity. Some areas have made efforts to reverse this inequality by having gender-neutral bathrooms.
A gender identity can be a very personal, sensitive issue. In order to be a supportive ally, you can start by changing the words you use in everyday conversation. A great deal of our language reflects gender in society. Pronouns like “him” and “her” are often used to distinguish the biological sex of an individual. As genderqueer people may not necessarily adhere to one gender, it is important to use gender-neutral language. Terms like “one,” “ze,” “hir,” as well as “they,” “their,” and “them” are more inclusive and respect the wide range of gender roles. Rather than Ms. or Mr., genderqueer people may refer to themselves as Mx. Mx is a gender-neutral pronoun that does not specify whether the individual is male or female and remains one of the most inclusive of pronouns. The best idea is to ask a person specifically what they prefer to be called to ensure they are comfortable. Using gender-neutral language helps to create inclusive spaces and can show how fluid a human being’s gender can be.
Because queer studies is a relatively new field of research, unfortunately little scientific research exists on the experiences and identity of genderqueer individuals. Thus, there remains need for empirical investigation of the community.
GenderQueer Revolution. 2008. http://www.genderqueerrevolution.org/gqr/home/about.html
Genderqueer Identities, 2011. http://genderqueerid.com/what-is-gq
Last updated 18 February 2013