Genderqueer is a catchall term for gender identities other than man and woman. People who identify as genderqueer may think of themselves as being both male and female, as being neither male nor female, or as falling completely outside the gender binary. Some wish to have certain features of the opposite sex and not all characteristics; others want it all.
Some genderqueer people see their identity as one of many possible genders other than male or female, while others see "genderqueer" as an umbrella term that encompasses all of those possible genders. Still others see "genderqueer" as a third gender to complement the traditional two, while others identify as genderless or agender. Genderqueer people are united by their rejection of the notion that there are only two genders.
The term "genderqueer" can also be used as an adjective to refer to any people who transgress gender, regardless of their self-defined gender identity (see Alternate Meanings, below).
Related gender terminology
People who identify outside the usual binary genders may use any or all of the following terms to describe themselves:
Genderqueer and transgender
Some genderqueer people identify as transgender, using the word "transgender" as an umbrella term for a broad range of people who identify as a gender other than the expected gender for their assigned sex, and some do not. (This usage is only one of multiple conflicting definitions of the term "transgender" in use.) The terms "transgender" and "genderqueer" are not synonymous, but there is some overlap between people who identify as transgender and people who identify as genderqueer.
Like transgender people, genderqueer people may transition physically with surgery, hormones, electrolysis, and other practices, or they may not choose to alter their bodies by these means. They may also transition socially, or they may continue to dress and go by the pronouns of their assigned gender.
History of the term
The term genderqueer originated as an identity utilized mainly by white, middle and upper-class Americans who were born female or are otherwise on the FtM (female-to-male) or transmasculine spectrum, but today there are many self-identified genderqueer people who are from different racial, ethnic, class, gender, and national backgrounds. However, people who identify as genderqueer are still disproportionately from that group.
Gender and pronouns
How genderqueer people view gender as a whole and its relationship to themselves varies. Some genderqueer people view gender as a continuum between man and woman, with the two traditional genders at the two poles and their own genderqueer place as somewhere within the continuum. Others believe there are as many genders as there are people. Still others believe that binary gender is a social construct, and choose not to adhere to that construct. Some genderqueers do fit into the stereotypical gender roles expected of their sex, but still identify outside of that and reject a two-pole gendered system. Some genderqueers experience their gender as fluid, varying from day to day or year to year. Some genderqueer people reject any gender system as a valid method of classifying individuals.
Some genderqueers prefer to go by the conventional binary pronouns "he" or "she," while others prefer gender-neutral pronouns such as "ze" and "hir" or singular "they" instead of her/his. Some genderqueer people prefer to have people alternate between he and she (and/or gender neutral pronouns) in reference to themselves, and some prefer to use only their name and not use pronouns at all.
The terms pansexual, omnisexual, polysexual and multisexual exist specifically to express a view that there are many genders. Some people prefer to identify themselves using one of these terms rather than identifying as "bisexual," which implies that there are only two genders and sexes. Pansexuality means being attracted to or open to attraction to people of all different gender identities, and reflects a non-binary understanding of gender and its interplay with sexuality.
Note: Some people see "genderqueer" as a more consciously politicized version of the term androgyne, popularized by Androgyne Online, which is linked below. Androgynes are also people who identify as both man and woman, or as neither. "Androgyne" is synonymous to the more cumbersome "non-binary gender variant" or to "intergendered".
There are three stripes on the genderqueer flag, as seen above. The top, lavender stripe, represents the blending of the female (pink) and male (blue) genders, and symbolizes the people in this community who feel both male and female. The second, white stripe represents those who fall outside gender binary altogether. The forest green is the inverted colour of lavender, and therefore symbolizes those who feel neither male, nor female.
The term genderqueer is also sometimes used in a broader context as an adjective to refer to any person who challenges gender roles and binary notions of gender. This is similar to the way homosexual, bisexual, and other people may identify as queer as a broader, umbrella term. However, because genderqueer also refers to a more specific gender identity, the terms gender-variant, gender-transgressive, or gender-nonconforming are applied more broadly to refer to the wide range of people whose gender identity or expression transgress societal expectations.
Difference between Genderqueer and Nonbinary
Genderqueer means non-normative or queer gender while nonbinary means gender that falls outside the gender binary model. Both of these terms are extremely similar in scope, however, in practice, their connotations are significantly different.
Genderqueer comes with the anti-assimilationist political connotations of queer, which is a reclaimed slur word with strong associations with a countercultural sexuality movement that sets itself apart from the mainstream LGBT community. As such genderqueer implies a similar counterculture, setting itself apart from mainstream transgender discourse. Most genderqueer people also consider themselves to be queer and there is a strong trend of rejecting the gender binary and normative gender roles within the Queer Movement as a whole.
By contrast, nonbinary is more politically neutral in its connotations. Nonbinary was coined as a descriptive term, originally simply 'non-binary gender', used to describe the range of experiences that fall outside of the binary gender model. There is no countercultural anti-transgender discourse connotation, nor is there a connotation of association with the wider Queer Movement. Nonbinary is intended to simply cover the widest range of identities and experiences without intending to describe their political or cultural philosophies and affiliations.
Observed differences between people who hold each identity
While genderqueer and nonbinary are theoretically extremely similar in their scope as umbrella terms, in practice genderqueer slants more towards those who identify as queering gender while nonbinary tends to attract those who hold specific trans* or transgender identities that fall outside of the gender binary.
Genderqueer-identified people seem to be more likely to hold binary gender identities (eg, 'Genderqueer Woman') while considering their gender expression or gender performance to be queer or non-normative, while nonbinary-identified people are more likely to consider their gender identity (or lack of gender identity) to fall outside of the binary. Genderqueer-identified people seem to be more likely to consider themselves to be queer or a member of the queer community.
Nonbinary-identified people generally seem more comfortable with considering themselves transgender and more likely to use the language of gender dysphoria. The adoption of the term 'nonbinary' by parts of the genderqueer community may reflect a trend of adopting the language of the transgender rights movement in order to make use of and expand on the legal protections now afforded to transgender people in some localities. Nonbinary-identified people may be more likely to be seeking access to transgender medical care or legal recognition (aka transition).
Some nonbinary people reject the term genderqueer as an umbrella term. The word "queer" is still actively used as a pejorative and hate speech in many regions. One reason why the word "genderqueer" shouldn't be used too broadly as an umbrella term is because it is painful to many of the people to which it would apply, survivors of hate crimes, who don't want to be called by that word. Umbrella terms such as "gender nonconforming," "gender variant," and "nonbinary" are more compassionate and respectful to survivors.
Despite these trends and connotations, both terms are used by some members of each group and so may be considered as wide inclusive umbrella terms. Some genderqueer-identified people have sought 'transition', some nonbinary-identified people hold binary gender identities and consider themselves to be nonbinary by gender expression, and it is currently common for nonbinary-identified individuals to also identify as genderqueer (especially as this term predates nonbinary by at least a decade). ==References==
- Gender Queer. Voices From Beyond the Sexual Binary, Joan Nestle, Clare Howell, Riki Wilchins (2002) Alyson Books, New York.
- The Transgender Studies Reader Susan Stryker, Stephen Whittle (2006) Routledge, New York.