For the last year I’ve been more visible about being genderqueer. It’s an identity I feel is very important to put forward, especially as I find myself receiving more mainstream attention, though I could just as easily identify with any number of other identities I hold to my being. Despite the fact that I’ve used the word “genderqueer”, I realized I haven’t shared much on my site about what the term means to me.
What is Genderqueer? (for me, right now)
Nutshell: Someone who is “genderqueer” has fluid ideas about gender expression and may not identify as being a man or a woman.
The longer story: Genderqueer is a pretty new term. I believe it started to be used early 2000, mostly by youths, as I was then. When I first saw the word “genderqueer” in a zine, I immediately could identify.
I also loved other terms such as androgynous/androgyne, genderfuck, two-spirit, trans entity, bi-gendered, third gendered, multi-gendered, fluid, transboi, boydyke, boi, and many more. I was drawn to genderqueer because it contained within it the word Queer. It made since to me as a queer person. My sexual orientation is queer; so is my gender.
As someone who struggled (and still struggles) with gender I found myself uncomfortable with what was expected of me in terms of cisgender appearance and behaviors. Hold on you say, what is “cisgender”? I believe cisgender to be a word that can be used to describe someone whose gender expression generally corresponds with the traditional or socially accepted behaviors and attributes expected of the sex that they were assigned at birth.* I first saw the word in Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity and I’ve seen cisgender described as “the opposite of transgender”. I’ve also understood it to be good to use the word because it challenges the assumption that cisgender is “normal”. So as a person who was assigned female at birth, many things that society expects of me as a “woman” feel unnatural. (And it actually feels extremely charged; hence feminity is something I play with from time to time and explore when I feel safe to.)
*Update – I appreciate and agree with the comments below challenging this original description. Cis-identified folks shared their experiences transgressing “social or traditional” gender expressions. Hearing these perspectives helps me understand that people — cis, trans, and otherwise –share much in common with one another, presenting gender itself as a concept that permeates our lives in ways more complex than can easily be defined.
Another word that may be more familiar is “transgender”. The definitions I have experienced around the word transgender often fall inline with my identity, however when I identified as transgender, I felt pressure towards becoming the “opposite” gender — that is to say, I felt a pressure to be a man and to adopt masculine behaviors that felt as equally uncomfortable as feminine ones. I also felt a pressure to alter my body, and it was ultimately through my accepting my body which led me to find happiness in the middle. (And like femininity, masculinity also feels very charged in a way that I love to explore, particularly in sex.)
Trying to balance between what I at the time felt were these two extremes, I thought of myself as being inbetween cisgender and transgender. Being gender-neutral, and genderqueer.
I say that this is a definition “for me” because I am still figuring out all of this for myself, which includes using genderqueer as a label even though I believe it shouldn’t be. Many folks refuse to attach a label to their identity, something which when you get down to the science and sociology of gender and sex, sure is complex. What is a man? What is a woman? When you break it down, the only true definition is the one we make for ourselves. There is no gender test. There’s no “right” way to be genderqueer. There’s no dress code, no label, no correct pronouns. For myself, I love the pronouns “they/them”, such as “They are so beautiful” or “I’m going to buy them a beer.” While I don’t mind being called “she/her”, I really prefer epicene or gender-neutral pronouns, especially if it’s a chance to represent me as accurately as possible. Fuck grammar*, it makes me happy!
Though modern medicine is available to us, some choose to use it and some don’t. I believe we do not have to have surgery or take hormones to be a “man”, “woman” , both, neither, or whatever we choose to be. And I believe that queer pornography and the internet will bring the validation of our bodies that we need as a community — something which I think is really powerful because even 50 years ago, we were isolated and forced to go to doctors to be treated as diseased… today, we have websites, YouTube videos, sex tapes, forums, books and most importantly, each other.
If you’d like to read more, Wikipedia actually has some great definitions on Genderqueer, Transgender, and Cisgender. A good resource is GLBTQ.com, and the amazing project genderfork.com. Got a good gender resource? Let me know!
*Also check out Singular They and the Many Reasons it is Correct.