Now available to rent/buy ($4.99/$14.99) on Vimeo. I appear in this movie as a part of the cast in order to share my genderqueer story.
A feature documentary film by Lonny Shavelson
The new frontier? People who identify as neither male nor female: agender, gender neutral, gender queer, and more. Facebook and Google have acknowledged the increasing numbers of new-gender members by listing multiple possible genders for your profile, as well as fill-in-your-own. In the feature documentary film From Three to Infinity: Beyond Two Genders, meet teenagers, parents, singles and couples, younger and older people who guide you into their world, where gender is not limited to male or female but is a spectrum of possibilities—where the future is the present.
More information at http://www.threetoinfinity.com/
I’ve been getting lots of questions on Genderqueer and Non-Binary Identities in regards to coming out lately. I continue to welcome questions, but I would also like to make a masterpost of resources I tend to recommend to people. This is a work in progress and suggestions are welcome. Please note, you should not feel obligated to come out. Furthermore, you may want to come out to some people, but not to others – this is a very personal process.
You may find pros as well as cons in the resources below – take what you find will be useful to you and leave the rest behind. Be aware that coming out can be followed by unpredictable responses, both positive and negative, from friends, family, or partners. Since there are fewer resources at present about coming out as genderqueer or non-binary, many resources will pertain to transgender people who identify as men or women. Many of these suggestions can potentially be adapted to one’s own identity and situation, though we would love to see more genderqueer and non-binary specific guides! I have also included guides to potentially show people one has come out to in order to aid in understanding. As with the guides on coming out, use your own discretion, as a variety of suggestions and viewpoints are represented.
If you know of further resources concerning coming out as trans*, genderqueer, and/or non-binary or want to share your own personal coming out story, please feel free to add them.
How-Tos on Coming Out:
MCC Transgender Ministries – Coming Out as a Transgender Person: A Workbook (religion-oriented)
Forums Where You Can Ask Questions About Coming Out:
Personal Stories and Advice on Coming Out and Other Resources:
FAQs and Guides for People You Have Come Out To:
Feeling Wrong in Your Own Body: Understanding What it Means to Be Transgender by Jaime Seba (a good general book – title may be problematic; this includes some discussion of genderqueer identity)
Gender Now Coloring Book: A Learning Adventure for Children and Adults by Maya Christina Gonzales
Trans-kin: A Guide for Family & Friends of Transgender People by Eleanor A. Hubbard and Cameron T. Whitley
Presented at A Night of GenderQueer Readings at the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco on May 4th, 2013
There are at least two ways to find out what it means to be genderqueer, whether you are genderqueer or consider yourself an interested ally. One way is to look up definitions in books or on the Internet and be inundated with interesting, but frequently contradictory information from many different viewpoints. These definitions can lend a voice to the variety of genderqueer experience that exists out there, but this is also an area where caution around inaccuracy and erasure is needed.
Here are just a few definitions of the term genderqueer:
In the anthology Nobody Passes, Rocko Bulldagger wrote that their own “personal definition of [someone who is] genderqueer” includes those who are “painfully deliberate and consciously political in their gender expression.”
In a book called The Transgender Child, we are told that “genderqueer people embrace a fluidity of gender expression and sexual orientation.” We are also told that this is an “adult identifier” and not for children.
In Evolution’s Rainbow, genderqueer is referred to by evolutionary biologist Joan Roughgarden as an “experimental genre” of gender where “young butch lesbians and young trans men are exploring interesting and appealing new combinations of the masculine and the feminine as full-fledged lifestyles.” This author, a transgender woman herself, unfortunately overlooks in this limiting definition the significant presence and contributions that those of trans feminine backgrounds have brought to the community. While likely unintentional, it nonetheless contributes to the idea that being a member of the genderqueer community must somehow be tied to birth sex assignment.
The most complete definition I have encountered so far is one that I’ve arrived at through my own life as a genderqueer person, my intensive research through the City College of San Francisco LGBT Studies program, and at my website (genderqueerid.com). This definition incorporates the major ways that I have actually seen the term used, rather than how I think it should be used. It goes something like this:
Genderqueer is a term that has been used to describe non-normative gender identity or presentation, whatever that may mean in the given society where the term is utilized. Genderqueer has been used by people to describe themselves in one or more of the following ways:
they may be both man and woman,
neither man nor woman,
they may move between two or more genders,
they may have an entirely different name for their gender that does not reference a binary at all,
they may have have an overlap or blur of gender with orientation and/or sex.
Finally, there are those who “queer” gender, that’s “queer as a “verb”, through presentation or other means. They may or may not see themselves as having a gender that is queer. They may be consciously political or radical.
Usage of this term can be traced to the early ‘90s and is found throughout the world, though it is concentrated heavily in the United States, Australia, and Great Britain. For those uninterested in identifying with the political or Western connotations of the term, or who still are reeling from less savory experiences with the word queer, the more neutral term non-binary is available, as well as culturally specific terms for non-binary genders. For these reasons, I recommend taking care in using genderqueer as an umbrella term, only applying it with certainty.
If you recall, I said there are two ways to find out what it means to be genderqueer. The other way that is not so strictly definitional is to find out what it means in the context of the lives of genderqueer people. Talk to people who are genderqueer with respect, getting to know what their lives are like, the parts they want to share with you. Even if you are genderqueer yourself, the version of others may not remind you of your own. Still, you may learn more about yourself in the process than you had thought possible.
One aspect of this ongoing dialogue may include finding out about the curious things people have said to someone who is genderqueer when they find out about their gender. These reactions that can come about due to, yet again, a lack of understanding of meaning. Here are a few things that people have said, in physical as well as digital spaces, when they find out that I am genderqueer. This word, for me means to not see myself as a man or a woman, while identifying with gay male sexuality:
“Are you going to have…the surgery?” I asked if they knew what surgery they were even talking about, as there were quite a few possibilities. They said no.
“They, them, and their are grammatically improper as a first-person pronoun set.” I wish I would’ve known then the little bit of English grammar trivia that I know now: “in 1850, male grammarians petitioned the British Parliament to pass a law declaring that all gender-indeterminate references be labeled he instead of they.” (Reflect and Relate, Second Edition)
“Androgynous? I can’t handle all of these different names that you put to your identity!” This was said after the description of my identity has remained fairly consistent for several years.
“So does that mean that you’re into strap-ons?”
“Oh, okay. So it’s like the bisexual of gender.”
“Please stay a girl. It’s what everyone loves and knows you as.”
And, finally, the dreaded: “Why are you labeling yourself?”
There are people who bemoan the ever-expanding list of so-called “labels” for gender. I respect and recognize as valid anyone’s decision to not name their gender identity or to find it indescribable. Since there’s so much pressure to pin a description on oneself, it is certainly a viable course of action to take. There are many types of identity and expression that there are not adequate single words to describe: language has its limits.
However, I recognize my right, everyone’s right to accurate self-description, to create our own lexicon and make it meaningful. This is an important part of how we form communities and know that we are not alone. Before this term, and the communities that come with it, I only knew to type in “gay man trapped in a woman’s body” on Google. It took awhile for me to learn the best way to speak about myself; that is, the way that felt right to me. The course of my life has changed, my studies, my career trajectory, all because I wanted to understand myself and help other people not feel lost like I had felt. I needed to know how to find other people for whom the words “man” and “woman” were confusing, challenging, and interesting, and those who could see further dimensions previously hidden. Learning about genderqueerness is what brought me to this point, to be able to both teach and continue to learn from others.
I still get questions about whether or not it is okay to identify as genderqueer if the person only realized it as a teenager or adult. These people have been told you must be gender non-conforming as a child for it to be real. I still get questions about whether presentation must have anything to do with gender or sex. The short answer is: it doesn’t have to, but you can if you want it to. This work is necessary to bring comfort to those who are newly exploring gender possibilities.
People who identify and present between, beyond, and without reference to the binary are slowly but surely coming into the spotlight of gender and sexuality rights. Misunderstandings and prescriptive declarations will not ensure the strength of our community. Let us all who are out as genderqueer and willing to to tell our story of what it means to us to be genderqueer also accept the descriptions of others, even if they don’t fit our own personal model.
Constantly interrogating, expanding, and bringing to light the multi-faceted meaning of this little word called genderqueer should be enlightening, but please don’t forget that it is through lived experience that the word has any meaning at all. In the end, this is what it means to be genderqueer.
Is It a Boy or a Girl? Improving Media Coverage Beyond the Binary
Sunday, March 25 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. ET
Join us for a radio-style program on how the media covers non-binary and non-conforming gender and what we can do to make that coverage better.
Hosted by Avory Faucette of QueerFeminism.com and Radically Queer, and featuring guests with expertise in gender-neutral parenting, non-binary identities, and media coverage of transgender issues, we’ll be looking closely at some misunderstandings the media makes and how feminists can take action to educate and improve coverage. We’ll consider topics including major media coverage of gender-neutral parenting and education in 2011, the media’s refusal to take supermodel Andrej Pejic’s stated identity seriously, and what articles on genderqueer and other identities get right and wrong. We’ll also be talking about the best way to cover less familiar gender identities, how journalists can describe gender in a way that is less harmful to non-binary or questioning individuals, and how blogs and social media are changing the conversation.
Guests will be:
To tune in, join us from your computer at 10 am EST on Sunday, March 25. A live stream of the show will appear when we start. You’ll be able to ask questions or chat about the show in the chat room on that page or call in with a question using the guest call-in number listed there. We hope you’ll join the conversation!
Recently, I have noticed a tendency for non-binary to be used as the go-to umbrella term for non-normative gender (gender not along the lines of man or woman, specifically) and as an alternative to genderqueer, and a tendency to perceive genderqueer as a specific identity rather than as an umbrella term. Currently, both of these terms are being, and have been, used in an umbrella capacity, and in the case of genderqueer only, as singular identity as well. Genderqueer, when used in its wider sense, is also meant to be a much larger umbrella than non-binary; queer gender (identity or expression) covers a lot of ground; non-binary refers to non-binary identities specifically. They’re not exactly interchangeable.
I have seen some assertion that genderqueer is/should “not” be used as an umbrella term, even at the generally great Queer Dictionary which claims that genderqueer is “sometimes also incorrectly used as an umbrella term”. This bothered me particularly because of the overwhelming amount of research and pouring over books and websites that I’ve done to uncover the history of “genderqueer” and its usages, many of which have defined genderqueer as an umbrella term. It would be more accurate to say that the usage of genderqueer may be shifting away from being used as an umbrella term in favor of non-binary when used in reference to identities rather than expression only, not that using it in this way is somehow wrong, or worse, that it never was used this way. Remember, the terms you prefer are entirely up to you! What you feel describes yourself best and considering the utility of umbrella terms are what is most important. I am writing this piece primarily to find out the relationship and differences between these terms.
To put this complicated issue as simply as possible: non-binary refers to gender that is not binary (not man nor woman) and genderqueer refers to gender that is queer (non-normative). Because gender that is not binary may be regarded as “queer” because it is not normative, it becomes easy to see why these terms have been used interchangeably. However, queer is also often used in a radical or political context, so some who may otherwise have considered themselves genderqueer may feel distanced from the term, or more closely aligned with it, due to this association. In short, genderqueer is often non-binary (except for in the case of referring to expression / performance exclusively), but not all non-binary identified people may consider themselves genderqueer for a variety of reasons, which I will discuss.
An excellent example of an individual at odds with the notion of genderqueer as an umbrella term can be found in Nobody Passes (2006) in this essay by Rocko Bulldagger, excerpted here:
From Time Out New York, February 3, 2005: “Genderqueer: This umbrella term refers to anyone who doesn’t fit into the traditional binary male-female system-from androdykes to trannyboys.” My own personal definition of genderqueer: (1) A person who is painfully deliberate and consciously political in their gender expression. (2) Someone who identifies with efforts to subvert oppressive power dynamics by undermining traditional gender expectations. (3) A person whose gender presentation is over determined by traditionally gendered signs—somebody who displays excessive femininity or masculinity.
In my research, both academic and personal, I have frequently encountered genderqueer in these capacities, sometimes overlapping:
- as an umbrella term for identities “other” than man and woman
- its political/radical implications
- to refer to “queer” gender performance / expression
- a stand-alone identity
As a stand-alone identity, genderqueer may cover the “it’s complicated” arena of gender, refer to presentation as well as personal identity, and/or be used in place of or alongside more specific identities that may be considered non-binary (androgyne, bigender, and so on). The clearest way I’ve found to describe genderqueer is using a 5-pronged definition: genderqueer identities may include those who identify as 1. both man and woman, 2. neither man nor woman, 3. moving between two or more genders, 4. third gendered or other-gendered (includes those who prefer “genderqueer” or “non-binary” to describe their gender), 5. having an overlap or blur of gender and orientation and/or sex”. The downside to this is potentially incorporating individuals who would not identify themselves as genderqueer; when this may be the case, it is generally better to use the specific identity in question rather than a term that the individual or group may not prefer.
Here are a variety of definitions and mentions of genderqueer that I’ve come across that point to meanings of the concept; they vary and you may not identify with some or all of these definitions:
“People who identify as genderqueer or intergender may consider themselves as being both male and female, as being neither male nor female, or as falling completely outside the gender binary. 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…Genderqueer people are united by their rejection of the notion that there are only two genders.” (Serving LGBTIQ Library and Archives)
“Genderqueer is also a colloquial or community term that describes someone who identifies as a gender other than ‘man’ or ‘woman’, or someone who identifies as neither, both, or some combination thereof. In relation to the male/female, genderqueer people generally identify as more ‘both/and’ or ‘neither/nor’, rather than ‘either/or’. Some genderqueer people may identify as a gender and some see it as a third gender in addition to the traditional two.” (Creative Encounters: New Conversations in Science Education and the Arts)
“Genderqueer people-those who choose to live their lives somewhere between the usual gender roles-are softening the boundaries of gender and demonstrating what life without the binary might look like.” (Dossie Easton, The Ethical Slut)
“Genderqueer: 1. A term which is used by some people who may or may not fit on the spectrum of trans or be labeled as trans but who identify their gender and sexual orientation to be outside of the binary gender system, or culturally proscribed gender roles. As with any other groups that may be aligned with transgender identities, the reasons for identifying as genderqueer vary. 2. People who identify as both transgender and queer, individuals who challenge both gender and sexuality regimes and see gender identity and sexual orientation as overlapping and interconnected.” (Trans* and Queer Wellness Initiative)
Although there are nuances with these definitions, they largely cover the same region of gender other than man and woman and illustrate that some may consider themselves genderqueer and see genderqueer as the gender that they identify as, while others understand it and utilize it in a broader sense. While the meaning of genderqueer as a concept may be relatively clear, what it means to individuals will vary and, particularly, where political and radical concepts may be applied will create variation and divergent reactions to the potency of a term like “genderqueer”. It is important to note that the earliest usages I’ve come across are all utilizing genderqueer either as an umbrella term or a term with a meaning of something along the lines of “not man and woman”.
What about non-binary, then? Non-binary gender is a term I’ve encountered most often in academic texts, though less often overall than genderqueer and (so far) never encountered in a glossary (check out these Google Books results for a sampling). It needs to be understood that the widespread usage of this term as an alternative to genderqueer’s umbrella capacity is a relatively recent development.
There are pros and cons to the umbrella usages of these terms. Genderqueer is problematized by (mis)understandings of the implications of queer and that some people use it as a stand-alone identity as well; non-binary is only recently gaining currency as an umbrella term of choice for a wide range of identities. The discourse around these terms seems to indicate that non-binary is more inclusive somehow because of the association of genderqueer with female-assigned individuals and the United States. I would challenge that it is more of an assumption than association, because many of the pioneers of genderqueer identity and “gender outlaws” themselves were actually male-assigned (Riki Wilchins and Kate Bornstein, for example) and, from the two surveys I’ve conducted right up to the Genderqueer Health survey I’m scanning through now just completed a couple of days ago, people who identify themselves as genderqueer are an incredibly diverse bunch and are not strictly from the U.S.
I am divided personally about where I stand with this issue. Genderqueer is the term I’ve encountered most often in my research and is the initial word that really clicked in my head and made me think “This is me!” I think queer itself is a term with fantastic utility, as well as recognizable limitations, although I think many of these perceived limitations come from assumptions rather than actualities. Non-binary, however, doesn’t seem to have the baggage that genderqueer may carry and thus may, in time, end up being the umbrella term of choice in reference to identity. As an exchange I had with Nat (@quarridors) recently reminded me, not all genderqueer people identify as non-binary, because the term is also used in reference to their expression rather than identity.
Ultimately, I would like to make it clear that, historically, genderqueer has frequently been employed as an umbrella term and is still being used that way, although this usage is increasingly being questioned (a great thing, I think) and the alternative of non-binary is more often being brought to the table when it is applicable. Again, the distinction should be made between the wide-reaching purpose of genderqueer, and the identity specific utility of non-binary.