Last updated January 4, 2013. New? See the Site Map first.
The Frequently Asked Questions section includes answers to questions that have been frequently asked and answered on the site, as well as questions and answers about important, common topics in gender, sex, and sexuality and how they relate to genderqueer and non-binary gender identity.
How to use: Click the title of the question in the Table of Contents below to jump down the page to the answer.
Table of Contents:
What does “genderqueer” mean?
Click here for a more thorough description. As a short answer: Genderqueer is a term used to describe those whose gender is non-normative (“queer”) or whose “queer” gender through presentation or other means (queer in the latter case is being used as a verb). See a collection of definitions from various print and web sources at Defining Genderqueer. See my answer to “What is the difference (if any) between genderqueer and non-binary?” here.
What does “transgender” mean?
As defined by Practical Androgyny:
‘Transgender’ is an umbrella term that can potentially cover all people who transgress or transcend (go beyond the limits of) society’s rules and concepts of gender. People may be transgender due to their self expression, identity or personal history.
“Transgender”, while often considered an umbrella term for persons whose gender expression and identity is non-normative, an umbrella, as such, under which genderqueer may belong, is a term that tends to be associated with the identities of male and female, or man and woman, such as Female-to-Male (FTM, trans men) and Male-to Female (MTF, trans women), and with the process of transition, physically or in presentation, along binary-associated lines. Identifying as transgender specifically may not express a non-binary identity as clearly as the term “genderqueer” does, which may be seen as its own “umbrella” category differentiated from, and overlapping with, transgender.
What do “gender” and “queer” mean?
Gender can refer to sense of self (gender identity), perception of self by others (including gender recognition or misgendering), behavior, expression, and role. There are both psychological (arising in the mind) and socio-cultural (determined by others, ideas about what is masculine and feminine, and role expectation) aspects of gender.
In general, the popular phrase “gender is what’s between your ears, sex is what’s between your legs” represents the way the gender and sex distinction is typically viewed. For some challenges to this notion, check out TAL9000: Sex is a Social Construct and Genderbitch: Male/Female: Broken Language?.
“Queer” implied an insult originally and can still be used in that sense today, though it is now more frequently used as an umbrella term to refer to LGBT rights and theory, as in “queer theory”, and to refer to non-normative sexualities and gender identities in general. It should be noted that no identity is inherently “subversive” (that is to say, intrinsically a challenge to a “norm” of identity) apart from, for example aspects of individual determination or political application that may figure an identity as such, since this is dependent on the given culture that such an identity arises in or is a part of. See also GLBTQ’s glossary definition of “queer”.
What does [insert identity related term here] mean?
Check out the GENDERpedia, Gender Spectrum, and TransWhat? if it’s not covered in the FAQ or elsewhere on the site. You can ask via GQID’s Tumblr ask box as well if you are having difficulty finding information elsewhere and I will do my best to answer.
What’s the difference between binary and non-binary gender?
The gender binary holds that the only genders possible are man and woman. Non-binary genders combine, exist between, or are outside of this binary. While there is nothing problematic as identifying as a man or a woman, the lack of allowance for gender identities other than men or women to exist is a problem within a binary system. A continuum of genders allows for there to be men, women, and everything in between, but no space for those outside of this continuum, or a space for none of the above. Even viewing men on one side and women on the other of such a continuum is problematic, as it implies that these genders are somehow “opposites”. Visualizing gender variation as a spectrum may be more helpful and accurate. Click here for a visual.
How do I know if I’m genderqueer? / How do I know if I’m [insert identity here]?
My general suggestions would be to…:
- Play with Yay genderform!, a great way to think critically about yourself as well as have fun exploring possible identities.
- Check out how the identity/ies you connect with is/are defined and generally understood.
- Read up on the experiences of or interact with others on-line or read about genderqueer identities in books (see also Genderqueer Links and Books) and see what might be similar or relate-able to your own.
- Find out if there is a transgender and/or genderqueer support group in your area, if you’d like to explore your identity with others in-person. Some tips: check out college campus straight-gay alliances or queer groups, Google your area + genderqueer “support group” (or transgender “support group”), check to see if GenderQueer Revolution sponsoring or hosting any events near you (it’s international, while based in Southern California), or perhaps you could even start your own group or event! If your area doesn’t appear to have any trans* or genderqueer support groups, try checking out places that advocate a sex-positive attitude and sex education and provide space for related events, such as the Center for Sex & Culture in San Francisco and the Center for Sexual Pleasure & Health in Rhode Island. Places such as these are often genderqueer-friendly and queer-friendly in general. If you’d like to help a trans* friendly group become more inclusive for those of non-binary identity, see Practical Androgyny: How transgender organizations can demonstrate inclusivity.
- Examine how your own experiences and understanding of yourself interact with what you’ve come to know about the identity / identities description/s and ask: does it fit for you? Remember that describing yourself is not the same as being “labeled” by other people. If you find a word, a community that seems to really connect with who you are, find out if it does fit you; it is a powerful thing to make that connection!
- Virtual environments can at times be a safer or more comfortable place to explore identity if you are not ready or able to come out in person, such as in forums or game environments that allow you to customize the expression and identity of your character. Click here for more on that.
How do I come out as genderqueer and/or non-binary?
Check out my Coming Out as Trangender, Genderqueer, and/or Non-Binary Masterpost and the posts on GQID tagged as “coming out”.
What does “sex” mean?
Sex can refer to sex assigned-at-birth (physiological and biological), self-identification of sex (how you view your own body), or desired physical sex presentation or transition. Sex does not only include male and female: see also Intersex Society of North America: What is intersex?
For a different opinion on what sex is, see Riki Anne Wilchins’s commentary in Read my Lips: Sexual Subversion and the End of Gender (1997):
In Judith Butler’s terms, Sex is to Nature (raw) as Gender is to Culture (cooked)…But what if this narrative is actually inverted? …Maybe the formula is reversed. Gender is not what culture creates out of my body’s sex; rather, sex is what culture makes when it genders my body.
In Kate Bornstein’s My Gender Workbook (1998), Bornstein interprets gender as “any way we use to tell people apart”. In her definition, “biology, sociology, psychology, and physiology” are all part of gender. She writes:
For so long, we’ve bought into a biological imperative that has labeled genitalia as “male”or “female”; what’s more, we’ve dignified that imperative by giving it it’s own word: sex! Anyway, who says penises are male and vulvas are female? “Sex” as a designation of gender says it. Sex-as-gender says that penises are male, and that vaginas, vulvas, and clitorises are female. I don’t get it…For a long time, we’ve tried to explain two different, admittedly related concepts, with one word: sex.
So, then, how does Bornstein understand sex?:
Sex is fucking: any way, shape, or form, alone or with another or others.
Self-identity of sex and interpretation of what implications a sex identity have do indeed fall under categorization. For simplicity’s sake and in congruence with the general understanding of gender and sex however, I will define gender and sex as indicated in this FAQ throughout Genderqueer Identities, but do bear in mind Bornstein’s analysis as it is an important one and one which requires some deeper thought and perhaps future commentary from me. For related articles, see also The Intersex Roadshow: The Phalloclitoris and Dr. Gary Wood’s Myth Busting Human Sexual Anatomy Quiz.
Weren’t / aren’t gender and sex synonymous?
This often isn’t practical anymore, with the increasing separation of the terms’ meanings, while the two are frequently used as synonymous colloquially. Assumptions, particularly those based on stereotypes, about someone’s gender presentation, or expression, may cause a person to conflate presentation with assumptions about physical sex, and even potentially discriminate against them because of the sex they assume or know them to be.
Additionally, medical transition such as Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) may be desired if a person does not feel their assigned sex “matches” their identity. Gender and sex identity can be varied, as, for example, a man identifying as male, a woman identifying as female, an androgyne identifying as both male and female. It is also possible for gender identities to not “match” typical expectations of sex, whether this refers to the sex assigned-at-birth, self-identification of sex (how you view your own body), or desired transition. Examples: an androgyne who identifies as male, a gender fluid female, and so on. There are a variety of possibilities of gender identification and sex, and one need not necessarily inform the other.
What are some genderqueer and non-binary-related identities and concepts?
Click here. Short answer: androgyne, bigender, gender fluid, neutrois, pangender, to name a few. The clickable link will direct you to a list with definitions.
Isn’t genderqueer just another label? / Why are you labeling yourself?
Labels can be differentiated from self-description. Labels are applied by others. Self-description is applied by you. Do you identify as the gender that you do only because you have been told that’s what you are? Or, is it because you are happy describing yourself as such? If it is the latter, you have engaged in positive self-description. When others make assumptions about you or tell you who or what you are, that’s labeling. While “label” as a word can be used to refer to a term that’s applied to a concept, it has acquired negative connotations of assumptions, while self-description has not. Imagine someone applying sticky labels all over a person’s body and mind. Now, instead picture someone writing about themselves in their journal, sometimes writing privately, sometimes sharing the contents inside with others when they want to. That’s the difference.
Isn’t everyone genderqueer?
No. Click here to find out why. This question comes from the same well-intentioned, but misguided, place as “aren’t we all / aren’t we all a little bit bisexual, or pansexual?” It is a given, although one that is not often examined, that almost none of us exhibit 100% the attributes associated with any particular gender. Not conforming to binary gender expectations 100%, however, does not alone qualify as genderqueerness - a term like gender non-conforming may be more appropriate in this situation. Genderqueer identity is more complex than not aligning with social expectations of binary gender, as described above: socio-cultural elements can be a factor in genderqueer or non-binary identity, although elements as diverse as psychology, health, sexuality, and spirituality also often play roles in shaping such identities.
How should I refer to a genderqueer or non-binary person? What about pronouns?
If you’re not sure, ask! Asking is better than referring to someone using words that may not be appropriate and some may even prefer she/her/hers or he/him/his, have no particular preference, or have a mix of pronouns that they are alright with. Check out Gender Neutral Pronoun Blog’s The Need for a Gender-Neutral Pronoun and MIT’s Ally Toolkit: Gender Neutral Pronoun Usage for more on this. (originally posted here) They/them/their is a good default set to use unless noted otherwise by someone indicating another preference.
As for names, some people modify their birth name or choose a new name to better reflect their identity and/or to accompany transition, while others don’t.
How do people become genderqueer?
There are a variety of reasons, not a single answer that is the same for everyone. When asking a question such as this, one could also wonder how do people…
- become men or women?
- become heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, or asexual?
- become monoamorous or polyamorous?
- become comfortable or uncomfortable with their physical sex?
- become needful of medical sex modification or use of implements like breast-forms, packers, or binders…or not?
From my own research and consulting the current research and studies published on other types of identity, there is no single, simple answer that always explain any of the above. Factors including but not limited to: personal exploration, self-description, environmental factors, access to information, having a fixed or fluid identity, biology, physiology, and/or psychology may play a part in shaping aspects of identity such as gender, sex, and orientation.
Identity is often about figuring out and experiencing what feels right, for, often, a multitude of reasons. The reason, or cause as it is so often sought out as, as interesting as it may be to ponder and research, is not nearly as important as the need for acknowledgement that the vast spectrum of gender, sex, and orientation identities that exist out there are deserving of equal respect, while regarding as well the specific needs and experiences that each entail. Equal respect does not, and need not, imply that we are all “the same”.
It should be noted and, hopefully, readily understood that “deserving of equal respect” implies a consensual and sex-positive framework and does not refer to, for example, situations or personal comprehension (or lack thereof, rather) of identity that involve a lack of consent, sexual abuse, or invasion of privacy, nor does this include unwanted attempts to “cure” a current identity.
What is genderqueer fashion? / How do I dress as genderqueer? / How do I pass as genderqueer?
There is no one way to dress as genderqueer or, more rarely and as of this time of writing, to be perceived as genderqueer being that, as a term encompassing various non-binary, non-normative identities, few people in daily life, who are likely unaware of one’s gender identity in the first place unless you are out to the group in question, would be able to recognize a specific presentation as genderqueer. “Passing” as genderqueer is similarly difficult since genderqueer is still a term growing in popularity and is not widely known outside of trans* and LGBTQ circles.
Bearing this in mind and taking into consideration one’s identity and desired presentation, as well as the perception of gender expression by others, you can figure out what represents you best and, if it is what you’re aiming for, gets across your identity to others when possible. This may involve, for example, dressing in neutral or unisex clothing or going for an androgynous look, depending on what reflects your identity best. The world of modeling and fashion magazines tends to have more of such styles than mainstream fashion guides, not to forget the queer community at large. Check out different looks and consult your own sense of style to find out what’s right for you. Search terms like unisex clothing and androgynous clothing on Google for inspiration.
Remember too that clothing may mean different things to different people. One male does not think he’s less of a man for wearing a skirt; another male considers himself “in drag” and expressing his “feminine” side; another male-assigned person identifies as female and as a woman, wearing feminine clothing for self-expression and to signal identification to others. None of them are “right” or “wrong”. Signifiers (or lack thereof) in the way of presentation, again, mean different things to different people.
Do genderqueer people medically transition?
Some do, some don’t, and some aren’t sure whether or not they want to yet. As with transgender people such as trans men and trans woman, among genderqueer people, there are those who are: non-operative (no-op), no-hormones (no-ho), pre-op, pre-ho, post-op, and post-ho. It should be noted that some may want surgery, but not want hormones, and vice versa. Transition in appearance may also, or alternatively, be desired in use of implements such as breast-forms, packers, and binders and/or involving clothing and/or hair (body hair, hairstyles). See also Transsexual Road Map and Non-Op: Beginner’s Guide.
What are your recommendations for [breast-forms, packers, binders, or other physical sex appearance-modifying item] or [gender non-conforming / genderqueer clothing]?
Where can I find genderqueer-friendly bathrooms?