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What is “Genderqueer”?

Last updated December 30, 2011. Original was a project for an LGBT American History class by Marilyn Roxie, May 17 2011. Revision made as recent as the last update indicated above. Click here for a bibliography of sources utilized and cited for this project.

Defining genderqueer:

Genderqueer is a term that may be used to describe those with non-normative[1] gender, either as an umbrella term or a stand-alone identity, typically encompassing those who are in one, or more, of these six categories: 

    1. both man and woman (example: androgyne)
    2. neither man nor woman (agender, neutrois, non-gendered)
    3. moving between two or more genders (gender fluid)
    4. third gendered or other-gendered (includes those who prefer “genderqueer” or “non-binary” to describe their gender without labeling it otherwise)
    5. having an overlap or blur of gender and orientation and/or sex [2] (girlfags and guydykes)
    6. those who “queer” gender, in presentation or otherwise, who may or may not see themselves as non-binary or having a gender that is queer; this category may also include those who are consciously political or radical in their understanding of being genderqueer

Group #4 is differentiated from group #2 because those who identify as neither man nor woman, such as neutrois, may either see their identification as agendered (without gender, #2), or as a “third gender” (#4, having a non-binary identified gender). Note that group #6 may include those who are binary-identified (man or male, woman or female) that “queer” gender in presentation or other ways. Binary-identified genderqueer people may occupy a contested space in the realm of genderqueer identity due to issues of appropriation; see also Questioning Transphobia: Appropriation of Genderqueer Identities and The Biyuti Collective: On “Trenderqueers” for more on this. However, policing identity boundaries can have the unfortunate effect of denying legitimate self-identification and creating a hierarchy of identity “validity”. Different people will have very different reasons for identifying as genderqueer, as shown in the list above: all of these are important to explore for a more complete understanding of genderqueer as a concept, as well as who identifies as such and why.

A collection of definitions of the term “genderqueer” from web and print sources can be found in Definitions of Genderqueer. Common genderqueer-associated identities are defined in Terminology. History and political applications are discussed in History.

Breaking down the term leaves one with “gender” and “queer”. Consulting the Oxford Dictionaries Online definition for “gender”, a usage note reads: “Sex tends to refer to biological differences, while gender refers to cultural or social ones”. Gender according to Oxford is defined as “the state of being male or female”, although as genderqueer communities and individuals show, there are plenty who have what they interpret as a gender identity that is not restricted to one of these two options. Unpacking gender as a concept is a difficult task since there are both psychological and socio-cultural elements at work in the shaping of gender identity. Further defining gender is a topic I must leave aside here, as it is too complex and wide-reaching for the scope of this project.
 
Next, “queer”, which has been used as an insult can still be used in that sense today, is now more frequently used as an umbrella term to refer to LGBT rights and theory, as in “queer theory”, and to refer to all non-normative sexualities and gender identities[3]. Some may have a discomfort with the term “queer” or “genderqueer” due to connotations of insult, radical identity, or political implications that they do not share.

Genderqueer identities don’t have a de facto connection with physical sex. There may be nuances and ties to physical sex concepts on an individual level, so there are non-operative and no-hormone, pre-op / pre-ho, and post-op / post-ho genderqueers. For example, a neutrois person may wish to dress in a neutral fashion not identifiable as masculine or feminine, or this may be accompanied with a desire “to lose the physical traits that cause them to be socially read and treated as”[4] men or women. Apart from some in group #5, as sexual orientation is tied in with gender identity for them, genderqueer people can be of various orientations: heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, asexual and so on. 

“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 binary identities of male and female, 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 lines. Identifying as transgender specifically may not express a genderqueer-associated or non-binary identity as clearly as the term “genderqueer” does, which may be seen as its own “umbrella” category as differentiated from, and overlapping with, transgender. Sexuality and law professor Nancy J. Knauer wrote in Gender Matters: Making the Case for Trans Inclusion (2007):

In some circles, the term genderqueer has emerged as an umbrella category that is distinguished by its oppositional stance to gender and its critique of the binary…Genderqueer recognizes that gender matters.  It rejects, but does not deny the binary…genderqueer allows for the realness of gender, but declares it to be ultimately malleable and fluid. The label genderqueer signals an oppositional stance to gender as a primary mode of identification…Even if you reject the proposition that we are all a little genderqueer, you will have to allow that we all experience gender and to varying extents we all participate in the gender system.

Non-binary refers to gender that is not binary (not man or woman) and has overlap with the term genderqueer, while they are not to be used interchangeably. While genderqueer can include those who are non-binary g(except for in the case of referring to expression / performance exclusively), not all non-binary identified people consider themselves genderqueer.

Next section: Genderqueer History → OR Related Identities and Concepts

Notes:

[1]: Normative gender is related to the concept of heteronormativity, which “describes a binary gender system, in which only two sexes are accepted. Adherents of this normative concept maintain that one’s gender identity and one’s gender role ought to be congruent with one’s external genitalia, and that one ought to display a heterosexual sexual preference.” Stringer, JAC. “GenderQueer and Queer Terms.” Trans & Queer Wellness Initiative. 2009. Web. 15 Apr. 2011. <http://genderqueercoalition.org/terms>.

[2]: Ibid.

[3]: Meem, Deborah T, Michelle Gibson, and Jonathan Alexander. “Glossary: Queer.” Finding Out: An Introduction to LGBT Studies. Los Angeles: Sage, 2010. 433. Print

[4]: Feldman, Stephe. “Neutrois - FAQs.” Neutrois. 1 Nov. 2006. Web. 15 Apr. 2011. <http://www.neutrois.com/faq.html>.