What happens when you don’t identify as strictly masculine or feminine? How do you label yourself, when neither “man” nor “woman” feels comfortable?
It could mean that you’re nonbinary or genderqueer. To understand what these related terms mean, one needs to understand why some LGBT have decided to self-identify as “queer” in the first place. To those members of the LGBT community, “queer” means “other” or “outside the norm.” In this situation, it’s no longer a slur. Likewise, to understand “nonbinary,” one must know about the gender binary: the social construct of male vs. female and boy vs. girl, functioning as though they’re opposites.
I go into more detail about gender norms in my post “Sex vs. Gender: Understanding The Difference.”
Some trans* identify as “genderqueer,” but not all who identify as GQ are the same. As an umbrella term, it includes third gender, gender-fluid, and genderless, among other terms.
Trans* with the asterisk expands MtF/FtM (Male to Female/Female to Male) into the following groups:
Note: Please, be aware that this is not a complete list.
- Agender/Genderless: Those who feel they don’t have a gender. Rather than being either or both, they are always neither.
- Androgynous: Physically appearing as neither entirely masculine nor feminine.
- Genderfluid: Moving between genders. At times, the person identifies as a woman, other times a man, and other times both. Then, there are times when they identify as neither.
- Genderfuck: Combining masculine and feminine appearance to the degree that it purposely causes society to question gender itself.
- Genderqueer: Identifying with a gender outside the masculine/feminine gender binary.
- Third gender/other gender: A combination of masculine and feminine, or an entirely new concept of gender.
The standard genderqueer flag represents the three ways in which non-binary people identify. Lavender is a mixture of the traditional pink and blue colors socially associated with feminine and masculine. It symbolizes those who are both genders. Dark green is the reverse of lavender, indicating those who are neither masculine nor feminine. White represents being entirely outside the gender categories.
There are many alternative gender-neutral pronouns to choose from when speaking about a genderqueer person. The most common are “zhe,” “zher,” and “zhim.” Instead of using “he/she” pronouns, one uses “zhe” to refer to the subject. In replace of “his/her,” one uses “zher” for the possessive pronoun. Rather than referring to the object as “him/her,” there is the genderless pronoun “zhim.”
Confused? Practice makes perfect! It’s the same as when we learned “he” and “she,” but less to specify!
A simple way to go about this is to use terms such as “they” or “one.” The reason it can be difficult is having been conditioned to gendered language. Think about romance languages. How often do they rely on gender to identify who is being referred to? This changes the rules. Try using gender-neutral alternatives such as “they” throughout your daily conversation.
For more on gender-neutral pronouns, see the chart on Wikipedia.
Many genderqueer or nonbinary allies are cisgender. Being cisgender means that your genitalia matches your gender identity. Several cis people find it equally as liberating to learn that it’s acceptable not to fit into these boxes. Of course, there is more to this concept and far more to debate; however, indulging would go off topic.
Some of society may feel that the talk about nonbinary identity is new, but in reality it has been around for as long as people have existed. Ancient civilizations are known to have their own terms for “third gender.” For example, Indigenous culture has Two-Spirit, which is essentially identical to the ways in which nonbinaries describe their genders. So, the next time that you hear someone arguing that queer gender identity is some “new fad” for attention, remind them to freshen up on their history!
English stand-up comedian, Eddie Izzard is an example of a well-known genderfluid trans* person. She has been out since the 1985, and as she says herself on the British talk show Loose Women, “It was not cool, then.” Izzard has always been vocal about breaking gender roles and getting others to think about gender.
One subtle way in which we can all help end this fixation on gender binaries is for everyone to opt-out of declaring theirs on forms, such as surveys. Gender declaration is not as relevant to these papers as we have been taught. You do not have to be trans* to choose not to publicly identify nor to understand that the request is unnecessary; however, as with race, there should be concern over the reason(s) why they want this information. During these surveys, anyone of any gender should be wondering “Will this information create a bias in society?”
Medical forms are often used as comparison. It’s a weak attempt to make us feel ashamed and uneducated for questioning their desire to proceed with public surveys; however, medical records go beyond asking for our gender identity and race. They keep our health record. Other organizations need not be so intrusive. Don’t allow society to convince you that a relation exists when it doesn’t. We are people before we are a checkmark in a demographic category.
Within the LGBT community, a reoccurring problem is acceptance for anyone who does not fit strictly into a particular group. Bisexuals have always received criticism at pride events, even though their sexual orientation is in the very name of the community they’re a part of. Is it not called the LGBT, anymore? There is a fear because they flow between worlds; therefore, it is not a surprise that nonbinary gender identities would receive similar treatment for not choosing one side of the gender spectrum. How hypocritical that a community so oppressed and controlled by society now seeks to do the same to its own members.
Editor’s Note: Revised and rewritten since original publication on HubPages in 2017.