“Genderqueer” means that a person defies and rejects traditional binary gender norms. It is a personal identity and means different things to different people.
Gender norms assign specific traits and behaviors to a person based on their gender. People who identify as genderqueer generally reject gendered norms for themselves. They may also believe those norms are harmful to others.
A range of identities falls under the umbrella of genderqueer, including trans, nonbinary, intersex, and agender. A person’s gender identity may be fluid or nonspecific.
Read on to learn about what it means to be genderqueer, different gender identities, and how to support genderqueer individuals.
The term “queer” has a long and complex history. In the past, it was used as a slur against people perceived as non-heterosexual, gender nonconforming, and transgender.
Now, individuals with these marginalized identities are reclaiming the term and using it as a source of empowerment.
“Queer” can be a noun, referring to people who do not subscribe to gender or sexual norms, or it can be a verb. To “queer” something means to open it to non-normative gender and sexual expressions. For example, queering academia means inviting queer perspectives into academic settings.
“Genderqueer” means to queer gender by rejecting binary conceptions of gender.
People who identify as genderqueer entirely reject notions of man and woman and other binaries. They may feel that these ideas should be expanded to include additional genders or find that these categories do not fully match their own experience.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
Sex is a biological classification that typically refers to a person’s reproductive organs. It primarily consists of male and female but also includes intersex and ambiguous.
Gender and sex are two different things. A person’s gender refers to the social and cultural norms people assign to biological sex.
However, as people have embraced the fluid nature of gender, it has expanded beyond social norms governing male and female bodies. Now, there is a wide continuum of gender identities.
Different people may recognize different gender identities and assign different characteristics to these traits. Gender is deeply personal and not easily defined.
Despite this, society shapes ideas surrounding gender.
Stereotypes about men and women persist. Gender nonconforming individuals may still believe gender stereotypes and may experience gender stereotyping.
Gender and gender identity are part of a spectrum that is continuously evolving and changing. Some examples of gender identities are:
A person may identify as genderqueer, indicating they reject stereotypical gender norms. They may also have other identities under the genderqueer umbrella.
Any gender identity that is not part of the gender binary and rejects stereotypical notions of gender may align with genderqueer identities.
Importantly, gender identity is distinctly different from sexual orientation. Gender identity denotes how a person perceives themself and their identity, while sexual orientation indicates whom a person prefers to have sexual and romantic relationships with.
This means that a person’s gender identity does not inform their sexual orientation.
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Some other gender identities within the gender spectrum, and their relationship to genderqueer, are as follows:
- Gender nonbinary: “Nonbinary” means that a person does not identify with the binary classifications “man” and “woman.” Some genderqueer individuals may also identify as nonbinary or use the two terms interchangeably.
- Genderfluid: Genderfluid people do not have a fixed gender identity. Some alternate between feeling like a man and feeling like a woman, and others reject these constructs altogether and embrace some other gender or combination of genders.
- Gender nonconforming: This means that a person does not conform to the stereotypes associated with their gender. It includes a wide continuum of people, including those who do not identify as queer or genderqueer. For example, a girl who identifies as a tomboy and a boy who identifies as feminine are both gender nonconforming.
- Transgender: “Transgender” means that a person’s gender identity is different from the gender society expects based on their sex assigned at birth. Some trans people identify as genderqueer, while others strongly identify with a single binary gender.
Genderqueer people, as well as all individuals who defy gender norms or expectations, may experience stigma, abuse, and bullying.
A 2018 study published in Pediatrics found extremely high rates of suicide and attempted suicide among transgender adolescents, especially trans boys and nonbinary youth.
Here are some other ways a person can support genderqueer individuals:
- Do not assume a person’s gender.
- Ask for and share one’s own pronouns in work and school settings.
- Do not make assumptions about gender based on behavior. Gender stereotypes are harmful to many groups, including genderqueer individuals.
- Avoid outing genderqueer people or assuming that they are out. In one study, researchers found that
76% of nonbinary peoplein the United Kingdom could not openly express their gender.
- Believe people about their identities and pronouns. Pronouns and names are not a person’s “preferred” gender. They represent their gender.
- Ask how to be supportive. Every genderqueer person is an individual with unique needs and preferences.
- Listen to genderqueer individuals about their needs rather than rely on third parties or stereotypes for information.
Gender is a person’s expression of their identity, and it may be different from the one associated with the sex assigned to them at birth. Genderqueer people reject certain constructs of gender, and some reject the entire notion of gender.
Because genderqueer identities push back against gender norms and stereotypes, genderqueer people may face stigma and bullying. Allies can support them by asking people about their gender identity, asking how to be supportive, and embracing a more expansive approach to gender.