When you leave the office to go to the restroom, you head to the ladies’ room. For most people, it’s something we don’t really think about. From birth, our gender has (in a lot of ways) established a core part of our identity. Society likes to tie our biological parts with our habits, likes, and dislikes: Girls wear pink and play with dolls; boys wear blue and play with cars. Women love to shop for designer shoes and men are obsessed with all things sports. But for some people, the lines between male and female are not so defined, and the societal definitions can be restricting.
If you’ve ever felt like you didn’t fit into society’s definition of “male” or “female,” you’re not alone. We spoke to Robin Parry, an education and outreach community developer at QMUNITY, a queer resource center in British Columbia; and Andrew Rabasse, the founder and coordinator for the genderqueer Vancouver community group at QMUNITY.
What does “genderqueer” mean?
While we are all born with a biological sex, gender refers to characteristics and behaviors that define us as either masculine or feminine in society. These could be things like wearing makeup as a feminine characteristic or acting tough as a masculine trait.
“Gender expression is how one outwardly manifests gender, by means such as name and pronoun choice, style of dress, voice modulation,” Parry says. “How one expresses gender might not necessarily reflect one’s actual gender identity.”
Some people describe sexuality as fluid, and gender can be, too. The line between genders is a blurry one for people who feel they do not fit squarely in the feminine or masculine box. Some people feel their gender is the opposite of the biological sex they were born as (transgendered), some describe themselves as “genderless” (otherwise known as pangender), some have described feeling like a combination of both genders (referred to as “two-spirit” or bi-gender), while others move between genders.
Typically, society leans toward the gender and sexual binary, which is the understanding that males are masculine, females are feminine, males are sexually attracted to females, and females are sexually attracted to males. But the world often isn't that polarizing. When understanding genderqueer people, remember that gender is separate from sexuality; a genderqueer person may be straight, gay, bisexual, or asexual, or he or she may have a different view of his or her sexuality.
“Sexual orientation is defined by feelings of attraction, rather than behaviour,” Parry says. “Gender identity is one’s internal and psychological sense of oneself as male, female, both, in between, or neither.”
In other words, who a person is sexually attracted to has no relation to their gender identity.
According to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey performed by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, 22 percent of the 7,500 respondents strongly identified with the term “genderqueer.”
When asked, “What is your current gender?” 61 percent of males-assigned-at-birth identified as “part-time/other” (with the other options being “male” and “female”), compared to 39 percent of females-assigned-at-birth who answered the same.
Although these statistics provide some insight into how a number of people identify when it comes to gender, according to Parry and Rabasse, there is a lack of reliable statistics on people who identify as genderqueer.
This could be due to a number of factors:
- They may not have realized that there are gender identities beyond the gender binary. “Some folk who might identify as genderqueer are just now getting an opportunity to explore their gender, or have not yet had that opportunity,” says Parry.
- Some people use different terms to describe their gender identity. Besides genderqueer, there is also gender outlaw, gender-variant, gender f*ck, gender non-conformist, and omnigender.
- Some may not be comfortable disclosing their gender identity to a stranger, even through an anonymous survey.
While some people have known all their lives that they do not fit society’s gender system, others don’t know until later in their lives, according to Parry.
What if you feel like you don’t fit the gender binary?
Because of new experiences, a new sense of independence, and classes that encourage more critical thinking, college is a time of experimentation and self-discovery.
“Individuals may question their gender identity at any time in their life, and college is often a time where this questioning occurs openly because people may have more freedom to explore than they had in their lives previously,” Rabasse says.
He stresses that only you can decide your gender identity on your own time. “It is important to reflect on who you really are in order to gain the awareness it takes to become conscious of your gender identity,” Rabasse says. “Do not feel pressured to identify as one gender or another; just identify as however you feel fits you, whatever that might be.”
If you are questioning your gender, it is something that only you can define–but you don’t have to figure it out without help. There are many resources available for more information and communities of people who have decided they do not fit the gender binary.
- Gender Education and Advocacy, a national organization that advocates for gender-variant people.
- Genderqueer and Non-Binary Identities, a website aiming to raise awareness and provide information on genderqueer people. It is run by Marilyn Roxie, who identifies as genderqueer.
- Experience Project’s “I Am Genderqueer” forum & chat board, an online forum for people who are genderqueer.
- Genderfork, a website for those who identify as genderqueer where you can even create your own profile, share your story with others, and read others’ stories.
- Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer, a book by Riki Anne Wilchins.
- GenderQueer: Voices From Beyond the Sexual Binary, a book edited by Joan Nestle, Clare Howell and Riki Wilchins.
Rabasse also suggests campus websites (check to see if your school has queer groups or information), sexual health clinics, and local LGBT community centers. Check out social networking sites like Facebook for any genderqueer groups.