In my experience, everyone has at least a general idea of what most of those words mean. For example, 'lesbian'. There's variability in the definition—does a woman who's never had sex with a woman count as a lesbian? What about a woman who's attracted to men as well as women but who has sex with women exclusively? But if I say 'lesbian', you hear some variant of 'woman who has sex with women', for just about any value of 'you'. Similarly, bisexual and transgender people get the short end of the stick from most sides, but thanks to the popularity of the acronym 'LGBT', people tend to at least have heard rumors of the existence of bisexual and transgender people.
Intersex and genderqueer, though? What nonsense is this?
I am not intersex, nor am I aware of knowing anyone who is, so I'll leave the explanation of that concept to the experts. I am, however, genderqueer myself, and I know several other genderqueer folk. This subject I can take on.
Everyone who isn't intersex fits into one of two distinct boxes with regards to biological sex. XX or XY, vulva or penis. 'Sex', the characteristic so identified, is entirely distinct from 'gender', the characteristic discussed in the remainder of this piece, though confusingly the words 'female' and 'male', 'man' and 'woman', are used to refer to either sex or gender, or where possible both at once. Mostly it's possible, because most people are cisgender: self-identified female as well as birth-attending-doctor-identified female, for example. Sometimes it is not possible, because some people are transgender or genderqueer: 'transgender' means, for example, identifying male while having been identified at birth as female. Gender is both an identity and a social construct.
Wikipedia is an excellent starting place for a relatively straightforward definition of the word 'genderqueer'. To paraphrase: there are at least as many ways to be genderqueer as there are people who call themselves genderqueer, and there are several categories within the concept: bigender people (who are both male and female), third-gender people (who have a gender that is neither male nor female), agender or genderless people (who have no gender), genderfluid people (who are sometimes one gender, sometimes another, sometimes in between), and people who queer gender (who express gender in non-normative ways).
An example of queering gender would be someone I know who goes by Woggy. He identifies as cisgender, describes himself as a 'femme male', and I have seen a picture of him wearing an ankle-length green skirt. In US culture, from whence Woggy and I both hail, skirts are reserved for the female of the species, and the cissexist mind would lock up at the sight of the obviously male Woggy wearing one.
Someone who declines to be identified has childhood recollections of thinking "I should have been born a girl". He oscillates between thinking of himself as happily genderqueer and as a trans woman in denial; he prefers himself with long curly hair and without facial hair on the grounds that that way he looks "girly". If he is a trans woman (and I continue to use male pronouns despite that possibility because he says he prefers them, at least for the moment), he's not among those who would seek sex reassignment surgery; he is content to remain physically male. Gender is often described as performative, as a result of our behavior and the roles we play, and so it is for him.
Azz identifies alternately as 'genderfluid' and 'gender-irrelevant', and before all else as 'geek'. They can be found on the gender binary, sometimes a feminine 'she' and sometimes a masculine 'it', but they are not always on the gender binary, and see also 'gender-irrelevant'. They will answer to feminine pronouns, though, being female-bodied and accustomed to wearing skirts and tops that flatter that body.
An anonymous individual prefers the pronoun 'ő', or 's/he' and 'her' for those of us who speak English and can't work out how "roughly like the 'ir' in bird, particularly with the British received pronunciation which drops the r, and gets the vowel sound close enough" is supposed to sound. S/he isn't sure if s/he's agender, genderfluid, third-gender, or as Azz says, gender-irrelevant; the beauty of the term 'genderqueer' is that it's broad enough to cover all those possibilities. The certainty is that s/he is not male and not female. Especially so on days when s/he's on her period or similar; the disjunction between the body's thus-emphasized sex and the mind's gender or lack thereof exacerbates mental health issues.
Sixwing uses female pronouns offline for family reasons, neutral pronouns online; ze is constantly amazed at how people respond to zir setting zir gender, in Internet places that require disclosure, to 'not telling' or 'other'. Identifying as genderqueer is, for zir, more about rejecting gender than embracing it, because neither female nor male stereotypes, roles, or accoutrements fit. Ze is working to present as androgynous to masculine rather than as feminine, and appreciates that zir workplace doesn't require gendered clothing; again, gender as performance, tertiary sexual characteristics such as clothing deliberately chosen.
Rainne is female-assigned-at-birth (as distinct from female-bodied; as another FAAB interviewee said, it's their body and they're not female). She tends to recognize this fact only when it is being inconvenient, such as when she is on her period. Female pronouns aside, Rainne is agender, and behaves as such. Not femme, not butch. Gender is a performance in which Rainne chooses not to play a role.
I myself identify most days as an agendered femme woman, three words: one for gender identity, one for gender performance, one for body shape. The rest of the time, I think I'm being appropriative of the genderqueer experience by identifying myself as genderqueer rather than as a cis woman. Certainly the world outside the Internet thinks I'm a cis woman, and my skirts and earrings and my reluctance to get motor oil on my hands do nothing to dissuade them of that belief.
Huh. It's only as I write this paragraph that I realize, for an essay meant to reflect the diversity of genderqueerness, it's not very diverse at all. My interviewees whose birth sex is male identify with the female gender, and my interviewees whose birth sex is female are gender-neutral.
I did not ask any of my interviewees their sexual orientation, though some of them volunteered that information. This was deliberate on my part. Gender identity and sexual orientation are two distinct things. They're related—a male-assigned-at-birth person beginning to feel sexual attraction to men might be beginning to identify as a cis gay man or as a straight trans woman—but there are significant differences between cis gay men and straight trans women, not least of which being the level of societal acceptance. Gay and lesbian people are not inherently rejecting the gender binary, just the bit that says men must have sex only with women and vice versa. Trans people are not inherently rejecting the gender binary, just the bit that says gender is determined by whether one's procreative organs are external or internal.
Genderqueer people inherently reject the gender binary altogether. 'Male' and 'female' are not the only categories, our existence says; belonging to one category does not preclude belonging to another, and it is not compulsory to belong to either.
Perhaps that's part of why genderqueerness is so little known. We threaten the gender binary, and on that binary rest so many assumptions (established as early as the pink or blue icing on the baby shower cake) about people and how they behave that if it crumbles, everything might crumble with it. Better to pretend we don't exist.
Guess what? I exist. Woggy, Rainne, Azz, Sixwing, they exist. Bigender and third-gender people, they exist. And for many, many reasons, it is long past time that the gender binary came tumbling down.
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