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What Does the Term "Genderqueer" Mean?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 14 August 2014
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Genderqueer is an adjective which is used by some people who have gender identities which fall outside the female-male binary; the word is a portmanteau of “gender” and “queer,” a term which some activists have attempted to reclaim. People who do not identify with the gender binary may also refer to themselves as gender variant or gender noncomforming, and not all people use the term “genderqueer.” As a general rule, if someone uses the term self-referentially, it is safe to assume that it can be used to describe that person, but you may want to tread carefully about using “genderqueer” to describe someone you do not know well, in case that person finds this term offensive.

People have been exploring gender identity in a variety of ways for a very long time. While gender identity is related to physical biology, it is also psychological, and some people have struggled with the male-female binary when it comes to gender. For one thing, physical gender appears to fall more along a continuum than a binary, with an estimated one percent of the human population having intersexual traits, and psychological gender is an extremely complex issue.

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Someone who identifies as genderqueer rejects the binary concept of gender, and a number of terms may be used to further refine that person's individual concept of gender, such as postgender, bigender, androgyne, boidyke, gender fluid, agender, and so forth. Some genderqueer individuals are transsexuals who prefer the term “genderqueer” to describe their unique situations. In some cases, a genderqueer individual may have a physical appearance which seems to suggest a specific gender, but that individual does not identify with that gender; for example, the presence of breasts does not necessarily make someone a woman.

Many people in the genderqueer community try to use gender neutral pronouns, because they feel that the existing system of gendered pronouns is too limiting. In some cases, genderqueers may simply use “it” as a gender neutral pronoun, but this is rare, because “it” is deemed somewhat offensive. Numerous complex systems of gender neutral pronouns can be seen in use by the genderqueer community in an attempt to cope with the challenge of fitting unusual gender identities into the English language.

The rise of the genderqueer community really started in the 1990s, as people grew more confident about asserting different gender identities, and a growing movement of nonheteronormative individuals and allies created a supportive environment to talk about gender identity and sexuality. Although the world may be more supporting of genderqueer identities than it once was, living as a genderqueer can still be dangerous, due to intolerance in some communities.

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