When neither “boy” nor “girl” defines you.
Due in part to high profile advocates like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock speaking out and inspiring others to do the same, mainstream vernacular is finally catching with gender theory, and society is constantly changing the way we think about what it means to be a man or a woman.
But what about people who don’t think of themselves as men or women, but as both, neither, or something in between? Cosmopolitan.com spoke with four people who identify as genderqueer about identity, body dysphoria, and carving out the freedom to be yourself.
Kristen Stewart in On the Road
So you identify as genderqueer. What does that mean to you?
Person A: My gender is a blend of male and female. I have characteristics of both.
Person B: I see gender as a spectrum, with male at one end and female at the other. Sometimes I’m 90 percent male, other times I’m 70 percent female.
Person C: I don’t identify as a girl or a boy or as a gender. I go by how I feel on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
Person D: It gives me the understanding to express myself daily however I want to be, or however I feel. Some days I feel more masculine, others more femme. I don’t choose how I wake up and feel that day, which to me is exciting.
How old are you?
Person A: Eighteen.
Person B: Twenty-five.
Person C: Sixteen.
Person D: Twenty-six.
When did you start identifying as genderqueer?
Person A: I only started shifting from a female to a genderqueer identity this year. I grew up in a small town and had difficulty fitting in as soon as I hit puberty. I knew that I didn’t want to be female, but I didn’t feel “male” enough to transition to being male either. I had heard of the term “genderqueer,” but because I hadn’t met anyone like that, it seemed like a far-away thing. Something you might talk about on your blog profile, but not something that you could do in real life. Facebook’s new gender options were a big deal for me. Facebook is tied to your real life. Listing genderqueer as an option there, and seeing other people use it, made me feel like it was a real thing, something I could actually do. Going away to college and not being around my parents all the time helped too.
Person B: I started identifying as genderqueer about two years ago. My now-wife was the catalyst. Neither of us had ever really identified with the “lesbian” label, and we started to question what else was out there. For a while, I wondered whether I might be trans, because I knew I wasn’t fully female, but making the transformation to male frightened me. So I started looking into what “queer” actually meant. That opened a whole world of labels, sub-labels, and categories, and genderqueer was the one that fit.
Person C: When I was growing up, I never fully identified as a girl. I didn’t really acknowledge gender differences; people weren’t boys or girls, they were just “people” to me. Sometimes I would dress as a boy and other times I would dress as a girl, and I never really questioned it. But as I got older, that wasn’t as socially acceptable. So I started reading and trying to reach out and see if there were other people who felt the way I did. I started learning about the gender spectrum and I realized I didn’t have to identify as a girl or as a boy or as any gender; that I could go by how I felt instead.
Person D: I would say over the past year I finally understood what my gender role was in society. I always focused on being pretty masculine, but would have fun wearing feminine clothing here and there. I just thought I was a typical gay boy. Becoming more involved in the queer community of Brooklyn, I realized who I was. My peers helped me understand that without even realizing. I feel reborn!
How do you express your genderqueer identity in your everyday life?
Person A: Well, I wear a chest binder [a tight material used by some trans men and genderqueer people to flatten their breasts]! Because I’m designated female at birth, I tend to wear mostly masculine clothes and try to adopt masculine mannerisms, like walking with my legs farther apart or crossing my arms higher up on my chest. Lots of little things that most people don’t really think about, but that help others put you into a gender category.
Person B: When I’m feeling more male, I’m more confident and self-assured, almost cocky. When I’m feeling more female, I’m a little bit more demure. It’s in my body language and the way that I behave.
Person C: You can tell how I’m feeling based on the way that I dress. When I have a more masculine attitude, I’ll make myself hyper-masculine to make it clear I would prefer to be seen more as a male figure than a female figure. When I’m feeling feminine, I’ll wear dresses and heels. When I feel like gender isn’t a “thing” and I just want to feel like a person, I wear T-shirts and jeans.
Person D: To this day I still present pretty masculine, with femme touches. Other days it’s the opposite. I think gender roles have become such a topic lately that when people see someone who identifies as genderqueer, they expect their everyday to be this dramatic wardrobe. It’s not just clothing, it’s totally a mindset too.
Do you experience body dysphoria, or do you ever feel like the body you’re in doesn’t fit your gender?
Person A: Yes, mostly with my breasts. I don’t actually have much of a problem with my genitalia, which is another reason I identify as genderqueer rather than trans. It varies. Some days I’ll be fine with my body. Other days I’ll wake up in the morning, and I’ll think, “I’ve got to get rid of these!” Those are the days that I’ll wear the binder. I remember the first day I wore it, feeling like I looked more “normal” in the mirror when I had it on than when I didn’t. That was what confirmed to me that this feeling wasn’t going away. That it was something that needed to be recognized.
Person B: Absolutely. There are times that I absolutely hate that I have curves in certain places. It’s a step beyond “body image issues” in the way that people usually talk about them. It’s not about “feeling fat,” it’s about knowing that no matter how much I work out at the gym, I will look like a trim female rather than a buff male. There are times when I want a male physique, and other times when I don’t care so much.
Person C: When I feel more male than female, I am highly uncomfortable in my body. On the days I feel more feminine, I’m more comfortable because my body matches that.
Person D: Whenever I wear dresses or skirts, I do see myself thinking I look odd and it could look better. It sucks. But then I’ll have a friend walk in the door looking ridiculously queer, and I’ll remind myself who I am and that covering it up will only set us all back!
What pronouns do you prefer people to use when they talk to you?
Person A: They, them, theirs. I like those words because they are already in the dictionary. You don’t get people arguing with you as much.
Person B: If I had my way, I would much prefer to be referred to as “they.” But most people call me “she.” In my marriage, I refer to myself as the husband, and I’m the father of my baby.
Person C: Good friends who understand my situation call me “he/him” on the days that I present as male,”she/her” on the days I present as female, and on the days that I don’t present as either, they just use feminine pronouns as a default. For people who don’t understand my situation, I’m fine with them using feminine pronouns.
Person D: I let people choose what pronouns they want to use. I identify as anything I feel that day. I have no issue with being called queer, boy, girl, or neither. I think this is rare in the genderqueer community because people can get angry if the wrong pronoun is used on them. It can hurt some people very badly. Me, I’m okay.
Do you tend to be attracted to be attracted people of a particular gender?
Person A: I think of myself as bisexual. I haven’t actually met many other transgender or genderqueer people, so I’m not sure if I’m attracted to them more or less [than cisgender people].
Person B: I’m more attracted to women, but I have been attracted to men in the past.
Person C: I am bisexual. I’ve never really had a preference for one gender or the other.
Person D: I tend to be attracted to people who identify as male who play with the concept of gender bending. I don’t really have a reason for it, it’s just what catches my eye.
How do people respond when you tell them you’re genderqueer?
Person A: My friends at university have all been really supportive and cool with it. I didn’t say, “Hey, I’m genderqueer.” It was more like, “Hey, I bought a binder, and it’s great. By the way, I don’t want to be seen as a girl anymore.” I didn’t explicitly come out, but I didn’t hide it either, and they asked what pronouns I wanted them to use. I told my brother the other weekend; he’s 16. I expected him to argue with me about it, but he was like, “You haven’t liked being girly for ages. This makes sense.”
Person B: I have a very, very small group of friends, and they’ve all been absolutely great. My dad couldn’t get his head around it for quite a while. He accepts it to some degree, but he still doesn’t understand that you can be something other than a man or a woman. My mother responded better than I thought she would. She said it made a lot of sense in terms of how I was as a child.
Person C: My close friends accept it. They don’t always completely understand, but they are very supportive and treat me the same as before — except they try to be more conscious of my attire, so that they can use pronouns that I’m comfortable with. Other people I’ve tried to talk to it about think I’m just confused. They think I don’t understand myself, but I do. They’re just determined to categorize me as one or the other, and the fact that it confuses them upsets them.
Person D: Most people understand because I pretty much only surround myself with queer people. My family are some of the most supportive people I know. They still don’t really understand all these verbs and pronouns that are becoming normalized, but they understand who I am — that’s enough for me!
Do people ever make false assumptions about your gender? How does that feel? How do you respond?
Person A: They usually just assume I’m female. I tend not to correct people because that would mean needing to explain a whole new concept to them. I’ve also been misgendered as male, which I prefer, because even if it’s not what I actually am, it’s also not seeing me as female.
Person B: It depends on the person and situation. If it’s the kind of person or situation where I feel they should know better, it irritates me. If it’s just the public health person coming in to see the newborn baby, if she gets it wrong, I’m not bothered because she doesn’t know me or the situation.
Person C: It’s somewhat upsetting because they just don’t understand. I had an incident where I was dressed as a male and was hanging out with my boyfriend at the time. A guy from school came up to us and completely ignored me, he just addressed my boyfriend and said, “So, are you dating a lesbian?” That was an upsetting, stupid comment, and it made me realize how far we are from having non-binary genders accepted in American culture, and in Western culture in general. He couldn’t grasp me looking like a female but not identifying as one.
Person D: Considering I have such masculine features, people often make false assumptions like “how could you be genderqueer? You only wear femme clothing when you’re out at parties!”. It bothers me. Yes my day time look may be more masculine at times, and more femme by night. Isn’t that my choice? It’s how I feel that day, week, month.
What are the everyday challenges of being genderqueer that non-genderqueer people might not be aware of?
Person A: It bothers me that everything is so very gendered. I went to the pharmacy near my house and I tried to sign up for a loyalty club, and they have it split into a “sister club” and “brother club.” Why can’t it just be a club? And fun quizzes online, like “What were you in a past life?” The first question is usually: “Are you male or female?” What does it matter whether you’re male or female? It’s not going to be accurate anyway!
Person C: It’s really frustrating to see the discrimination that non-binary gendered people face when it comes to basic human decencies, like being able to use a bathroom they feel comfortable with or a trans woman being able to enroll in an all-female college.
Person D: One time I went into a Starbucks wearing a skirt and thigh high heels. I felt like I was performing at the circus. The attention was obviously nice, but I knew they were looking and staring for the wrong reasons. They were looking at me as an act, something not normal. I ignore it. Keeps me going!
What do you love about being genderqueer?
Person A: Feeling more comfortable in my own body and feeling better about what I am. Not trying to fit into a box — not that there should be boxes anyway, but there are — and being able to express my gender identity in a way that fits me rather than what fits expectations is really nice.
Person B: I really enjoy being part of this new wave that is slowly changing society. The family setup that my wife and I have, and how we are going to bring our child up is phenomenally new and different. We are the forerunners of this new society, saying that gender is not binary, so don’t treat it as such. Being genderqueer is really exciting to me for that reason.
Person C: I like the freedom that comes with it. That I can experience life as a male and life as a female, and I get to experience things that most people don’t. I’m not stuck in a male or female perspective. I get to have all of it.
Person D: Being able to be whoever I feel I am when I wake up in the morning. How about that instead of a cup of coffee?
If someone has a genderqueer person in their life, how can they be a good ally?
Person A: Don’t assume people’s pronouns, and if they ask you yours, don’t be offended. If you do get a pronoun wrong, don’t make a big deal about it; just apologize and move on. Accept their gender however they express it. If they buy a binder or wear eyeliner, don’t say, “Isn’t that a girl thing?” or, “Isn’t that a boy thing?” Genderqueer doesn’t mean androgynous. It means you can express yourself a masculine way, a feminine way, or neither, or both.
Person B: Just treat them as a human being. Don’t look at the labels, just treat them as who they are.
Person C: The best thing you can do is offer your support. Use the pronouns they prefer. Treat the way you would any other person. Don’t add to the stigma surrounding genderqueer people.
Person D: Ask questions if you don’t understand. Be supportive. Do research. You’ll come to find out how normal this all is. You may even figure a little something about yourself too.
Are there any websites you tell people who are interested in learning more about what it means to be genderqueer to check out?
Person A: I really like the Genderbread Person. This comic on Pronoun Dos and Don’ts is great too.
Person B: This might sound funny, but Wikipedia. Purely because it has so many links to other websites. I also like the Genderfork Twitter page.
Person C: There’s a lot of misinformation out there. The best site I found was Tumblr. I prefer the blogs that are run by a single person about their unique individual experiences.
Person D: Of course you have your typical websites of basic knowledge regarding genderqueer identity. But my favorites would have to be online magazines. There are so many great subscriptions that focus on the queer community and interview everyday people. It’s more relatable and helps you and your non-genderqueer friends understand deeper. Posture, Out, and Genderfork are just a few to name that tend to focus on gender.