Genderqueer 101

When I was little, I was scared of the dark.

I was scared of all the monsters that were going to come out and chew my toes off. I was scared of the dark because I didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand how one moment the world was lit up and full of all these familiar things and the next moment they were all gone and replaced by dark shadows and sharp edges and ominous noises.

Once I hit about the age of seven, I began to understand darkness a little more. I realised that without darkness, Santa couldn’t come and put presents at the end of my bed, and fireworks wouldn’t be even a little bit as awesome without the night sky behind them. Also, without the dark, playing ‘spotlight’ with my cousins would just be like tag (a game I always hated). So, when I understood that the dark was okay and useful and special in its own way, I began to fear it less.

What I’m trying to get at here, is that people get scared of what they don’t understand. And because adults typically aren’t supposed to show their fear, they disguise it with intolerance, scorn or even hatred. 

Issues with gender fall into this category — like a kid faced with the nighttime– it can be hard to wrap your head around the fact that something that seems so distinct, so natural and so structured is actually none of those things.

While the topic of gender is too complex to spell out here, I am going to narrow my focus and discuss the notion of a Genderqueer person – both their identity and their politics.

To start off… lets go riiiight back to the basics, just so we all can follow along.

There’s a difference between sex and gender.

You gotta know that. It’s like 1+1=2 in maths. It’s preschool stuff.

Next up: Gender Identity:

In the words of this great comic by Sam Orchard, your gender identity is all about who you are. Not what your private parts look like. You can feel like you fit into the definitions of male or female, or you could feel like you sit somewhere in between (that can be a fixed or moveable position).

Gender Policing: 

Okay, so remember that time that that Ma’a Nonu got sh*t for wearing eyeliner? Yeah? That. That’s gender policing. The traditional narrative in (western) society is that women wear make up. So when a dude wears it (let alone god forbid, an All Black), people begin to throw all kinds of accusations at him. It means he’s gay, he’s weak, he’s bad at rugby, he’s a show off, a pansy…the list goes on. When really, the guy was just doing what he thought was cool.

Gender policing happens at very miniscule levels as well. The fact that we define what scents suit men and women better, or what what razors shave mens hair best, and what razors shave women’s hair better.

When you open your eyes to gender policing, you’ll see it everywhere. And, what’s even more scary, you’ll see yourself taking part in it.

We all gender police, whether we mean to or not. It’s just what we’ve been taught since we were kids by the world around us. It’s a habit.

But. Habits can be broken.

What does it mean to be Genderqueer (GQ)?

It’s important first off, to realise that for some GQ people, being Genderqueer isn’t merely a political view where you want to reject, challenge and eliminate the set binaries of man and woman that society has provided for you. There is such a politic out there, but this can be held regardless of gender identity.

Being Genderqueer is different for different people. There is a fixed, intimate and personal GQ identity that fits with who you are and how you walk in the world.

It’s about realising that they are more than they are told they are. That their sex category defined at birth is not something that needs to define how they dress, speak, think, or act.

The pronouns ‘he’ or ‘she’ feel alien and uncomfortable to most GQ people. Instead, pronouns such as one, ze, sie, hir, co, ey or singular “they”, “their” and “them” are often used.

Why coming to terms with your gender identity is different from coming to terms with your sexuality: 

For starters, gender and sexuality are completely different. Even Yahoo! Answers can get its head around that.

Your sexuality (who you like to be intimate with) is generally a private thing that happens (mostly) in the bedroom. Gender however, is something that you literally wear out in the world.  So when you’re coming to terms with your gender identity, it’s like living in a glass closet. It can be hard to keep gender identity as a private exploration, which means it’s harder to cement how you feel about your gender identity without every second person you meet trying to define you into boxes that you’re just too star shaped to fit into.

Some misconceptions about GQ people:

They don’t know if they’re male or female.

They are too scared to transition from one binary to another. Kinda like the misconceptions surround bisexuality and pansexuality.

Think you might be Genderqueer?

Gender is so much more complicated than just male and female. We don’t actually have the language to explain all the nuances of gender. So if you feel like you don’t identify with the binaries, don’t freak out.

For some people, gender means a fixed identity. For others it might be more fluid and change several times over their lifetime. Either way is a-okay!

When you begin to tell people it may be good to start small- with some close friends or family or an adult that you trust. Let these people know how you feel, and also let them know your pronoun preferences – you’ll feel safer and more comfortable in their company if they respect your choices.

If you’re a little stuck with how to talk to people, or how to inform them about your GQ identity, there are some really informative sites that can help you out.

Make sure that you have a safe space or safe people that you can go to when the world does (and it sometimes will) get you down. Rainbow Youth  and their groups  provide great safe places, especially if you don’t feel like you have anywhere else to go.

Know someone who’s GQ? Here’s some tips on how you can support them:

First off, it can be challenging to realise the privilege that cisgendered (an individual’s self-perception of their gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth) people carry in the world.

Start off by challenging yourself to make less gendered assumptions. Once you start noticing them, they’re everywhere. One example is when you find out someone is expecting a baby…what’s the first thing people usually ask? Or the polite use of ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir’ when being served at a restaurant. All these sorts of things add up to create a very binary world that a GQ person can find very difficult to navigate.

Another important way you can help your GQ friend or relative is by helping to create more ‘space’ for diversely gendered people. This involves noticing and questioning things like gender assumptions or gender policing.

Make sure you educate yourself about GQ identity before you talk to your GQ friend or family member. It can help you to ask the right questions, and be supportive in the right way, as well as making them feel safer and more respected. Reading this article is a good place to start.

If you have any more questions or you wanna talk to someone, the Rainbow Youth drop-in centre is open Monday – Friday. Feeling shy? You can also send them an email.