As most people have probably caught on to by now, I’m a genderqueer / nonbinary person. I use they/them pronouns, which means that when you talk about me you don’t say “he went to the shop” or “she bought some bread” but use “they” in place, e.g. “they went to the shop and they bought some bread”. It can be a bit of an adjustment for people who have known me since before I came out as genderqueer, but the easiest way of thinking of singular they is that if you don’t know the gender of a person, you use it without thinking about it at all. “This random person came to the shop yesterday. They bought some eggs, I don’t know what to make of them.” It’s the same principle, and once you get more used to it, you won’t think twice.
As a side note, singular they has been around since the time of Shakespeare so I will not entertain any “new fangled” arguments about it. 😛
For people outside of the queer community, the word “genderqueer” might sound a bit strange and alien. It’s been used for decades to describe people outside of the gender binary (man/woman) in whatever way. It’s what’s known as an “umbrella term”, which means a lot of different genders go under genderqueer – you can use it as a collective term or as a single identity depending on context. In the last ten years I’ve seen the word “nonbinary” come in and take the place of “genderqueer” more and more. It does make sense, as describing something outside of the binary is naturally, well, non-binary.
Me, I use genderqueer for myself. I have many reasons for using that word primarily, but the main one is that it was the first word I found that actually described me and what I was feeling. I’m an Elder Millennial, I was born in the mid 80s, and gender discourse wasn’t something I encountered until I randomly came across it on the internet. I was 20 or 21 years old, and a comment in a long thread on LiveJournal mentioned this new word that I’d never seen before. It then went on to describe me, to a T. This must have been around 2005, so it was a while before the nonbinary word entered common parleance.
Finding a word that descibes you perfectly, it’s near impossible to describe the instant feeling of belonging, of knowing it’s Not Just You, that you may be a freak but you’re not the only freak out there! People talk about not needing labels. I’m not one of those people. I think it’s easy to talk about not needing labels if you belong to a large group (especially a privileged one), but when you’re part of a minority it very much becomes part of your identity. And having labels that show you’re not the only one, that there’s a community somewhere, even if not right in your back garden, becomes an incredible important thing.
I do use the nonbinary term as well, especially when talking to people outside of the queer community. I know that nonbinary is a better known word; sometimes I’ll say nonbinary genderqueer so I get my own identity in there while explaining what it’s all about at the same time.
Whether you choose to use nonbinary or genderqueer, or something else entirely, just find something you’re comfortable with. There is a thing called “gender euphoria”, which is when you feel amazing about a gender-related change (whether that means flattening your breasts, tucking away genitals, or just wearing your favourite outfit that’s against people’s expectations), and I definitely had a moment of that when I found “my” word.
Have you ever found a label, gender related or any other word, that made you feel less alone and like you suddenly became a member of a group? Let me know in the comments. 🙂