Genderqueer, also called GenderQueer or gender queer, is an umbrella term that refers both to non-normative gender identity and gender expression. The label may also be used by individuals wishing to identify as holding queer or non-normative gender without being any more specific about the nature of their gender.
As an umbrella term, Genderqueer has a similar scope to nonbinary, with many nonbinary-identifying individuals also considering themselves genderqueer. However, the terms have different historical scopes and connotations. The word genderqueer was used at least ten years before nonbinary.
Genderqueer was coined in the 1990s as 'Gender Queer,' and was for a time written as 'GenderQueer' before becoming a single word. The original meaning was literally queer gender, including anyone who felt the way they experienced or expressed gender was queer. The term carries the non-normative and anti-assimilationist connotations of the Queer Movement and applies these to gender rather than sexuality.
Riki Wilchins' essay from the 2002 anthology GenderQueer describes how the original 'Gender Queers' adopted the label because the intended-to-be-inclusive umbrella term transgender had begun to be most strongly associated with transsexual, gender binary identified and medically transitioning people, pushing out those who did not fit this dominant transgender narrative.
By 1999/2000, online communities such as the Sphere mailing list were using the term genderqueer as an umbrella to unite a number of nonbinary gender identities and identifications that are now thought of as under the nonbinary umbrella. Over the next decade, genderqueer developed as a standalone identity with particular (sub)cultural expectations and connotations, while the tendency to identify particular experiences under its umbrella seemed to diminish. However both uses are still visible in different online and in person communities.
Difference between Genderqueer and Nonbinary
Genderqueer means non-normative or queer gender while nonbinary means gender that falls outside the gender binary model. Both of these terms are extremely similar in scope, however in practice their connotations are significantly different.
Genderqueer comes with the anti-assimilationist political connotations of queer, which is a reclaimed slur word with strong associations with a countercultural sexuality movement that sets itself apart from the mainstream LGBT community. (Note that the word "queer" is still actively used as a pejorative and hate speech in many regions.) As such genderqueer implies a similar counterculture, setting itself apart from mainstream transgender discourse. Most genderqueer people also consider themselves to be queer and there is a strong trend of rejecting the gender binary and normative gender roles with in the Queer Movement as a whole.
By contrast, nonbinary is more politically neutral in its connotations. Nonbinary was coined as a descriptive term, originally simply 'nonbinary gender', used to describe the range of experiences that fall outside of the binary gender model. There is no countercultural anti-transgender discourse connotation, nor is there a connotation of association with the wider Queer Movement. Nonbinary is intended to simply cover the widest range of identities and experiences without intending to describe their political or cultural philosophies and affiliations.
Observed differences between people who hold each identity
While genderqueer and nonbinary are theoretically extremely similar in their scope as umbrella terms, in practice genderqueer slants more towards those who identify as queering gender while nonbinary tends to attract those who hold specific trans* or transgender identities that fall outside of the gender binary.
Genderqueer-identified people seem to be more likely to hold binary gender identities (eg, 'Genderqueer Woman') while considering their gender expression or gender performance to be queer or non-normative, while nonbinary-identified people are more likely to consider their gender identity (or lack of gender identity) to fall outside of the binary. Genderqueer-identified people seem to be more likely to consider themselves to be queer or a member of the queer community.
Nonbinary-identified people generally seem more comfortable with considering themselves transgender and more likely to use the language of gender dysphoria. The adoption of the term 'nonbinary' by parts of the genderqueer community may reflect a trend of adopting the language of the transgender rights movement in order to make use of and expand on the legal protections now afforded to transgender people in some localities. Nonbinary-identified people may be more likely to be seeking access to transgender medical care or legal recognition (aka transition).
Some nonbinary people reject the term genderqueer as an umbrella term because they are offended to be associated with queer sexuality, or still see queer as an offensive slur word.
Despite these trends and connotations, both terms are used by some members of each group and so may be considered as wide inclusive umbrella terms. Some genderqueer-identified people have sought 'transition', some nonbinary-identified people hold binary gender identities and consider themselves to be nonbinary by gender expression, and it is currently common for nonbinary-identified individuals to also identify as genderqueer (especially as this term predates nonbinary by at least a decade).
Is Genderqueer Transgender?
There is controversy within the genderqueer community over whether genderqueer people fall under the transgender umbrella. Despite the work of Leslie Feinberg in the 1990s to coin transgender as a wide and inclusive umbrella term covering all forms of transgressive gender, the term genderqueer developed out of a frustration with the association between transgender and transsexualism, gender dysphoria and the dominant transgender narrative.
It is common for genderqueer-identified people to consider trans and transgender to be synonymous with transition and so to claim genderqueer as a non-transgender identity. This is especially true with people who are genderqueer by gender expression only, but also applies to some genderqueer people who are comfortable with their body and see transgender as synonymous with bodily gender dysphoria. As such, it is important when talking about genderqueer and nonbinary people to recognise that not all people who hold these identities consider themselves to fall under the transgender umbrella.
Notable people who specifically describe themselves with the label "genderqueer" include:
- Wikipedia's Genderqueer article
- Genderqueer Identities
- Genderqueer Identities: The Non-binary vs Genderqueer Quandary
- Riki Wilchin's essay on the origins of Genderqueer from the 2002 anthology GenderQueer
- Nestle, Joan, Clare Howell, and Riki A. Wilchins. GenderQueer: Voices from Beyond the Sexual Binary. Los Angeles: Alyson Books, 2002. Print.
- Sycamore, Mattilda B. Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity. Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2006. Print.