What do you mean, 'they'?

What do you mean, ‘they’?

Yes, I’ve come out about being genderqueer and using gender neutral pronouns, but I realize that most people don’t understand how or why they should use gender neutral pronouns. Most people are unfamiliar with the term “genderqueer” and many don’t fully understand what transgender means. So here’s a little “Gender 101” for the curious, the confused, or anyone else.

The biggest misconception about gender is that is always coincides with one’s biological sex. This is false; the two are entirely separate. Sex refers to your chromosomes. So, for example, I have (as far as I know) XX chromosomes. This means that my sex is female. Someone with XY chromosomes would be of the male sex, and someone with neither of those specific combinations would be intersex. Gender refers to one’s gender identity- that is, their own sense of what their gender is in relation to societal norms, etc. This means, that someone whose sex is female could be of the male gender, or vice verse: this is what we call transgender. Someone whose biological sex matches their gender identity is called cisgender.

What makes things a bit complicated is the fact that our society has a strict gender binary. You’re either male or female; you can either act masculine or feminine. This just isn’t the case. There are people who see themselves as varying combinations of male and female. There are people who identify as neither male or female, or even as a third gender. In fact, in various cultures, there are 3 or more recognized genders. Genderqueer is an umbrella term for people who don’t identify as male or female. A few common subcategories within the genderqueer umbrella are: bigender– both male and female, agender/genderless– neither male or female, genderfluid– moving between genders, third gender/other-gender– those who identify as a completely different gender than male or female.

Many transgender people do things such as change their name and pronouns in order to transition to being seen as their gender. Some even elect to undergo hormone therapy or surgeries. The same is true for genderqueer individuals. What’s most confusing for people is usually the pronouns, because there aren’t really any pronouns that are widely used for individuals that are gender neutral (we’re just used to using either “he” or “she”). Within the genderqueer community, there are many sets of pronouns that are fairly commonly used. One of the most common is “they/them/their”, just because it’s already familiar to most people, and therefore easier for people to pick up on and use. Other sets of gender neutral pronouns include “ze/hir/hirs” and “ey/em/eirs” (there’s also a nice list on wikipedia if you’re interested).

Gender is a highly personal thing, and nobody needs to justify their gender identity to anyone. For example, if a biological female identifies as male, he can still wear dresses and makeup and do “feminine” things if he feels inclined- that doesn’t change the fact that he personally identifies as male. The bottom line? If someone asks you to call them by a different name and/or pronouns, just respect that. When you call someone by the wrong pronouns (pronouns other than that person’s preferred pronouns), you are misgendering them. This can be very painful, because the person is reminded that people don’t see them in the way that they see themself.

Gender is a lot to cover in one post, but I hope this at least explained some things to folks and taught you something new. Now, as someone who does identify as genderqueer, I should say that it is not my responsibility to be your trans* dictionary (although I will tell you that trans* refers to any non-cisgender identities such as transgender or genderqueer), and I’m not obligated to explain myself, my gender, or anything of the sort to anyone. That said, I do wish to further educate people on the subject of gender, so if you do have questions about gender or about my personal gender identity or expression, I will be glad to answer them. If you have a question you’d like to ask, just comment on this post or shoot me an email and I’ll try to answer as well as I can!