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What Does Genderqueer Mean?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on April 14, 2021

The term genderqueer means someone who does not follow binary gender norms. They may be non-binary, agender, pangender, genderfluid, or another gender identity.

People have used the term since the 1990s. It started in activist circles where people were looking for words to describe those who confronted the gender binary and were pushing the boundaries of gender. At first, trans people used genderqueer as a political identity to identify themselves as being politically active in the fight for trans rights. 

At the time, people who were completely outside of the gender binary were called gender outlaws. In 1995, the term genderqueer first appeared in print, and soon after, the internet helped to popularize it. People now use it to describe all sorts of gender identities that don't fall into the male and female binary.

What Identities Does Genderqueer Encompass?

Keep in mind that some people who have the following gender identities may not also identify as genderqueer. To find out someone's gender identity, the best course of action is to just ask them.

Agender. Agender people feel that they have no gender or that their gender is neutral. 

Bigender. Bigender people identify as both male and female, or even more than two genders. This term is different than "two-spirit," which is specific to Native American culture.

Genderfluid. People who feel that their gender changes sometimes call themselves genderfluid.

Nonbinary. Sometimes this is also written as non-binary, or shortened to NB or "enby." Nonbinary people don't identify as either gender. Some identify as transgender, and some don't.

Two-Spirit. Some Native American tribes recognize two-spirit people as a third gender. Depending on their particular identity and tribe, they may display gender traits of one or multiple genders and have special roles in their tribe.

The Difference Between Sex and Gender

Sex refers to your biological characteristics. This includes genes, hormones, and reproductive organs. Most of the time, these features allow doctors to categorize people as "biologically male and female." However, there are also intersex people who have biological characteristics of two genders. The terms male, female, and intersex refer to someone's sex, not their gender.

It is not appropriate to say a transgender or genderqueer person is "biologically male" or "biologically female." Gender is different than sex, and a person's medical history does not determine their gender. If you do have to refer to someone's history, it is best to say that the person was assigned male or female at birth, but they are a woman or a man.

Gender refers to your identity, behavior, and societal expectations. Your gender identity is your own inner concept of yourself. Your gender expression is how you express your gender identity to the world. Common ways to express gender identity include hairstyles, clothing, mannerisms, and other behaviors.

Genderqueer people may have a different gender than the sex they were assigned at birth.

Genderqueer Healthcare Concerns

There has not been much study done on genderqueer health. Genderqueer people are often lumped into studies with transgender people, leading to a lack of specific health data. However, this is a growing field of interest, with the potential for more research in the future.

In general, the health concerns of transgender and genderqueer people are at least in partly caused by a lack of acceptance. Many people face abuse, discrimination, or harassment. This phenomenon is called "minority stress." It can lead to:

Genderqueer and transgender people should also make sure to seek healthcare based on both the sex they were assigned at birth and their gender. 

People who were assigned female at birth should get screened for breast cancer and cervical cancer at the appropriate intervals.

People who were assigned male at birth should get screened for prostate cancer at the appropriate time.

Some transgender and genderqueer people put off getting healthcare because they are worried about finding an accepting practitioner. Two organizations that feature listings for doctors that are both competent in transgender health issues and accepting of transgender and genderqueer people are:

World Professional Association for Transgender People (WPATH). This organization provides extra education to doctors on topics like transgender mental health, ethics in transgender healthcare, and treating transgender-specific health issues. The website also has a directory of trans and genderqueer friendly doctors.

GLMA:Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality. This organization is an association of lesbian, gay, transgender, and queer doctors and other healthcare professionals. They also have a provider directory you can search to find a transgender-competent provider.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Alberta Health Services: "Terms and Phrases to Avoid."

apicha: "What's the Difference Between Nonbinary & Genderqueer?"

Canadian Institutes of Health Research: "What is gender? What is sex?"

Frontiers in Psychology: "Health of Non-binary and Genderqueer People: A Systematic Review."

GLMA: "About GLMA," "Find a Provider."

HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN: "Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Definitions."

Indian Health Service: "Two-Spirit."

Intersex Society of North America: "What is intersex?"

MAYO CLINIC: "Health concerns for transgender people."

Notes: "Gender identity & pronoun use: A guide for pediatric health care professionals."

them.: "InQueery: The History of the Word "Genderqueer" As We Know It."

TSER: "Definitions."

WPATH: "UPCOMING GEI COURSES," "PROVIDER DIRECTORY SEARCH."

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