Genderqueer: What Does It Mean?

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on November 26, 2023
5 min read

Genderqueer means someone who doesn't follow binary gender norms. They may be non-binary, gender non-conforming, agender, pangender, genderfluid, or another gender identity.

People have used the term genderqueer since the 1990s. It started in activist circles where people were looking for words to describe those who confronted the gender binary (the belief that you're either a man or a woman) and were pushing the boundaries of gender. At first, trans people used genderqueer as a way 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 make it more popular. People now use genderqueer to describe all sorts of gender identities that don't fall into the male and female binary.


Some people who have the following gender identities may or 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 may call themselves genderfluid.

Nonbinary. Sometimes this is also written as non-binary, or shortened to "enby." Nonbinary people don't identify as either gender. Some identify as transgender persons, 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 genderqueer pride flag was created in 2011. It includes a purple stripe to represent androgyny and other queer identities. The white stripe is for agender people. And the green stripe is for people who feel their identity is outside the binary.



Sex and gender aren't the same thing.

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

It's 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 doesn't determine their gender. If you do have to refer to someone's history, it's 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 society's expectations. Your gender identity is your own inner concept of yourself. Your gender expression is how you express your gender identity to the world. Some common ways to express gender identity include your hairstyle, clothes, mannerisms, and other behaviors.

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

Not many studies have been done on genderqueer health. Genderqueer people are often lumped into studies with transgender people, leading to a lack of specific health data. But 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:

It's important for genderqueer and transgender people to 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 appropriate times.

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

You can find listings for doctors who have training in transgender health issues and are accepting of transgender and genderqueer people at organizations like these:

World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH). This group provides extra education to doctors on topics like transgender mental health, ethics in transgender health care, and treating transgender-specific health issues. 

GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality. This organization is an association of lesbian, gay, transgender, and queer doctors and other health care professionals. 

Here's how you can be an ally:

  • Be respectful. You don't need to understand everything about someone's identity to treat them with respect.
  • Learn more. Seek out information and resources when you have questions. (See below for some good places to start.)
  • Follow their lead. Use the same pronouns that someone uses for themselves. If you're not sure, you can say something like, "I use she/her. What about you?" If you accidentally use the wrong pronouns, say you're sorry and move on.
  • Think before you ask. Although you may have a lot of questions, respect someone's privacy. If you're not sure if a personal question is appropriate, think about how you'd feel if someone asked you the same thing. 
  • Show up. Do what you can to support genderqueer people in your community, whether showing up at a pride event or calling elected officials and asking them to pass laws that support gender identity and expression.
  • Speak up. This can mean politely correcting a person who misuses someone's pronouns or calling out someone for making a hateful remark. Although this step can feel tough, it's really important. Not only can it show genderqueer people that they have your support, but it may play a part in changing the minds of others.

Want to learn — or do — more? These resources can get you started.

CDC's LGBT Health Services lists LGBTQ+ hotlines and listings of LGBTQ health clinics by city and state.

GLAAD is the world's largest LGBTQ media advocacy group. Their focus is on LGBTQ advocacy and cultural change. GLAAD's Accountability Project also monitors public figures and groups who spread misinformation about LGBTQ people and allies. 

The Trevor Project's mission is to end suicide among LGBTQ young people. They offer resources on topics like gender identity and mental health, an international online community, and free 24/7 access to a crisis counselor by text, chat, or phone.

The Human Rights Campaign is a nonprofit working to ensure that all LGBTQ+ people, particularly those of color, who are trans, or who are HIV+, are treated as full and equal citizens. You'll find plenty of ways to get involved, as well as an online library of resources.

Planned Parenthood has online articles that explain more about sex, gender, and gender identity. Their Q Chat Space offers a safe community for LGBTQ+ teens between the ages of 13 and 19.