It’s been almost 2 years since I finished up my series on transgender teens. Since then, I’ve learned a lot, from teens in Adolescent Medicine, various books and online articles, and from friends I’ve met along the way. While I mentioned the term “genderqueer” in my last series, I wanted to expand on and discuss additional gender identities that I didn’t cover the last time I wrote about this topic.
Here are a few more gender terms you should know. How people who self-identify with these terms dress and present themselves varies widely, but that’s true for masculine and feminine genders as well!
Genderqueer: I’m bringing up this term again, both because I mentioned it only briefly in my original postings, and because it can have different meanings. Genderqueer in itself is a broad phrase, but it basically delineates someone who does not have a gender identity towards either end of the gender spectrum. They may identify smack in the middle of the spectrum, feel their gender encompasses both masculine and feminine elements, be off the spectrum altogether, or a number of other possibilities. Someone who is genderqueer has a gender identity other than masculine or feminine. I should point out that many societies with long histories have three or four gender roles, so this isn’t a new and/ or Western phenomenon.
Agender: Someone who is agender does not identify as having a gender. They do not feel masculine or feminine, or that they have a different gender; they simply feel “gender-neutral.”
Bigender, Trigender, Pangender, and/ or Gender Fluid: Someone who is bigender, trigender, or gender fluid is a combination of genders. Someone who is bigender feels they have both a masculine and a feminine gender, and they often move more towards one or the other depending on the situation. Trigender is the same, except there is a third gender involved (like genderqueer or agender). Someone who is pangender identifies, at times or all at once, with all genders. Gender fluid is similar to bigender, in that a person’s gender shifts back and forth over time.
Gender questioning: This term refers to somebody who is currently in the process of figuring out their gender identity. It is similar to the “questioning” label related to sexual orientation, of someone who is still exploring and deciding what their best “fit” is.
Why do people feel the need to use these terms, instead of the traditional “masculine” and “feminine”? My best answer is that people want to use what best describes them. When we tell others about ourselves, all we have is words, and which words we use can be very important. Feeling misrepresented, or dismissed, can feel terrible and dehumanizing. On the other hand, having someone respect and recognize one’s identity can feel empowering and affirming.
So if your teen, or a teen you know, is exploring their gender identity, or identifying with a gender you’re not familiar with, approach the topic with an open mind, lots of respect, and a willingness to learn. Language about gender is always evolving, and this post may be terribly out-of-date fairly soon! If you don’t know the correct word, or the preferred pronoun, ask.
*Thanks to Clare Sherley for her help with this post.