Sex & Society » Acceptance, Lgbt, Sexuality: "Genderqueer Etiquette"

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Genderqueer Etiquette

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“Genderqueer” is often the equivalent of the “Potpourri” category on Jeopardy! It’s where things that don’t fit in any other category hang out.

  The Basics of Genderqueer Etiquette

Let’s say you’re speaking to someone who appears to be physically female but seems to “present” in a more male fashion. How do you tactfully find out whether you’re talking to a butch “she,” a transgendered “he,” or a genderqueer who might be “he” or “she” or any of the dozen “third gender” pronouns that are bouncing around the English language today?
DON’T ask: “Would you prefer ‘he’ or ‘she’?” For genderqueers who don’t identify with either (or identify with both), this gets awkward. Also, don’t ask, “But what’s in your pants?” Just don't.
Try: “What pronoun do you prefer?” If you’re speaking to a genderqueer or any other non-gendernormtive person, your awareness of their presentation will be welcome, even if their physical sex and preferred pronoun match.
Also try: “Where are you on the gender spectrum?” My boyfriend—a genderqueer who is female-bodied and uses male pronouns in his personal life because, “they’re still wrong for me, but they’re less wrong than female pronouns”—came home one day ecstatic that a co-worker had asked him this question. It’s more intimate than simply asking about pronouns, so use with caution and be prepared for a discussion to ensue since the answer can be complicated.
Observe and listen. Asking any of the above questions can be a minefield, as some people can and will get offended at the idea that their gender isn’t obvious. This isn’t just a gender-normative thing, either; some transsexuals will take the question as an undermining of the success of their transition. For this reason, the best, lowest-risk way to determine someone's pronouns is to pay attention to how their social circles refer to them. On Facebook, in round-robin e-mails, or at a party, you may end up hearing the person referred to in their preferred fashion. You can be proactive about this as well; if you spot one of their pals, you can always say, “Hey, I just met so-and-so. You know each other, right?” The answer will usually have a pronoun in it.

  It’s My Party, And I’ll Discriminate If I Want To … Hey, Where Are You Going?

In the age of girls’ nights out, bachelor parties, women-only Sacred Goddess gatherings and men-only nights at the hot tubs, genderqueers are often playing the “Am I welcome?” game. It can be a difficult thing for any event organizer to figure out. If it’s a “safe space for women,” will some participants consider ladies with dicks a threat? If it’s a “gay dudes only” night, will a guy packing a silicone cock ruin the mood?

Whatever you decide, be abundantly clear in your invitations. It’s okay to say that something is “for female-bodied people only.” If your event is open to a broader crowd, it’s useful to say something like “This event is open to all self-identified men” so non-male-bodied men know they’re welcome.

One caveat: If you narrow your event to one physical gender only, be prepared for questions from genderqueers that may range from perplexity to anger. It’s of course always up to you whether to change the rules, but part of being a good planner is handling inquiries gracefully to preserve the reputation of your event.

If you’re attending an event and inviting along a genderqueer pal, it’s helpful to either ask about the gender rules ahead of time, or provide your pal with contact information so they can check it out themselves.

  Discrimination Goes Both Ways (And Then Some)

Unfortunately, genderqueer etiquette isn’t as simple as making sure others treat genderqueer people courteously— it’s about all of us treating our genders with respect. It’s easy for genderqueers to focus on the invisibility of the identity, and even easier for that to translate to bitching about the “narrow-mindedness of gendernormatives,” or even the largely separate but much more visible transgender community which typically receives more sensitive handling from mainstream culture. Then again, transgendered people can find themselves unhappy with the “muddying of the waters” genderqueers present by often not choosing a gender “side,” making it harder for transgendered people to argue for the necessity of full gender transitions.

As we create more and more labels to distinguish one gender reality from another, it also becomes easy to pit the people of one label against the people of another. But we aren’t done creating new labels for genders yet, and there is no “One True Way.” Ultimately, the only way I can be exactly what I am without reservation or excessive social discomfort is for me to advocate for you to be just as free and comfortable with your own identity. That’s what genderqueer etiquette is all about: equality of respect for every gender.


Contributor: DrBeaverboy

A word of CAUTION about the tactic of observing what pronouns someone's friends use:

Seeing what pronouns one other person uses with reference to person X, and then using those pronouns to refer to X can often times come back to bite you in the ass. Why? Because whomever you picked up that information from could have been using the wrong pronouns -- maybe because they don't recognize that X is genderqueer (or trans), or maybe because they don't respect/accept X's choice of pronouns, or maybe because they just messed up and used the wrong pronoun. If you then go and refer to X by the wrong pronoun, it is very possible that they will feel like you improperly assumed their pronoun preference... which can be very offensive to some people. If you can't ask the person directly, at least observe how multiple different people refer to the person, and perhaps ask the question directly of a friend.

Contributor: Taryn_Pi

To be honest, if I'm confused I'll just ask! Never with perfect strangers it has to be said. Once I sent a text message to someone to clear it up before I met them out. I find also if I look puzzled or pause before using a gender people will often fill it in for me, lol. To be honest I get confused, even with people I know. I have never had anyone berate me for forgetting or not knowing. I guess its a bit different as I really don't have an issue, I'm just a bit hazy sometimes.

Contributor: Tobi

As an add on, folks should be aware that being trans and genderqueer are not exclusive. Plenty of folks transition and also identify as genderqueer.

And I also have to complicate the suggestion that it's okay to make an event "female-bodied only." First off, what does that even mean? Many folks assume that it is synonymous with female assigned, some folks think it means "has a vagina," others play it by self-identification. Personally, I don't think it makes sense to call a trans man female-bodied or a trans woman male-bodied, plus it's kind of offensive, but plenty of people do so anyway.

Aside from the "x-bodied" term, which I'd rather just set aside for others that are more precise, if the intention is to categorize people by assigned sex, it strikes me as pretty trans negating. I've seen folks who used to just deny trans identities want women only spaces where they include trans masculine folks and exclude trans women. It used to be obvious they were being messed up, but now they do the same thing but just say it's a "female-bodied" space and somehow that makes it okay. I don't buy it.