By SOPHIE STONE.
So your friend has come out to you as genderqueer. Depending on who you follow on Tumblr, this might seem a bit confusing. You may be living in…genderfear. No worries, I’ve got you. Here’s some info you might need:
Genderqueer is both an umbrella term under which many gender identities fall, and an identity itself. A genderqueer person does not identify with conventional binary genders, “male, female” but rather, neither, both, or a combination of and/or fluidity between different gender identities.
Your friend might not have quite figured out exactly which they identify as, but one thing they will know is that they aren’t cisgendered – meaning they don’t identify as a binary (male or female) sex that they were issued at birth. They may be genderfluid, meaning well… the way they identify is fluid and can change over time. They could be fa’afafine, a Samoan identity which describes biological males who identify as a third gender and take on masculine and feminine traits. They could be agender (meaning they don’t identify with a gender at all) or any other gender identity that falls under the genderdiverse category.
Ultimately it doesn’t really matter whether or not they’ve found a label for how they feel, and you shouldn’t pressure them to “decide”. What does matter is that you keep an open mind and allow them to express their identity without judgement. It may be a confusing time for them, after all they are used to the societal idea that there are only two genders, this discovery may even be somewhat upsetting to them. Let them know that you will be there for them no matter what.
That being said, if your friend does identify with a particular gender identity, that’s a great opportunity for you to do some research. By educating yourself on their identity and how they would like to be referred to, as well as finding some information on how to best go about supporting a genderqueer friend, you can avoid asking your friend questions which might come across as rude. That being said, if they are open to being asked some questions, it’s always a good opportunity to learn more and to make sure that you aren’t doing anything that could be hurting them by accident.
Having a genderqueer friend is a good opportunity to notice how people make gendered assumptions all the time, and how binary our world is set up to be. Your friend is facing the majority of the population who are cisgendered and they are disadvantaged. Many people won’t believe your friend and will question the legitimacy of genders other than male and female. This way of thinking is drilled into us from childhood, with gendered marketing, ways of referring to strangers such as “ma’am” or “sir” and gender roles and clothing which are placed onto us from a young age. By supporting your friend and challenging this way of thinking, you will be helping to make a difference to our world.
Finally, pronouns. If you aren’t sure how to refer to your friend, ask them. If you make a mistake, apologise, and move on. It probably won’t be easy after referring to your friend a certain way all this time, but it certainly isn’t impossible. My best friend came out as agender to me after three years of friendship and referring to them as “she” and it took a while and a bit of practice, but soon enough it became a habit and is now effortless for me. If you notice someone using incorrect pronouns for your friend, help them out and correct them. It may just be an honest mistake.
Now for those of you who like a hearty summary, here are my lists of dos and don’ts:
Educate yourself on what it means to be genderqueer and the issues your friend may face, as well as on their gender identity.
Ask your friend (and others) what pronouns they identify as, rather than making assumptions.
Politely correct people who misgender your friend.
Let your friend know that you’re there for them and keep the information they give you to yourself, as they may not want others finding out yet.
Ignore your friend’s request to respect their identity.
Ask your friend lots of personal questions and pressure them to finding a label for their identity which you can use.
Tell your friend it is too much effort to use their pronouns and respect their gender identity, or deny the existence of what they identify as.
Above all, continue to be the awesome friend that you have been up until now. Even if things might seem unusual or confusing, your friend will thank you for it.
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