Talking about genderqueer stuff is one of my favorite things to do. Honestly. But most of the time, I’m only talking with myself or people who are pretty much on board with the concept. In this particular situation, I think it might be groovy for a reader who might not have been exposed to ideas of gender fluidity or queerness to have a little bit of background. Hold on to your hats.
Riki Wilchins describes gender as “a system of meanings and symbols—and the rules, privileges, and punishments pertaining to their use—for power and sexuality: masculinity and femininity, strength and vulnerability, action and passivity, dominance and weakness” (Nestle, Howell and Wilchins 28). This is, by far, my favorite definition of gender out of all the thousands of definitions I have read. It speaks to me on a different level than a definition that explains what primary and secondary sex characteristics or behaviors and personality traits are associated to which category of people. Instead of flitting about the surface of our gendered lives, Wilchins digs in really deep–claiming that gender is about power (28). I would say, I have to agree.
All our lives, we have been told that gender is one of two things. You are a man or a woman. A boy or a girl. Gender, as my partner so eloquently put it last night after patiently listening to my ranting for the 1,000,000th time, is presented as a dilemma. A choice between two opposite poles. But people like myself, and Riki Wilchins (among other theorists), are finally breaking out of the box and making a radical claim: gender is no dilemma.
Genderqueer is a term and an identity that challenges the strict categories to which we all are assigned at the moment of our birth. “It’s a boy! It’s a girl!” …the power in those words is just absolutely incredible. Genderqueer is a word that, for me, signifies the idea that my gender is dynamic and transformative–ever changing. I reject the category that I was given and not just for political reasons. Theorist and activist Kate Bornstein, or Aunty Kate as I so fondly refer to her, wrote:
“Gender identity answers another question: ‘to which gender (class) do I want to belong?’ Being and belonging are closely related concepts when it comes to gender…In this culture, the only two sanctioned gender clubs are ‘men’ and ‘women.’ If you don’t belong to one or the other, you’re told in no uncertain terms to sign up fast” (Borstein 24).
Genderqueer folks are the ones who don’t sign up, can’t sign up, or skip out on the survey all together. I love my gender and I dedicate quite a bit of time to the maintenance of our relationship. I’m not gender neutral, I don’t want to destroy gender. Naming my identity for myself and for society as a genderqueer allows me the freedom to celebrate it.
Bornstein, Kate. 1994. Gender Outlaw: on Men, Women, and the Rest of Us. New York, NY: Routledge.
Nestle, Joan, Clare Howell, and Riki Anne Wilchins. 2002. “It’s Your Gender Stupid.” GenderQueer: Voices from beyond the Sexual Binary. Los Angeles, CA: Alyson Press.