The GLAAD Media Reference Guide defines “gender non-conforming” as “a term used to describe some people whose gender expression is different from conventional expectations of masculinity and femininity.” The LGBTQIA+ Resource Center at UC Davis has defined “gender non-conforming” people as “people who do not subscribe to gender expressions or roles expected of them by society.”
And that is not what non-binary means?
Not quite. Non-binary can refer to how one identifies their gender, or how one expresses it. It can be a description of how they identify, or how they dress, whereas gender non-conforming is not a descriptor for an identity. It’s more about how they express that identity.
But the terms could overlap?
They could, but they are not the same. Non-binary refers to existing outside of the idea that of men and women being the only gender identities. Gender non-conforming could apply to a non-binary person, but gender non-conforming could also apply to a cisgender man who wants to wear a dress or maybe wear make-up, or a woman who wants to wear a men’s suit. And like non-binary, The GLAAD Media Reference Guide states that gender non-conforming should only be used to describe someone if that’s a term they would use.
An identity commonly used by people who do not identify or express their gender within the gender binary. Those who identify as genderqueer may identify as neither male nor female, may see themselves as outside of or in between the binary gender boxes, or may simply feel restricted by gender labels. Many genderqueer people are cisgender and identify with it as an aesthetic. Not everyone who identifies as genderqueer identifies as trans or non-binary.
So in other words, it seems like someone can be non-binary, genderqueer, and gender-nonconforming all at once, or just one or two of them?
Right. Someone might identify with none of these terms, or all of them, or two of them, or one of them. And there are several terms beyond this one.
In a 2015 piece for Bustle, Meg Zulch wrote:
I’ve been asked many times what exactly genderqueer means. For me, it means that I am a fluid androgynous person who isn’t comfortable with their femininity about 50 percent of the time. But, as most things are, it’s subjective and completely different and fluid for everyone. Some of us feel masculine and feminine at the same time. Some of us feel feminine one day and masculine the other. And then some of us don’t feel masculine or feminine (also known as agender). Many of us don’t feel the need to physically transition since we don’t identify as either gender, and then there are those of us who do. Everyone’s experience with gender is different, even in gender non-conforming communities.
So not everyone will use the terms the same way?
Correct. In an episode of “InQueery,” the them. web series explaining the history of LGBTQ+ words, nonbinary author Jacob Tobia examined the history and evolution of the term “genderqueer.” Over time, the term has been used to mean a variety of things. Tobia suggested that the history of the word meaning various things has become an essential part of the word’s fungibility, saying “True to its history, ‘genderqueer’ still pushes back on having just one story and meaning.” Tobia explained:
For the past 25 years, the word “genderqueer” has been an inclusive term that refers to individuals whose identities exist beyond the binary. It can be an umbrella term for anyone between or outside male and female; refer to someone who alternates between the two, and ecompass folks who identify as a third gender, genderfluid, androgynous, Two-Spirit, pangender, and agender, just to name a few.
In a piece for Slate, Evan Urquhart expanded upon this idea, explaining because not everyone uses the word the same way, not everyone will have the same experiences:
Some genderqueer individuals undergo surgery or take synthetic hormones, while others do not. Some genderqueer people continue to identify partially with one gender, others do not. What they share is a deep, persistent unease with being associated only with the binary gender assigned to them from infancy—apart from that, their expressions, experiences, and preferences vary greatly from individual to individual.
How do I know which one to use when describing a person?
Most people who use these terms will tell you. As always, don’t apply a term to a person unless you know that person uses that term. If you’re in a professional setting and have to describe someone — like for an article or a memo or a presentation — then the person should dictate which terms you use. When possible, use that person’s wording to explain it.
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