Beyond the Binary: Question Two

June 7, 2013 § 13 Comments

Panel bios here – onwards!


Question Two:

What is the difference between genderqueer and genderfluid?



Hel: Both of these are terms I use to describe myself, and (perhaps inevitably) I think there’s a lot of overlap! My understanding of the word ‘genderqueer’ is that it’s a relatively wide umbrella term that encompasses a number of identities and experiences which are between, beyond, or other than uncomplicatedly ‘male’ or ‘female’. That’s the definition I’ve used in my papers on the topic, and I think it serves pretty well. (It’s a more politicised word than ‘non-binary’, but I think there’s a lot of overlap between those two umbrellas, and I markedly prefer ‘genderqueer’.) I’ve also seen ‘genderqueer’ used as a more specific descriptor for those whose gender identities or presentations are actively engaged in the ‘queering’ of gender – and in that sense, there’s considerable overlap with the term ‘genderfuck’, which refers to identities or presentations which combine seemingly-dissonant gendered elements. My understanding of the term ‘genderfluid’ is that it fits (or can fit) under the ‘genderqueer’ umbrella, but refers specifically to those who don’t experience their gender in a static way – so, a genderqueer person might have a stable sense of what the ‘right’ body morphology/gender presentation is for them, while a genderfluid person does not. A genderfluid person might have multiple and distinct gendered understandings of themself (e.g. “yesterday I felt female, today I feel androgynous, last week I felt male”), or experience their body and gender presentation in complex and subtly shifting ways.

Of course, all of this is just my understanding of how these terms are used descriptively of groups of people: someone who takes on one (or more) of these words to describe their identity might use it to indicate something quite different!



GrrlAlex: I’d say genderqueer offers a term reflecting a more persistant state whereas genderfluid would linguistically suggest transient states and a crossing between clearer perhaps more identiable genders.  I use genderqueer as a nod to queer theory and the deconstruction of heteronormative assumptions. 



Nat: I understand ‘genderqueer’ as meaning nonnormative gender. Any gender identification or expression that defies normative standards and concepts of gender. This is most commonly used to refer to people who fall outside of binary concepts of gender, but also includes, for example, those who are intentionally queering their gender expression to challenge the restrictive nature of the normative gender roles.

I understand ‘genderfluid’ as meaning having a gender (or genders) that changes fluidly other time or in different situations.

One of Western culture’s concepts of gender is that it stays the same. The most culturally acceptable transgender narratives are arguably those which involve the trans person having always known their gender. One of the requirements for being given access to medical transition is proving that ones gender identity is longstanding and unchanging. One of the common requirements for state recognition of a trans person’s gender in many countries is that the change is permanent.

As such there is a strong argument that having a changable and frequently changing gender is nonnormative in Western culture and therefore genderqueer. It also clearly falls outside of the binary, which by its nature only offers two discrete options. However whether an individual who self defines as genderfluid would also identify as genderqueer varies depending on the individual.

There are a great deal of genderqueer people who experience their nonnormative gender as static, or as changing between a limited number of discrete states rather than fluidly. So genderqueer is a much wider umbrella term which can encompass genderfluid experiences, but also a large number of other experiences which would not be considered genderfluid.



Jennie: I would tend to perceive gender fluidity as something indicative of flexibility or movement within a spectrum. A genderqueer identity entails an element of challenging the construction of gender, or at least received wisdom in relation to it. It also suggests an awareness of performativity which, for me, does not conflict with the understanding that some people have strong male or female identities that are deserving of respect.



CN: As I understand it, ‘genderqueer’ is anything which queers (in all aspects of the word, but maybe most importantly the literal sense of the verb) gender – so it could be a philosophical approach, a linguistic trick, a way of dressing, body modification, a question to trigger debate, shifting use of pronouns etc. I don’t think it’s a closed term, and I don’t believe that its use should be limited to a categorisation of identity, if that makes sense? I’ve heard the word ‘genderfluid’ used most often to describe someone who might want to present very femme one day, very butch the next (for example) – and also by people who have a shifting proprioceptive sense of  their own morphology – one day they might feel comfortable with having a penis, one day not etc. I think it would be interesting, and helpful, to open up the debate around genderfluidity to see how we change and grow within categories as well as across them – I’ve felt comfortable using the word ‘androgynous’ to describe myself for a long time, but how I present myself to the word and to myself over the past decade hasn’t been a static thing. To steal some counselling speak from my mother – we can think of the self as constantly in transition – we can be our authentic selves without trying to be fixed in place, because the world around us is not fixed in place.

§ 13 Responses to Beyond the Binary: Question Two

  • Eoin Madsen says:

    This one was severely interesting – thank you!

  • […] particular blog-thing by an article where a panel were [was? bloody grammar] asked the questions What’s the Difference Between Genderqueer and Genderfluid? and I found myself thinking about the nature of […]

  • Dragon says:

    Would you say that “genderqueer” by definition falls under the trans* umbrella? Obviously it can and often (always?) does. What I’m asking, I suppose, is whether a cis person can be genderqueer.

  • […] What is the difference between genderqueer and genderfluid? […]

  • Alanna says:

    “Any gender identification or expression that defies normative standards and concepts of gender.”

    I’m a cis woman who doesn’t shave off any of my body hair, so I’m defying normative standards of gender. But for me that doesn’t mean my gender isn’t female, or that I’m genderqueer, just that I get to define what female means. I don’t have some kind of inner female identity, I’m just happy with my female sex, and I define as a woman because I think it is important politically.

    The implication I’m getting from some definitions of genderqueer is that being “male” or “female” means adhering to traditional gender stereotypes, and that if you don’t you are therefore not male or female but genderqueer. Which for me feels like an acceptance of the gender status quo – can’t one simply decide for oneself what being male or female means, rather than having to reject the label if we don’t fit into the stereotypes?

    • cnlester says:

      I’m sorry that’s the implication – that certainly not what I would mean, and I know that other panel members wouldn’t want to imply that either. As a feminist, breaking down kyriarchal gender stereotypes and oppressions is, to my mind, essential – and letting people decide for themselves what they mean by male or female (or genderqueer) is not only an end goal but a process towards that end goal. That being said, I do think that, for example, someone female embracing what society at large considers ‘male’ about her body as a female element is a radical act – and could, if she wanted, be described as a genderqueer act insofar as it skews patriarchal notions of gender – not that it makes her less female, but that her challenge of the limits of what is female is transgressive. Does that make sense? Sorry it is doesn’t – I’ve gone wrong in the heat.

      • PhiloSofie says:

        I like this discussion, because for me I think it’s important to be clear on why identifying with my own opposition to gender norms as a position qua gender identity doesn’t contribute to invalidating the experiences of other people. I mean, my personal choices regarding myself don’t necessarily need to have anything to do with other people, but the technologies and formal theories that I use to investigate, explain and develop those choices might be involved in social power relations that I wouldn’t want to reproduce!

        The panellists’ theme of specifically queering gender, or challenging the heteronormativity of gender identity polarities, seems interesting, but I think maybe we should be more precise and say that it is a consciously chosen challenge to the binary logic of heteronormative classifications, rather than simply being any kind of lived challenge to heteronormative gender stereotypes, of which there are considerably more than those posed by genderqueer people.

  • […] What is the difference between genderqueer and genderfluid? […]

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