As a result of prolific feminist authors such as Judith Butler (well known for her gender commentary in “Gender Trouble” from 1990), ‘genderqueer ‘became a term used within the LGBTQ+ lexicon in the late 90’s. This came from frustration of the community at the general lack of non-binary terms relating to expression of gender and its fluidity. However, before this, it was sometimes used within the drag community as a means of taking back gender identity, rather than using labels given to them by others. Around this time, genderqueer had a slightly different definition – mainly someone who expressed their gender “queerly”, or anything other than typically feminine or masculine. The use of the suffix “queer” was pushed because it was initially used as a pejorative – the community decided to own the label.
In the late 90’s, there was a rise in criticism of genderqueer falling under the transgender umbrella. Transgender activist, Leslie Feinburg, fiercely campaigned to have everything other than cisgender beneath the transgender label. However, individuals who identified as genderqueer argued that whilst some genderqueer folks might fit into the trans label, there was a portion of the community who used genderqueer as a form of gender expression. This second group argued that due to the confusion between the terms, transgender and transsexual, they wanted a label that was completely separate from the transgender umbrella.
Genderqueer became more frequent used when gender activist and founder of Gender Public Advocacy Coalition (GenderPAC), Riki Anne Wilchins, adopted the label for themselves and urged others to consider it too. It was also around this time that genderqueer folks quickly became absorbed into the last efforts of the Riot Grrrl movement, with newsletters circulating the community urging genderqueer people to network with each other. However, this movement seemed to exclusively focus on people who were assigned as female at birth and who tended to express masculine qualities, rather than genderqueer people from all over the spectrum.
Enter the 2000’s, where the number of people who identified as genderqueer was growing. Organizations and charities were also trying to raise awareness of the label, as well as the issues genderqueer people faced. In 2001, we saw the launch of The United Genders Of The Universe organization, whose aim was to be “the only all-ages genderqueer support group, open to everyone who views gender as having more than two options.” Around this time “The Gender Neutral Issue” was published by the McGill Tribune in 2003, which emphasized the ongoing case to have gender neutral bathrooms across the globe.
Nowadays, we have people who are much more public about identifying as genderqueer and other gender identities, such as Miley Cyrus and Ruby Rose, who stated, “I feel very gender fluid and feel more like I wake up everyday gender neutral”. Rose is known for their androgynous looks and challenging gender stereotypes by stepping outside the gender binary.
In recent years, genderqueer has become a much more openly used term within the LGBTQ+ community. There is now a symbol and a flag designed explicitly for the gender label. With the rise in awareness of gender identities outside the gender binary, we are slowly but surely starting to see genderqueer and similar labels being acknowledged in public. Alan Cumming, who frequently uses inclusive terms and pronouns even said at the Tony Awards, “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and those of you who don’t identify as either.” Even though this inclusive wording is still less frequently used in society, it is slowly, but surely on the rise.