Question: My Boifriend

A reader asks…

My boifriend identifies as genderqueer but I find it difficult to view her as anything but female. Her hair is long, her voice is high, she has large breasts and dresses very feminine. I respect her gender and I love and support everyone who challenges societal norms. So why do I feel so confused and so judgmental?

Please post your response in the comments below.

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Posted by on March 17th, 2011 at 08:00 am

Category: questions 24 comments »

24 Responses to “Question: My Boifriend”

  1. Jessica

    Hard to answer this question because I know nothing of the person asking the question. Many people, my partner for instance, has issues with dealing with their sexual orientation. If you always accepted yourself as heterosexual, then having you partner go to a different gender identification can confuse your sexual identification. Yeah, I know it shouldn’t, but it does anyway.

    Many people can also experience self-doubts – why did my partner need this radical life change, wasn’t I meeting his/her needs? Did I contribute to this difficult and painful choice my partner is making? Was it my fault?

    Maybe you liked the status quo. Maybe you’re afraid that his gender presentation will change and your boifriend will begin to manifest traits that you do not personally find attractive. Maybe you’re afraid that you’re part of the problem, or may be identified as such.

    Personally, I know I didn’t handle my transition well, from the standpoint of my life partner. I should have done things differently, and I have made many changes, but I still hurt my partner and it is kind of inevitable for a person to identify their hurt with your process. Transition is difficult and you may find yourself accidentally/incidentally/deliberately hurt by your boifriend. It may be necessary for you to accept this and forgive and go on… or not. Good luck!


  2. Meike

    I think I have a lot of experience with this but in the opposite direction–I was and still am the one doing the changing. May God forever bless my girlfriend for being so amazing and so accepting through it all.

    In answer to your question, I first have a question of my own–is your boifriend making a transition of sorts, or changing at all to be genderqueer? Or has she always been this way, label and all? Because for everyone involved, change is definitely hard. It’s sometimes even harder, I think, when the things changing aren’t always obvious. Like you said, her figure and appearance are much more “feminine” or “female-like” than anything else. If this is a transition period for your boifriend, the most important thing you could do for her is be there, and be willing to listen when she needs to talk or explain things. It may be hard for you to understand, but remember that it has also been incredibly hard for her, too.

    If she isn’t transitioning, and you first got to know her as a genderqueer person, then I’m not sure what kind of advice I can offer. I guess what I would suggest is sitting down with your boifriend and talking things through with her. Hopefully she’ll be willing to talk with you and work towards a place of mutual understanding. Good luck with everything, I wish you both the best!


  3. Lane

    It sounds to me like you don’t have a problem with your boifriend being genderqueer, but keeps noticing your brain defaulting to “female,” in part because your boifriend tends to act in a more female-consistent way than in a purely androgynous/gender-neutral way. If I’m wrong, feel free to disregard what I’ve said below. :-)

    In a culture that raises people to see each other as either male or female, its hard to reprogram your brain to see more than two categories. It takes time to change. One way you could work on that is to read up on genderqueer/non-binary identified people. The more you have in your conscious mind about such people, the easier it is for your subconscious mind to stop seeing people as either male or female, including your boifriend.

    Genderqueer is a nice catch-all term for people who don’t neatly fit into one category or another. Many genderqueer people feel quite feminine (or masculine) but still don’t feel male or female. They want to express both their masculine and feminine attributes without people assuming they are male or female. For female-bodied people, their masculine expressions can be overlooked because mild tomboyishness is acceptable for girls in Western culture. That makes it difficult to express a feminine side without defaulting to female in most people’s minds. So its not an uncommon problem you’re having. Being aware of it might help you overcome it.

    Another thing that might help is to talk to her (I’m assuming thats the pronoun she prefers, since you use it, but if you haven’t already asked if she prefers that or gender-neutral pronouns, you should). Find out whether for her genderqueer means feeling like a mix of male and female, or feeling like she is neither, or whatever else it might mean to her. Admit that you sometimes default to thinking of her as female and talk about why.

    Its good that you’ve recognized this as an issue and are looking for ways to deal with it. As I said, reprogramming your brain is always hard, but its doable. Kudos for making that effort!


    jinmango replied:

    Very well put!


  4. Anonymous

    I once knew a girl who had a boyfriend, who she started to cheat on with me, came out as bi, came out as a lesbian, came out as a transman all within a 2 month period. I think things take time. Self acceptance and self exploration should be no exception


    math replied:

    all that happened in just 2 months and your reaction is ‘these things take time’? :D


  5. Damien Jay

    Hey. Just remember you may see a girl infront of you but really infront of you lies an indivdual who is above gender stereotype and above the influence of the rest of the world. there still the same person with the same personality and values, the only difference is they dont want to be seen as a girl. They want to just be seen as the amazing person they are. When you look at them try not to see a girl, try to see them for they are on the inside. hope that made sense. best wishes! :)


    Meike replied:

    Exactly this. Very well put!


  6. Nicholas

    It’s okay to be confused and judgmental. You’re not responsible for making their gender-expression clear and understandable, they are. That being said, ask more questions, pry, and be nosey! Just because you’re along for the ride doesn’t mean you can’t ask “Where are we going?” :)


    a transperson replied:

    No. It’s okay to be confused, it’s not okay to be judgmental. People expressing “unusual” gender identities can’t always be clear, because we’re often as confused as anyone. We didn’t ASK for this, and we’re not doing it to mess with you. While it is our responsibility to be as clear as we can, it’s not our responsibility to *make other people comfortable.* No matter how uncomfortable you are seeing us send mixed messages, odds are, we’re even less comfortable with having to do so.

    That said, yes, it’s a good idea to ask questions, but again, don’t be disappointed if the person you’re asking can’t give sufficiently clear answers. (e.g.: People ask me all the time what it means to me to be who I am. I don’t always know. And if it weren’t a “non-standard” identity, no one would expect it of me.)


    Tommy replied:

    You’re not responsible for making their gender-expression clear and understandable, they are

    I don’t agree with this at all.

    Nobody HAS to make their gender-expression “clear and understandable” (and how would you classify someone’s expression as “clear and understandable” anyway? Expecially a genderqueer’s gender-expression!) for someone else’s comfort, everyone HAS to make their gender-expression right for themselves and to feel as comfortable and right as possible in it…for THEMSELVES, not for anyone else.

    You can’t push responsability on someone else’s shoulders just because it’s “sooo hard for you” when someone’s presentation isn’t “clear and understandable” enough for you.
    Disrespecting someone’s identity is never a good thing.


  7. Dae

    I think it can be difficult sometimes because the cues we come to associate with gender aren’t always reliable. I think it’s especially hard for cisgender people and people who just plain don’t have a whole lot of experience interacting with trans and genderqueer people, but it can be hard for anyone.

    What makes someone a woman? Or a man? Most of us are taught that it comes down to genitals and chromosomes. We’re also taught, whether directly or indirectly, that it has to do with appearance and personality.

    None of these things are great ways of defining gender, and non-binary genders are seldom acknowledged at all. You might realize that, and be perfectly willing to accept gender as something a person identifies as, regardless of their body or appearance.

    But that doesn’t change the fact that you’ve probably spent your whole life being led to associate some things with “female” and other things with “male.” When most of the “gender cues” a person gives matches their gender, or there’s a mixture of traits, it’s easy (or easier) to understand and accept. But when it comes to your boifriend, you know her gender is one thing, but the cues you’re picking up on are things that you’ve learned to associate with another gender. And I think that can be a bit mind-boggling for a lot of people. I think it can be easier to understand that someone’s assigned gender might not match their gender than it is to understand that someone’s gender expression might not match what you would expect with their gender.


  8. Moriquendu

    Maybe you associate “genderqueer” with “androgynous”, and it doesn’t make sense to you that she could identify as something you expect to look one way while still appearing as another. As someone else said, it would probably help to ask what ‘genderqueer’ means to her.


  9. Anonymous

    I’m also a genderqueer female-bodied person, and once I came out as genderqueer and came to terms with my own identity, it stopped being painful to wear dresses or other uber-feminine things. Also, I tend to have a model of androgyny in my head that includes things that are androgynous for male-bodied people to wear, but probably just make me look like more of a girl. For me, a huge part of being genderqueer is that I no longer have to care about what’s feminine or masculine–I just do what I like, and it can be more comfortable to conform to what most people see as a feminine gender expression, either because people respond more positively or because I like the style. But it’s important that I couldn’t do this with peace of mind if I weren’t secure in my non-binary identity.

    The person you’re seeing is seeing themself as androgynous, or maybe even in drag. Unfortunately that may be making it hard for your brain to stop defaulting to “female,” but that’s not necessarily bad in and of itself as long as you consciously remember not to refer to your boifriend in a way that would offend her. Or at least, I don’t personally care what gender I am in other people’s heads as long as their assumptions don’t intrude into my own little bubble. I guess your boifriend might feel differently. In that case, it might be worth asking if she could dress less femininely for you. :)


    Regen replied:

    YES. Before i came out as genderqueer, I spent a lot of time trying to dress androgynously. But ever since then, i’m not afraid to pull out my short skirts and low-cut tops.


  10. vex

    You would be a rare person indeed who didn’t see ‘woman’ when presented with feminine features, dress and make-up. You may consciously understand that there are more than two, but you haven’t absorbed this information into your unconscious mind yet. This is natural. You’ve been shown ‘evidence’ that suggests there are only two genders for your entire life: gendered advertising of everything from shampoo to stationery, gendered assumptions about children from parents and schoolkids, gender policing of those who are seen as breaking this binary somehow. It will take a while for the reality that there are more than 2 genders to sink in, and you should forgive yourself for that. Your boifriend is reminded of this fact daily, because she experiences it firsthand. You don’t have this experience, and so have to remind yourself. But you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re not being wilfully ignorant or hurtful or dismissing your boifriend’s gender as imaginary – so listen to your boifriend, try to be sensitive when you talk about the gender issue, but don’t be too hard on yourself straight away :) x


  11. sensible.

    You know what, a lot of people jump on a bandwagon.

    Don’t like that I just said that? Oh well.


    rainbowfish replied:

    what are you even talking about?


    Tommy replied:

    apparently ze is talking about the fact that people who don’t “look” genderqueer aren’t “truly” genderqueer and are just doing it “to be cool” or something.

    I call BS on this.


    thesnakegod(dess) replied:

    I’m ALL FOR people jumping on the genderqueer bandwagon.

    If it makes my gender more visible, why wouldn’t I be? Besides that, my ideal social situation would be one where gender is used as self-expression. Since this would mean people would be treated the same no matter what their gender, it would no longer matter if they were ‘genuinely’ gq or not. I don’t think it should now.

    …And I don’t want people judging my gender, so I don’t judge others, even if it seems like they’re “faking”.

    I had to sit through a rant by my ex-boyfriend’s sister about how people call themselves gq too much, and how it takes away from people who really have that “condition.” She didn’t know I identified as gq, but I wonder what she would say about me to someone else if she knew? Am I masculine enough for her? I eventually decided I didn’t care, but it still put my panties in a bunch. …Especially since this person identifies as a lesbian, but still goes out with cis-gendered men (which is perfectly reasonable to me). If I respect her identity without question, I think I deserve the same damned respect.

    And this same respect should be afforded to everyone.


    George Grey replied:

    I’d like to play trombone on the genderqueer bandwagon.


    Alex replied:

    ^^ This.

  12. Lia

    My mind still classifies people by gender ; and I assume most people’s do. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to de-program this.

    What I am trying to change is how I interpret what my mind is telling me. Before when I would think “This person is a woman”, I now think “Our society would categorise this person as a woman”.

    I acknowledge what my mind is telling me (no point denying it), but I have changed the context of what that means – my mind is not saying that a person is a woman ; it’s just telling me that’s how this person would be categorised.

    This has helped me to stop making assumptions about people.


    Kaiel replied:

    Lia-I so get this. Thanks for helping me work out some stuff


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