lgbt

The LGBT Center is home to many LGBTQ groups on campus. | DP File Photo

Male and female are terms that everyone knows, but genderqueer is a term that might turn a few heads.

I met up with the student at Greek Lady. As we sat down, I asked about their pronouns, and they told me he or she was fine, but then corrected themself.

“Use they. I always feel like gender pronouns are kind of a statement in the community.”

They it is. While there are no standard pronouns for nonbinary or genderqueer, people often go by pronouns such as they, ze or hir.

Like much of the other demographic information for the LGBTQ community at Penn, all population numbers are self-reported and anecdotal.

“Anecdotally we know that the population has increased in recent years,” LGBT Center Senior Associate Director Erin Cross said. “More folks are starting to know about nonbinary/genderqueer.”

So what does being nonbinary or genderqueer mean? It’s a term that has multiple definitions, and different people have different experiences. For the student I met, they took a moment to think about what it was like for them.

“The most direct way would be I don’t feel feminine but I don’t feel masculine enough,” they told me.

“I have something of both sides, but I’m not on fully both sides,” they said. “For the female end of the spectrum, since I’m born as a female, it’s kind of already ingrained into my system, and I’m leaning toward the masculine side of nonbinary, but I’m just too used to being female. On the other side, inherently I feel like I’m more of a male. It’s kind of a weird feeling to describe.”

They might have a different experience from many genderqueer people in the community since they are from Hong Kong, where the LGBTQ culture is very different. They gestured to their short hair and more masculine-leaning clothing, and explained that they had been known as a tomboy in Hong Kong, and that being a tomboy was a relatively common identifier for girls.

“One very interesting observation I’ve made is that there’s a lot less tomboys with short hair here. I find myself a minority in a way,” they said. “Back in Hong Kong, nobody talks about this ... short hair probably means you’re a lesbian.”

At Penn, being nonbinary is not really an issue for them, although there are the occasional inconveniences.

“At Penn, I guess being nonbinary itself does not bring a lot of inconvenience," they said. "The bigger inconvenience would be brought about by gender noncononformity.”

In some ways, they feel that being genderqueer has different challenges than being trans, because of the ambiguity. The gendered nature of formal clothing, business clothing and parties at Penn is also something that concerns them.

“I think, in a way, gender nonconforming to nonbinary is kind of an annoying phase,” they said. “You’re passing but you’re not actually passing ... there isn’t much nonbinary visibility so I don’t really have a role model or someone to reference.”

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