01: family and friends basics

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I need some answers

Basics – by Rose Moore

So you’ve got a family member or friend who is questioning their gender, or has decided they don’t want to be male or female. It’s probably confusing for you, and you’re possibly worried for them too. We’ve tried to gather the answers to your questions here, but if you don’t find what you’re looking for, leave a comment below and we’ll do our best to help!

Below you’ll find links to other information you might find useful.

If you would like specific information that’s not here, click the comment button at the bottom and write something in. We’ll do our best to answer your question.

Choose a topic

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Article: genderqueer family

Our genderqueer family article


What if you or your partner are genderqueer, what do your kids call you? This article goes into detail about how one family works with a genderqueer parent and how it has affected their relationship with friends and family.

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Article: genderqueer meanings

Transgender, Genderqueer, Cisgender… What Do These Terms Mean? | Kinsey Confidential.

This article from the Kinsey Institute website goes into some detail on what gender identity actually is, and the terms transgender, genderqueer and cisgender.

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Article: My son has long hair with pink ends

My son has long hair with pink ends.


An article on gender nonconforming children in The Age newspaper.

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Article: parents of transgender children

article website


This article discusses families who have transgender children and their struggles with personal and community acceptance. It also goes into detail about the pathologisation of transgender disorder.

Note: While this article speaks of gender transition from one gender to another, we’ve included it here to show it’s not unusual for children to question their gender. It is up to the child, with your help to determine how far they need to go.

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Basics: Acronyms

Queer@M additional definitions | Asexual | Allies

The alphabet soup

The Queer community is sometimes called the “alphabet soup” because there are so many acronyms and abbreviations used. Here are some of the basic ones you’ll come across.

  • GLBTI / LGBTI – Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Intersex
  • LGBTQA / GLBTQA – Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans Queer/Questioning Asexual/Allies
  • SGD – Sex and Gender Diverse
  • DGS – Diverse Sex and Gender
  • SSAGQ – Same Sex Attracted Gender Questioning
  • SSATIQ – Same Sex Attracted, Transgender, Intersex and Queer
  • MAAB – Male assigned at birth; people who have been brought up as male
  • FAAB – Female assigned at birth; people who have been brought up as female
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Basics: Assumptions

Identity | Pronouns | Gender 101 | Gender

You’re walking down the street…

Normal: Melbourne, 31 May 2012 by boigrrlwonder

What’s the first thing you notice when you see someone on the street? Some would say their clothing. Others their gender.

Actually, the first thing you see is a human shape.

Everything else that we see builds to a point where we can make an educated guess about who the person is, all based on verbal and non-verbal cues – the way someone speaks and the movements they make with hands, face and body, their clothing choices, hair length and other things.

As human beings in society, we are taught that the presence of a particular collection of visual cues – what we see with our eyes – corresponds with a male or female gender identity.

Assume nothing

Except this isn’t always the case.

A person with tattoos isn’t automatically a biker and/or a criminal.

A person in a business suit may be a high-powered business-person, but could equally be just about anything else.

Our concepts of masculine and feminine are similarly flawed and based on our personal and collective assumptions – stereotypes – about what particular appearances mean.

So what do I do?

So what to do you do when you see someone who looks female or male? Don’t make assumptions.

A person’s gender expression is their business not yours.


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Basics: Gender 101

What is Gender |  “It’s pronounced metrosexual” website explanation of gender

If someone questions their gender they want to be another sex, right?

Gender Thing: Northcote, February 2007 by gotheek

Not quite.

People who come to you may feel they want to explore what it would be like to be less the gender they were assigned at birth.

Some just want to look outwardly like another sex.

Others may want to appear more neutral, neither male nor female, more androgynous.

They may want to take hormones to make physical changes to their bodies, and gain some of the physical characteristics of their preferred gender.

They may want to have surgeries to alter some parts of their bodies.

They may want to have surgery on their sexual organs to remove or reshape them

Any variation is possible in gender-questioning or genderqueer people.


If someone comes to you and says they’re questioning their gender, then they’re asking questions about what it is to be male or female. They’re asking questions about the relationship between their physical body and how they feel inside about their gender.


When a friend or family member says they’re genderqueer – neither male nor female, or both, or something else entirely, then they’ve come to a conclusion that the categories of “male” and “female” as understood by mainstream society don’t fit who they are.


Someone who calls themselves transgender is saying that they could be gender-questioning, genderqueer, transsexual or another non-normative gender expression.

Transsexual people identify with the opposite sex and their gender identity is fixed: they ARE the other sex rather than wondering about gender (gender-questioning) or floating between (genderqueer).


Finally, cisgender people are those whose internal gender identity (their own sense of gender), outward gender identity (how others perceive their gender) and physical body (chromosomes, hormones and sex organs) match up.

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Basics: How I can help

AssumptionsGender 101 | What is gender?Pronouns

Supporting a gender-questioning or genderqueer person

The very best help you can give someone who is gender-questioning or genderqueer is support.

Support can be as simple as

  • putting judgement aside;
  • researching what might be going on for them (and this site is a great place to start!);
  • listening to what they’re going through or need.

If you’re a friend or family member

If you’re a professional

  • put judgement and assumptions to one-side;
  • remember that there are many things that gender-questioning and genderqueer people are, and many that they are not (and you can find out more about this in Gender 101)
  • Hormones or surgery may or may not be requested;
  • it is always up to the individual to tell you where they need to go.
  • Step up and learn as much as you can but don’t be afraid to ask for help for you or your client from other professionals in the field (and you can find some under professionals like you).


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Basics: How many are gender-questioning or genderqueer?

Writing Themselves In | Fintan Harte radio interview


It’s a difficult number to quantify because gender diverse people aren’t easily identified as they often just blend into the population and get on with their lives.

In “Writing Themselves In” (Hillier et al. 1998) it was estimated that 3% of those surveyed (a total of 3134 SGD young people) identified as gender questioning (which worked out at 94 young people approximately). In this context, Gender Questioning included those who were unsure of which gender they belonged to (gender-questioning), those who identified as neither male nor female (genderqueer) and those who believed themselves to be the opposite sex to that assigned at birth (transgender).

In his recent radio interview with Dean Beck of Joy FM, Fintan Harte (director of the Victorian Gender Dysphoria Clinic) stated that gender diverse people were as much as one in 10,000.

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Basics: Labels don’t define us

Neil deGrasse Tyson: Atheist or Agnostic? – YouTube

Scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson speaks in this video about how labels can be used against people to claim you are something based upon a narrow definition.

This is something Genderqueer Australia works with people to understand, that our definitions of ourselves are extremely narrow, and their use reduces us to these labels. So when we say we are a husband, mother, white, black, homosexual, transgender or genderqueer, we are giving someone else the ammunition to define us as exactly that label and no more.

As human beings we have limitless potential to be something much better: We can be ourselves.


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Basics: Pronouns

Comic on Gender pronouns | List of Gender Neutral pronouns | Blog on “they” as a singular pronoun | Grammar Girl – “Yo” as a pronoun

In English, he is a pronoun that identifies a male. She is a pronoun that identifies a female.

So what do you do if you don’t identify as either? What do you do if you can’t tell just by looking what gender a person is?

I want to be called…

Some people invent their own pronouns or rely on ones created by others for this purpose such as xe, ze or hir. Other people may choose to use the singular pronoun they. Many different pronouns have been suggested, as the list on the Gender Neutral Pronoun Blog indicates.

Everyone assumes

Based on outward appearance, most people assign other people a gender based on whatever they see in front of them.

Very few people actually ask what a person’s gender is or how they want to be addressed.

It’s often not deliberate, it’s just the way we’ve been brought up in this society of ours. There are males and females and that’s it.

So what do I do if I can’t tell?

Well, the simplest way to find out is to be bold and ask! For example: “What pronoun do you prefer?” or “How do you like to be referred to, in terms of pronouns?”

Or you could rely on knowing the person’s name and use that instead of him or her.

Finally, some people use they to identify people who don’t identify their gender.

The XKCD cartoon to the right is a great reasoning for why you can use “They” as a gender-free pronoun.



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Basics: relationships

“It’s pronounced metrosexual” article on genderqueer sexual orientation

Gender and sexuality

For most people, gender and sexuality are inextricably linked.

If you have a vagina, you’ll be attracted to men. If you have a penis, you’ll be attracted to women. It’s a species survival thing that’s been around for millions of years, generally known as Heterosexuality.

In a good proportion of the population, these don’t match; thus we have gay and lesbian people.

Your sex – and sexuality – is between your legs, while your gender – how you identify as a human being – is between your ears, deep in your brain.

So what happens if I identify as genderqueer?

You’re a lesbian if you’re a woman who is attracted to women. You’re gay if you and your partner look like men. You’re heterosexual if your partner has the opposite sex to you.

Or are you?

What if you identify as genderqueer and your partner as a woman or a man?  Are you lesbian, gay or heterosexual?

What if both you and your partner are genderqueer?

This question comes up frequently and the truth is that there is no clear answer.

If you (or your partner) don’t identify as exclusively male or female, then logically you fall outside both the gender binary (male and female) and the sexual binary (hetrosexuality and homosexuality).

So what’s wrong with just being in love?

Nothing at all. You can choose to identify sexually as heterosexual or homosexual, or, like your gender, you can identify as both or neither.

There are no hard and fast rules here; we’re on the cutting-edge of possibility, and that to us at Melbourne Genderqueer is a very good thing. For if we accept the status-quo, accept what others tell us rather than listening to our own hearts and minds, then we run the very real risk of stagnation and pain in the short and long term.

It is better to be true to yourself, and to have the freedom from living as others demand regardless of what is personally right for you.


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Basics: what do I do?

Gender 101 | What is gender?

If family member or friend has told you they’re questioning their gender (gender-questioning) or think they’re male and female or something else (genderqueer), then it might feel like the world has changed all of a sudden.

They’re the same person

The first thing to remember is it’s the same person telling you this, that you knew yesterday and the day before. They’re the same person you brought up, spent time or shared a friendship with.

Gender isn’t what you think it is

The second thing to understand is that gender is not as black and white as we’ve all been led to believe by society, religion and advertising.

And it’s more than just what’s between your legs, it’s about how you express yourself and how you feel inside.

Read more about gender.

I want them to stop

This is a totally understandable response. It’s possible you’re feeling unhappy or upset about what you’ve been told.

The question you should ask yourself is this: how much do you value your friend or family member, and how much you value their happiness? Are you prepared to force them to do what you want or can you, together, find a way to accept and adjust?

Repression merely postpones rather than stops. It’s not a long-term answer.

“We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path.”

Paulo Coelho

How do I handle the changes?

Life is change, whether we like it or not. We grow up, we grow old; our hair changes or is dyed; we might get tattoos or piercings; we get qualifications and can call ourselves doctors or nurses, computer engineers or scientists. We get up in the morning and dress differently than we did yesterday; we might feel like joining a subculture like Rockabilly or Goth.

If you can adjust your thinking to take any of these into account, no matter how difficult, then it’s likely you can do the same with a gender-questioning or genderqueer family member or friend.

What do I call them?

This depends on what your friend or family member wants to be called.

Sometimes people change their names. Sometimes they want to use different pronouns; rather than he or she, they want something else.

In some cases, they may want to take hormones or have surgery; but this is not the rule, it’s just one possibility.

Read more about pronouns.

What do I tell the family?

The first place to find this out is to talk with your gender-questioning or genderqueer family member. Discuss what you both want to say, how you want to say it and when.

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Basics: What is Gender?

Sex differencesGender | Third gender | Intersex | Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome

3 dimensions of gender

Gender in our world is really split into the physical aspects of our bodies and the way we express ourselves through the way we dress and the ways we behave.

One way to imagine gender is with three dimensions:

  • Physical – the way the body looks and its underlying biology
  • Mental – the way we feel we are
  • Expression – the outward appearance, the way we express ourselves through behaviour, clothing, haircut, etc.


Gender is supposed to be clear and well-defined by our external and internal genitalia – male or female.

There are physical aspects that are identified as male or female, including:

  • body shape
  • external and internal genitalia
  • secondary gender characteristics (eg. male facial hair, female breasts, etc.)

Our genitalia, hormones and chromosomes are used to identify our physical gender, but even these aren’t 100% accurate. Here is where the sliding scale above can help.

Our genitalia can be large, small or different depending on all sorts of factors, both known and unknown. People born with ambiguous genitalia are termed intersex and their lives can be very difficult.

Hormones can be affected by different biological syndromes which means that despite their presence or absence, our bodies don’t react as expected. Androgen insensitivity syndrome is where, for example, testosterone doesn’t make the fetus change to male as expected.


How a person feels about their gender identity is rarely taken into consideration. The majority of people in the world identify as male or female and are perfectly happy with that.

These people are referred to as cisgender.

But this isn’t an absolute rule. It’s an assumption, an expectation. And it’s not true for everyone.

We all sit on a sliding scale of mental gender, from the stereotypes of masculinity and femininity shown in movies and popular culture, to the ways we behave around others.


Not everyone conforms to the stereotypes we often see in popular culture about how men and women look, dress and behave. Men can cry. Women can be strong.

Many of the rules about appropriate behaviour and appearance for people perceived as male and female date back to the eighteenth century and reflect the influence of dominant religions (Muslim, Jewish and Christian). The result was that social gender roles for men and women became very sharply defined, with “male” and “female” roles viewed as being complete opposites.

Historically, however, there have always been variations in gender expression, and in some societies people who didn’t fit in with dominant gender roles were accorded particular status. For example, two-spirit people often became the shamans of native American tribes.

These days, not conforming to social gender stereotypes is more permissible; females especially have more license to be tomboys and dress in ways that are not considered stereotypically feminine. People who are perceived as boys on the other hand often still face stricter social conventions about  appropriate dress and behaviour, although this varies considerably by social context and group.

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Basics: What is Self-harm? – YouTube

What is Self-harm? – YouTube.

Self harm is a unspoken issue in the LGBTIQ community, this video is meant to help break down the stigma and explain the reasons why people do it. Dr. George Forgan-Smith speaks about self-harm, what it is, why people do it, and how to work through it.

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Genderbread person

The Genderbread Person v2.0: a helpful visual aid for explaining gender (again).

The genderbread person has had an upgrade!

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Swedish School De-emphasizes Gender Lines – NYTimes.com

Swedish School De-emphasizes Gender Lines – NYTimes.com.

Sweden seems to be the place to be for gender inclusion, especially if you’re a child.

A school in Stockholm has adopted a “no pronoun” policy and the rest of the world. The interesting thing is that it’s been around for at least two years.


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Video: Gender Animatic

Gender Animatic – YouTube

The Gender Animatic video below does a great job of addressing the issues that genderqueer people face as people, in the gender binary community and sometimes even in the queer community with gender policing.

Sometimes you just have to create your own space to exist.

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Video: Gender, sexuality, attraction

This video by a self-confessed straight white guy does a marvellous job of separating and explaining gender, sexuality, attraction and sex. It’s even got diagrams!

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