What the Heck is Genderfluid? Part 1

So your loved one just told you they’re genderfluid.

Photo of the night sky by Federico Beccari on Unsplash.

Congratulations! Coming out is a big step for any relationship — it shows that your loved one cares about you and trusts you enough to reveal a big part of their identity to you.

“Yeah I guess,” you might be saying, “but what the heck is genderfluid?”

Never fear, gentle reader. Your friendly neighborhood genderfluid writer is here to help guide you through some of the questions you might be asking right now.

Keep in mind, however, that these are only my personal perspectives on the subject; every genderfluid person is different and the best way to know exactly what your loved one feels/needs is to politely ask them!

What is genderfluid, anyway?

Well, the Genderfluid page on the Nonbinary Wiki defines it this way:

“Genderfluid is an identity under the multigender, nonbinary, and transgender umbrellas. Genderfluid individuals have different gender identities at different times. A genderfluid individual’s gender identity could be multiple genders at once and then switch to none at all, or move between single gender identities, or some other combination therein.”

If you’re new to this whole nonbinary gender thing, I’d highly recommend checking out that page and other pages on the Nonbinary Wiki to explain unfamiliar terms and concepts. But to put it more plainly: genderfluid is a gender identity outside the gender binary.

Instead of being just a man or woman (which are the only two options under the gender binary model) a genderfluid person may be a man at one time, a woman at another, both at once, or neither, or something completely different.

“Nonbinary?” Is that the same thing as genderfluid?

Not exactly — the two terms are related, but they mean different things. The genderfluid identity can count as a nonbinary identity (but not always; it depends on how the person self-identifies), but not all nonbinary people identify as genderfluid.

Confused? That’s okay. Gender identities can be complex!

For the sake of understanding, think of the genderfluid identity as being a subset of the nonbinary identity, a specific type from a larger group. But again, not every genderfluid person identifies as nonbinary!

It’s a little silly, but imagine nonbinary identities are housecats and genderfluid identities are orange tabby cats; most orange tabby cats are housecats, but not all housecats are orange tabby cats. Make sense?

Sure, okay. But why call it genderfluid?

What makes the genderfluid identity unique is that for individuals who identify with the term, their gender is a moving target rather than a fixed point — hence, “fluid.” It can change quickly or over a long period of time.

Think of gender like the stars in the night sky.

For some people, their gender is Polaris; it doesn’t seem to move and can be easily identified. For other people, their understanding of (and relationship to) their gender shifts around over time but doesn’t fundamentally change; it’s the circumpolar stars, moving around but not rising or setting. But for genderfluid people, their gender moves and changes, sometimes slowly and sometimes rapidly; it’s the rest of the stars, circling and shifting and rising and setting with the seasons or even the time of night.

The same way that there are no right or wrong stars, there’s no right or wrong way of understanding your gender. Polaris may be the easiest star to navigate by, but it’s the rest of the stars that give the night sky its beauty.

But why name your gender at all? Why not just be yourself? Aren’t labels bad/confining?

This is a question I’ve been asked a lot, usually by cisgender people who fit inside the accepted gender norms of their society and thus have never needed to explain their gender identity to other people. To them, it might seem like people who try to name their gender identity are “boxing themselves in,” and that it would be much more freeing to simply be themselves without labels.

What’s important to understand is that there’s a big difference between defining yourself and being defined by someone else.

Or as tumblr user Bisexual Baker brilliantly put it:

As I am sure any cat owner will be able to tell you, someone else putting you in a box is entirely different from getting into a box yourself.

And self-identification can be a bit of a paradox: sometimes you liberate yourself by confining yourself.

Let me take this down to a personal level. Ever since I was a kid I had a quiet discomfort when it came to my gender; I didn’t feel fully like a girl but I didn’t feel fully like a boy either. Sometimes I felt more like one or more like the other, or like something in between, but it was constantly in flux.

When I was young, the only word I really knew for not totally “fitting in” as a girl was “tomboy.” To be a tomboy meant a very rigid and specific set of things at the time, and I didn’t fit with all of them — especially the assumptions that being a tomboy meant being violent and athletic.

Later on I learned the word “transgender,” but the experiences of the people I knew who identified that way— their dysphoria, their certainty about their true gender, their need to transition — didn’t fit me either.

I began to get frustrated, thinking there was just something wrong with me — that I was confused or indecisive or in denial about who I really was. That I was broken. That I was alone.

When I finally came across the term “genderfluid” and heard the concept explained in personal terms, everything clicked. “That’s me,” I thought, “and it isn’t just me!”

Simply having a word to more accurately identify yourself gives you both a home and a community.

It helps you connect with other people who might feel the way you do, who might share your fears and hopes and taste in memes. Knowing you’re not alone brings a sense of relief that nothing else can.

Maybe it’s a box, but dammit, it’s my box.

Wait! I have more questions!

Never fear, gentle reader; this isn’t the end of my genderfluid FAQ. But because I know this subject can raise a lot of questions, I thought it would be best to break it up into a few bite-sized sections instead of throwing a wall of text at your likely already-overwhelmed self.

Until next time, feel free to do your own research, and remember to check and change your gender fluid often!


If you liked this story, please check out Part 2!

Do you have questions about this whole genderfluid thing? Post them in the comments and I’ll try my best to address them in an upcoming installment of What the Heck is Genderfluid!