The first question when a child is born: Is it a girl or a boy? But there’s a lot of territory outside the gender binary. Femmes, butches, bois, androgynes, gender fluid, genderqueer.
It’s not new. Some societies identified an intersex gender hundreds of years ago. The hijra or kinnar — men who live as women but often identify as a third sex — have been present in South Asia at least since the Mughal Empire in the 16th century. “Two-spirits” with both feminine and masculine selves are tradition among more than 100 Native American tribes.
Some terms: Gender-fluid. Genderqueer. Androgynous. Intergender. These lie close to one another in definition. Generally they’re self-identifications by people who don’t want to be shunted to one or the other side of the gender binary. These include people who identify as transgender — people with male genitalia who present as female, people with female genitalia who present as male. But it also includes people who sometimes present as one, sometimes another gender, and people aligned with both male and female — who want the freedom to present as feminine or masculine, or femme or butch, at will. People who think that gender has little to do with genitalia and more to do with self-presentation.
Gender fluidity or being genderqueer can be a way of releasing that two-gender binary boundary and playing with the results. It can be for an evening, a year or a lifetime. It’s about choice.