“I wouldn’t mind having a mustache to twirl,” says S.E. Smith, who likes to be referred to with the pronoun “ou” instead of she or he and her or him – and prefers seeing ou name in lowercase.
As SF Gate reports, “Smith was female-assigned at birth but doesn’t like to be viewed as a woman. But “male” doesn’t fit either. Smith identifies as “genderqueer,” a word whose definition lacks consensus, but is broadly described as someone who “does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions but identifies with neither, both or a combination of male and female genders.”
“What does genderqueer look like? To Smith, who is 29 and divides time between Fort Bragg and Berkeley, expressing ou gender can mean slicking ou hair back, binding ou chest and sliding into a suit. And it can mean “dressing up in floofy things and heels,” as ou wrote for the website xoJane, where ou works as its social justice editor.
“In that article, Smith wrote that ou “felt a growing sense of wrongness” starting in elementary school, when sent out to play with girls. “I wanted to be with the boys; I wanted to be a boy – but not exactly.” Smith’s eureka moment struck in college when ou got in with a crowd of transgender people. “It’s OK not to be a girl or a boy, there’s a word for that. You’re genderqueer,” said a friend.
“It was like someone had opened a door in a previously unbroken wall,” Smith said. “It had never occurred to me that gender might be a spectrum or that something beyond the binary might exist. It was a huge formative moment in my life – finally I had the tools to assert my own identity, rather than having to sandwich myself into definitions crafted by others.” For the doctors, social workers and therapists who work with transgender patients, Smith represents a small but increasingly visible minority that rejects the traditional binary gender model that forces a choice between being male or female. That minority first came to light for many people in November when Sasha Fleischman, a Berkeley high school senior who identifies as genderqueer or “agender,” was set on fire for wearing a skirt. Fleischman’s alleged 16-year-old attacker will be tried as an adult on hate-crime charges.
“Approximately one-quarter of the 700 or so transgender patients who come each year toLyon-Martin Health Services in San Francisco identify as nonbinary, an umbrella term that covers genderqueer and other gender variations, said Dr. Dawn Harbatkin, the executive director and medical director of the clinic, which was established to meet the needs of women, lesbians and transgender people. She believes that the emergence of this group is the result of “society’s acceptance of fluidity in gender expression.”