Bois and Grrls

Genderqueer: Straight or gay, these kids refuse to play dress-up by the rules

Like other genderqueers, Toledo came out twice. Once, as a 19-year-old Rice undergrad, when she told her parents she was a lesbian. Then, less than a year ago, when she came out as genderqueer. The interim was rough. She felt pigeonholed.

"It was easier for me to come out as gay than it was for me to come out as a boi," she says. "It's uncharted territory to a lot of people...When you come out as a lesbian to a straight person, they know about the terms 'butch' and 'femme,' and they'll look at you and prejudge you and go, 'Okay, she's much more butch than femme.' But I don't like the word 'butch.' I'm not butch."

She grudgingly accepted "butch," because she thought it was all she had. But she thought her butch persona would scare off the women she found attractive: women who are feminine in appearance, but with dominant personalities. Would anyone like that want to be with a butch-dyke-by-default?

Bornstein is a fan of genderqueer's "punk" spirit.
Bornstein is a fan of genderqueer's "punk" spirit.
Jamail: "I think I'm feminine, but that doesn't make me a woman."
Daniel Kramer
Jamail: "I think I'm feminine, but that doesn't make me a woman."

"It was a matter of my own insecurities," she says. "Will I ever even be able to get a date if I'm extremely masculine, or not at all? Like, where do I need to be to attract others? And it finally came to the point where it's like, 'This is stupid. Why am I so concerned about attracting someone else when it should be about being okay with who I am?' Because really, that's the most attractive thing of all. Being secure in who you are and being confident. There's nothing more attractive than that."

A few months ago, some of Toledo's friends, who previously identified as lesbian, started thinking of themselves as genderqueer. In a bid to expand the circle, Toledo created the Texas Bois and Grrls Who Love Them MySpace group in January. The group has more than 130 members.

"When I go to Chances on the weekends, I see a lot of those typical labels," she says. "I see the femmes, I see the sporty dykes, I see the hard-core stone-butch women. But I also see now, within my group of new friends, genderqueers and genderfuckers and boi dykes. It's nice to start to see people able to not feel like they're tied down to the butch-femme aesthetic."

Girls will be boys
And boys will be girls
It's a mixed up, muddled up
Shook up world

Ė- the Kinks

Caitlin Ryan, a social worker and researcher at San Francisco State University, is one of a few people following the genderqueer emergence.

For the Family Acceptance Project, Ryan and colleagues are interviewing hundreds of lesbian, gay and bisexual white and Hispanic youths (ages 13 to 25) to study the impact of family acceptance and rejection on their health and development. As can be expected, Ryan says that rejection experienced in youth can lead to high-risk behavior later.

The parents of gender-nonconforming kids feared for their children's safety later in life. They replaced their boys' dolls with trucks. They believed it would be easier on everyone if their kids followed the rules.

"A lot of it had to do with 'What will the neighbors think? What will other people think about me as a parent?' " Ryan says. "As well as 'I know that my child is going to be abused by their peers because this isn't what is considered to be normal.' "

But she also saw, among many of the kids, an approach to gender more playful and expressive than many adults in the GLBT community.

"Gender is one way that young people, that adolescents, can express who they are. They can unpack it in a way that their parents or their grandparents couldn't do," Ryan says. "So it's a way to be their generation, and not be an adult."

But this playfulness doesn't negate their parents' concerns.

"There is a certain kind of harassment that just targets people who are gender-nonconforming, and that is particularly extreme in middle school and high school," she says. "It shakes [some people's] very core sense of organizing the is for boys and pink is for girls...and when you start to shake that up, it really confounds people's basic sense of what it means to be a man or what it means to be a woman."

That's where organizations like the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition come in. GenderPAC's mission is to "end discrimination and violence caused by gender stereotypes by changing public attitudes, educating elected officials and expanding human rights."

GenderPAC's Web site includes a memorial to (mostly) young people murdered for blurring the lines. People might be familiar with one victim, Brandon Teena, a Nebraska woman living as a man who was killed by two men she had accused of rape six days earlier. Her story was made into the popular film Boys Don't Cry. By the looks of it, more movies are waiting to be made.

Austin, 1999: Eighteen-year-old Donald Fuller, who wore a dress and called himself Lauryn Paige, was stabbed to death and left in a ditch.

Cortez, Colorado, 2001: Sixteen-year-old Fred Martinez Jr., who wore makeup and a tissue-stuffed bra, had his head smashed in with a boulder. His 18-year-old killer reportedly told friends afterward that he had "killed a fag."

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