John Backman is a guest writer whose voice we’re honored to share. You can read more about John in his bio at the end of the piece.
Quick: what does LGBTQ stand for? If you’re like most people, L, G, and B are easy. You know T at least because of the legislation over bathrooms. Then you hit Q and draw a blank.
Q doesn’t get a lot of press. It’s also complicated. Still, as a resident of Q Nation, I can tell you it’s authentic. Herewith a primer, using FAQs you may have asked yourself.
What does Q stand for?
It can stand for questioning—the meaning of which is self-evident—but we’re talking about the other Q: queer. This word carries several meanings, some of them controversial, but in this context it refers to folks whose gender identity is different from what they appeared to be at birth.
Like transgender people?
Kind of, but not exactly. Trans people identify as the “opposite sex”: they identify as women but appeared at birth to be male, or vice versa. For Q folks, it’s more complicated.
Q folks come in many different varieties. They can be agender, bigender, third gender, cross-dressing, femme…. (For more on these and other LGBTQ terms, check out this glossary. For a broader discussion, don’t miss this explanation of the whole sexual/gender topic.)
Here’s an example. When I call myself genderfluid, I mean my internal sense of my gender fluctuates between man and woman. Most days it’s tilted toward the woman side, but occasionally I skew male (it seems to happen when I’m taking trash to the dump). This can change over the course of a day, or my inner woman can be dominant for weeks at a time.
Wait a minute. What do you mean, “internal sense of your gender”? Or “different from how you appeared at birth”? Isn’t gender what your body says it is?
It’s a good question. Since time immemorial, we’ve been taught that our reproductive organs determine our gender, end of story. For many of us, though, that easy equation rings false, and we’re nudging the world to start differentiating between organs and gender identity.
Here’s the way I explain it: when I look at all the varied aspects of my self—my emotional sensitivity, my communication style, the way I bond, the way I experience God, my tastes and preferences, the desires of my heart, even my gestures—I simply cannot describe that whole package with the word man. It doesn’t fit. Woman would be much closer, but that’s not an ideal fit either.“There’s something different going on inside me, and it seems to be cast in terms of gender.”
There’s something different going on inside me, and it seems to be cast in terms of gender.
Most interesting part: this is not just all in my head. In several cases, when I’ve told longtime friends I’m genderfluid and explain what it means, they’ve said, “Oh, of course you are. I’ve known that about you for years.” There just wasn’t a name for it before.
How can this be a thing, really?
To answer that question, ask yourself this question—who are you? Not what do you do for a living, but who are you at your very core? Maybe you see yourself as a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, or a happy person through and through, or a Methodist in the same way all your ancestors were. You may even say, “I’m just wired that way.” You couldn’t change it if you tried, and frankly you shouldn’t try: it’s part of what makes you you. Being Q is no different.
Does that mean you’re gay?
No. Gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things. Interrelated sometimes, but different. I am genderfluid and ridiculously straight. Ask my wife.
What’s this about pronouns?
Many Q people have a preferred pronoun. It can be the pronoun of the gender they most identify with. It could be a pronoun created specifically to avoid the he/she gender binary, like ze and hir. If you want to show Q people respect, use their preferred pronouns.“Gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things. Interrelated sometimes, but different.”
How do Q people express their gender?
There are probably as many different expressions as there are people. For a whole variety of reasons, I tend to go subtle: by and large, I’m a man-looking person—I’ve had my mustache a long time; it’s like an old friend—but I treasure my small touches of woman, particularly glitter nail polish. Other Q folks might dress like the gender they most identify with, or wear gender-neutral clothing, or mix and match in fun and fascinating ways.
But this is your identity? Aren’t you a Christian?
Absolutely. I love Jesus in the same way you do. God is the heart of my heart, as it were. But as you saw from the who are you exercise, our identities have different aspects. Genderfluidity is one aspect of mine, and I treasure it.
So that’s the basic idea. I am always happy to answer questions, so feel free to send me yours in the Comment space below.
About the Author
As a spiritual director, an associate of an Episcopal monastery and a genderfluid Christian, John Backman writes and speaks about contemplative spirituality and its surprising relevance for today’s deepest issues—including issues of gender and sexuality. He authored Why Can’t We Talk? Christian Wisdom on Dialogue as a Habit of the Heart (SkyLight Paths) and contributes regularly to Huffington Post Religion. His articles have appeared in RELEVANT, IMPACT, and many other publications.