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Xenogenders are non-binary gender identities which express a relationship to gender by referencing an object or an idea, often a plant, animal, reference to outer space, or fictional character. Typically, xenogender labels combine a word with the suffix -gender, e.g. "catgender". People with xenogenders often use noun-self pronouns, or clipped nouns treated grammatically as pronouns, e.g. "vamp/vampself" (from "vampire"). Individuals often coin their own xenogenders, which generally includes designing a pride flag.
The word was coined on Tumblr in 2014 to refer to gender identities which transcended "human understandings" of gender, and the concept has become more mainstream within queer spaces since seeing an uptick in usage in June 2020. Since then, xenogenders have been described as expressing neurodivergent (or specifically autistic) people's "unique relationship to gender".
Though the concept is both obscure and harmless, few things upset exclusionists more than xenogenders. Transmedicalists and TERFs regard them as the zenith of what they claim is a trend of alternative-minded teenagers pretending to be queer for the aesthetic, and alongside other exclusionsists, the former argue that this small group incites mockery and hostility towards the LGBTQ community.[note 1] Essentialist opponents of the mainstream notion that gender is a social construct have attacked xenogenders for lacking a "scientific" basis.
Criticism of xenogenders has typically come from a lack of psychological evidence supporting their existence, as unlike more common gender identities, they rely on validating themselves (while research into non-binary identities is still sparse, binary transgender identities are typically well understood). This ignores the fact that gender is a social construct, and that social construct can hardly be tested empirically and be proven as "real".
Due to the xenogender movement mostly originally originating on Tumblr as a part of the MOGAI movement and eventually separately again as quasi-mainstream ideas on Twitter and Tiktok in 2020, attempts to gain an empirical understanding of what a xenogender is often extremely hampered due to the inability to have a straightforward conversation (Tumblr) or due to the limited expressions (Twitter and TikTok) that these platforms offer. Furthermore, these platforms also have problems with moderating the sheer deluge of transmedicalists and TERFs, which has allowed harassment to easily be conflated with genuine attempts to understand xenogenders.
This has as a result led to frequent arguments from anger, where an attempt to gain an understanding of xenogenders is typically met with accusations of transphobia, transmedicalism and as of the 2020 version of the movement, ableism, making gaining an understanding of xenogenders as an outsider extremely difficult, as conversations often tend to at best end at either an incoherent New Agey definition that tends to have little substance, a misreading of research into non-binary people or a misunderstood argument from autism.
As a fringe MOGAI concept
The term xenogender was coined in 2014 by a Tumblr user, baaphomett, who also invented at least eighteen other "gender terms". baaphomett thought that the prefixxeno meant "alien" and intended xenogender to mean something like "alien gender"; in reality, xeno means foreign or other, as in xenophobia or xenoglossy. His original definition really played up the alien aspect, defining a xenogender as "a gender identity that cannot be contained by human understandings of gender; more concerned with crafting other methods of gender categorization and hierarchy such as those relating to animals, plants, or other creatures/things."
User baaphomett's eighteen terms were coined in the context of the then-nascent MOGAI (Marginalised Orientations, Gender Identities and Intersex) community, an ostensibly less-gatekeeping alternative to the LGBTQ community that emerged in late 2013 and early 2014 on Tumblr. MOGAI as a result occupies a fringe position in relation to the modern community, with most of the mainstream LGBTQ community disliking them. Note that a large amount of people who brand themselves under MOGAI (and by extension xenogenders) tend to be teenagers, who are simply looking for an in-group to belong to, with most possibly maturing out of it and typically identifying themselves using more conventional gender identifications (such as non-binary) as they grow up, to avoid being derided.
Evidence and justification
Since around 2015, about a year after baaphomett originally included xenogenders on his list of MOGAI gender neologisms, there have been some attempts to explain xenogenders more formally. These divide into two categories:
- Arguments based on an out-of-context quotation from GenderSpectrum.org that was intended to illustrate the existence of non-binary people.
And, since mid-2020:
- Arguments based on the premise that the weirdness of xenogenders is a corollary of autistic people's way of seeing the world.
That one overly long quotation
- "Children who see themselves as “neither” will often speak of how regardless of whether they’re with a group of boys or girls, they feel like they don’t fit. This is not necessarily a sad feeling. They just see the kids around them and know that they are not “that.” Kids in this category often appear androgynous, and will frequently answer the question “are you a boy or a girl” by saying their name (“I’m Devon”) or by identifying themselves as animals. When asked to draw self portraits, they will portray themselves as rainbows, or unicorns, or another symbol of their choosing."
- —GenderSpectrum.org's FAQs in 2014, now removed.
According to xenogender advocates, this quotation definitely proves the existence of xenogenders. Presumably, the intended contention is that children "identifying themselves as animals" when asked their genders supports the idea that genders based around identification with non-human entities exist. Though children (And sometimes adults) "identify themselves as animals" all the time in ways that have nothing to with gender; child psychologist Professor Tracy Gleason explained in the New York Times in 2016 that this is due to children developing theory of mind. In context, it is clear that the example given is supposed to illustrate the child evading the question "are you a boy or a girl?", illustrating that they do not identify with either label; no other mention of identification with non-human "genders" is made anywhere else on the GenderSpectrum.org site.
Argument from autism
The argument from autism is the most frequent argument brought up by advocates of the mid-2020 version of the concept, which mostly proliferated itself on Twitter and TikTok. The reasoning for this mostly goes as follows:
- P1: Gender is a social construct.
- P2: Neurodivergent people perceive all such social constructs differently than neurotypical people.
- C1: Neurodivergent people perceive gender differently than neurotypical people.
P3: (Typically unstated) Neurotypical people have trouble understanding neurodivergent people.
P4: (Typically unstated) Xenogenders are a social construct that is different from the normal ones of neurotypical people.
C2: Neurotypical people have trouble understanding xenogenders.
C3: Neurodivergent people will more often identify as a xenogender due to xenogenders differing from normal neurotypical social constructs.
C4: Neurodivergent people's understanding of gender therefore surpasses the need for empirical evidence.
On the surface this argument seems coherent, but in reality this argument is mostly reliant on a pseudoscientific understanding of autism. While gender being a social construct has generally gone unchallenged, with many cultural examples of "other genders" existing, the assumption that autistic people will inherently perceive social constructs in ways that cannot be comprehended by non-autistic people is pseudoscientific.
While neurodivergence is known to impact development of one's understanding of social skills, the way this impacts their development is generally well understood. A 2005 study has shown that while autistic people may have trouble gaining an understanding of social constructs, this does not prohibit them from understanding them to the point where they are able to properly integrate into society that is inclusive and understanding of their developmental problems. Rather, it would seem that those on the spectrum are able to fully understand a social construct once it has been explained to them in a way that is clear to them.
This as a result manages to render argument P2 and conclusion C1 in the previous syllogy as little more than pseudoscience (since actual research into neurodivergence disagrees with this premise). In addition, argument P3 is rendered as complete nonsense by the existence of the research into how autistic people see the world in the first place, which in turn renders conclusion C2 as complete bunk.
In a similar sense, while there is evidence available that suggests that autistic people are far more likely to identify as transgender or non-binary, a study from 2018 has shown that there is little evidence to actually suggest that this comes from an understanding of the concept of gender that differs innately from that of neurotypical people, rendering conclusion C3 as nonsense.
Conclusion C4 meanwhile is a straight up Appeal to confidence that is typical in platforms where advocates for this argument tend to proliferate. It is reliant on the assumption that if the speaker attempts to attack the argument, they are being ableist and shouting down neurodivergent people, whose lived experience will automatically supersede any request for empirical evidence. Generally speaking this argument can as a result be rejected out of hand; no premise is above scrutiny and the evidence to support xenogenders being a unique expression on how autistic people understand gender is poor at best.
However, since the vast majority of people who identify as having a xenogender are neurodivergent, that acts as confirmation bias to the advocates. The fact that since the conception of "xenogender" in 2014 the group of people who are at greater odds of identifying with a xenogender have autism makes this issue harder to debate with, in conjunction to the above arguments which tend to be dismissed in debates on the grounds of observable evidence. That said, the premise still remains unscientific.
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In reality, some of the reason for xenogenders existing is far more mundane; the xenogender community has in the years it existed always generally swung extremely young (typically ranging between 13-17), with very few examples of xenogender identities lasting into adulthood. Many early advocates typically ended up adapting more conventional gender identities (either their assigned gender at birth, the opposite assigned gender or something under the non-binary umbrella) later down the line, with silly jokes at how gender is a mess being all that remains of it later down the line, should they choose to adopt a non-cisgender identity. In practice, this means that xenogenders are simply the expression of teenagers trying to find ways to define themselves against the world.
More research in the late 2010s and early 2020s has been focused on gender and how we understand it, meaning more fringe gender-related ideas can enter the mainstream. With the generally accepted understanding of gender being a social construct, xenogenders are little more than teenagers having a go with the idea that if gender is a purely social definition in how the world sees you, why can't literally anything be seen as a gender? This is why xenogender people typically tend to identify themselves with concepts such as animals, popular media, plants, religious iconography, metajokes on the idea of gender or bizarre attempts to reclaim transphobic arguments.
The seemingly young age of most xenogender people, and in turn the implied immaturity of the community, may also account for why some of its main arguments for the reality of xenogender rely on misreadings of test results and a misunderstanding of the Autism spectrum diagnosis; while both are wrong, they are also the arguments a teenager with no experience in reading research data or an understanding of autism beyond the pop culture definition could easily make.
Eventual regression to more conventional gender identities is as a result simply the maturing out of this simplified understanding, as teenagers eventually realize that if nobody understands what social expectations should be placed on you based on having a Xenogender identity, then the identity pretty much says nothing.
In an informal survey of 55 adults who identified as both autistic and transgender, only 1 identified themselves xenogender.:Pg.80
According to the Gender Census 2021's worldwide report 0.82% of the 44,583 respondents identified specifically as xenogender, while at least 3.3% identified as a term considered to be a xenogender identity.[note 3]
- Keep in mind that most of these groups always have had disdain for (parts of) the LGBTQ+ spectrum and are merely using xenogenders as a vehicle for that.
- At least according to this source. By definition, there's no definitive list of xenogenders.
- Result sourced on data processed by lgbtqia.fandom.com
- masterpost of genders coined by baaphomett
- Psychreel - Xenogender
- Wiktionary entry on xeno-
- Oxford Dictionary definition of xeno-
- The 76 types of a Xenogender (Full list)
- Boutot, E. Amanda, and Diane P. Bryant. “Social Integration of Students with Autism in Inclusive Settings.” Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities, vol. 40, no. 1, 2005, pp. 14–23. JSTOR. Accessed 15 June 2020.
- Cooper, Kate et al. “Gender Identity in Autism: Sex Differences in Social Affiliation with Gender Groups.” Journal of autism and developmental disorders vol. 48,12 (2018): 3995-4006. doi:10.1007/s10803-018-3590-1
- "Supporting Transgender Autistic Youth and Adults: A Guide for Professionals and Families" by Finn V. Gratton (2019) Jessica Kingsley Publishers. ISBN 9781784508302
- Gender Census 2021: Worldwide Report