The LGBT Health & Development Program

Youth Blog–Gender: We Don’t All Have to Follow the Rules

Posted on September 3rd, 2015 by Marcel Byrd in Featured, Youth Blog. No Comments

gender nonconforming couple

Image credit: Eves-Rib, “Modern Love,” June 29, 2010.

What is Gender Nonconformity?

Let’s start off with the basics. Before we can talk about what gender non-conformity is, we have to understand what gender is. Gender refers to the roles, behaviors, activities, and attitudes that a society considers appropriate for men and women.  In our society, men are expected to be masculine, whereas women are expected to be feminine. We typically express our gender through clothing, appearance, speech, behavior, movement, and any other factors that relate to our understanding of what men and women are [1].

So what is gender nonconformity? In its most basic sense, gender nonconformity refers to expressing gender in a way that goes against the expectations of the whatever gender someone was assigned at birth. So, for example, men wearing dresses or women wearing tuxedos could be seen as gender nonconformity. Keep in mind that gender expectations change through time and are different depending on the culture or community, so gender nonconformity does not have one appearance.

Is Gender Nonconformity the Same as Being LGBT?

Gender nonconformity is a fluid term that can exist as a simple act or as an identity. There are many people who choose to simply defy gender expectations, and there are others who personally identify as gender nonconformists or “trans.” Trans (short for transgender) is often used as an umbrella term to encompass anyone whose gender identity or expression doesn’t match what they were assigned at birth.

However, not every gender nonconforming individual identifies as “trans,” and not every trans person identifies as a gender nonconforming—many just see themselves as men or women [2]. Remember, gender nonconformity deals with gender expression, but trans refers to an internal view of one’s gender. So while there is a lot of overlap between these terms, they are not the same.

Also, the way someone chooses to express their gender does not relate to whom they are (or not) attracted to. In other words, people of all sexual orientations can be gender nonconforming. In fact, 59.6% of gender nonconforming individuals identify as heterosexual [3].

So Why Do People Do It?

As we can see, gender is a very fluid concept. Although it can look different in different cultures and communities, one similarity is that gender is a type of expression. Through gender people are able to express themselves. It just so happens that for some of us, some of these expressions and identities are not necessarily what our culture expects. However, in the end, that is okay.

For more information, check out these links from the IMPACT Program.
Gender Identity Map
Diversity Within The Transgender Community

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[1] Gill Foundation (2014). What is Gender Expression?. Retrieved September 3, 2015 from

[2] American Psychological Association (2014). What Does Transgender Mean? Retrieved September 3, 2015 from

[3] Roberts, A. L., Rosario, M., Corliss, H. L., Koenen, K. C., & Austin, S. B. (2012). Childhood gender nonconformity: A risk indicator for childhood abuse and posttraumatic stress in youth. Pediatrics, 129(3), 410-417. doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-1804.

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