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Gender nonconforming pride flag created by Leslie Ellen in 2015.

Gender variance, or gender nonconformity, is behavior or gender expression by an individual that does not match masculine and feminine gender norms. People who exhibit gender variance may be called gender variant, gender non-conforming, gender diverse, gender creative, gender atypical[1] or genderqueer, and may be transgender or otherwise variant in their gender identity. In the case of transgender people, they may be perceived, or perceive themselves as, gender nonconforming before transitioning, but might not be perceived as such after transitioning. Intersex people may or may not exhibit gender variance.


The terms gender variance and gender variant are used by scholars of psychology[2][3] and psychiatry,[4] anthropology,[5] and gender studies, as well as advocacy groups of gender variant people themselves.[6] The term gender-variant is deliberately broad, encompassing such specific terms as transsexual, butch and femme, queen, sissy, tomboy, travesti, or hijra.

The word transgender usually has a narrower meaning and somewhat different connotations, including a non-identification with the gender assigned at birth. GLAAD (formerly the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation)'s Media Reference Guide defines transgender as an "umbrella term for people whose gender identity or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth."[7] Not all gender variant people identify as transgender, and not all transgender people identify as gender variant — many identify simply as men or women. Gender identity is one's internal sense of their own gender; while most people have a gender identity of a boy or a man, or a girl or a woman, gender identity for other people is more complex than two choices. Furthermore, gender expression is the external manifestation of one's gender identity, usually through "masculine," "feminine," or gender variant presentation or behavior.[7]

In some countries, such as Australia, the term gender diverse or, historically, sex and/or gender diverse, may be used in place of, or as well as transgender.[8][9][10][11] Culturally-specific gender diverse terms include sistergirls and brotherboys.[12] Ambiguities about the inclusion or exclusion of intersex people in terminology, such as sex and/or gender diverse, led to a decline in use of the terms sex and/or gender diverse and Diverse Sexes and Genders (DSG).[9][13][14][15] Current regulations providing for the recognition of trans and other gender identities use terms such as gender diverse and transgender.[16] In July 2013, the Australian National LGBTI Health Alliance produced a guide entitled "Inclusive Language Guide: Respecting people of intersex, trans and gender diverse experience" which clearly distinguishes between different bodily and identity groups.[12]

Childhood gender variance[]

Multiple studies have suggested a correlation between children who express gender non-conformity and their eventually coming out as gay, bisexual, or transgender.[17][18] In some studies, a majority of those who identify as gay or lesbian self-report gender non-conformity as children.[17][18] However, the accuracy of these studies have been questioned, especially within the academic community.[19] The therapeutic community is currently divided on the proper response to childhood gender non-conformity. One study suggested that childhood gender non-conformity is heritable.[17] Although it is heavily associated with homosexuality, gender nonconformity is more likely to predict childhood abuse. A recent study illustrated that heterosexuals and homosexuals alike who do not express their gender roles according to society are more likely to experience abuse physically, sexually, and psychologically.[20]

Studies have also been conducted about adults' attitudes towards nonconforming children. There are reportedly no significant generalized effects (with the exception of few outliers) on attitudes towards children who vary in gender traits, interests, and behavior.[21]

Children who are gender variant may struggle to conform later in life. They may try to lead a "normal" life by getting involved in heterosexual relationships or marriage to help subdue their core gender identity. As children get older and are not treated for the "mismatch" from mind and bodily appearance, this leads to discomfort, and negative self-image and eventually may lead to depression, or suicide, or self-doubt.[22] If a child is not conforming at a very young age, it is important to provide family support for positive impact to family and the child.[23] Children who do not conform prior to age 11 tend to have an increased risk for depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation as a young adult.[24]

Roberts et al. (2013) found that of participants in their study aged between 23 and 30, 26% of those who were gender nonconforming experienced some sort of depressive symptoms, versus 18% of those were gender conforming.[24] There is no curative treatment for gender non conformity, however behavioral therapy has been reported to be successful, such as recognition and open discussions, or counseling sessions.[25] In fact, treatment for gender identity disorders (GID) such as gender variance have been a topic of controversy for three decades.[26] In the works of Hill, Carfagnini and Willoughby (2007), Bryant (2004), "suggests that treatment protocols for these children and adolescents, especially those based on converting the child back to a stereotypically gendered youth, make matters worse, causing them to internalize their distress." In other words, treatment for GID in children and adolescents may have negative consequences.[26] Studies suggest that treatment should focus more on helping children and adolescents feel comfortable in living with GID. There is a feeling of distress that overwhelms a child or adolescent with GID that gets expressed through gender.[26] Hill et al. (2007) states, "if these youth are distressed by having a condition deemed by society as unwanted, is this evidence of a disorder?". Bartlett and colleagues (2000) note that the problem determining distress is aggravated in GID cases because usually it is not clear whether distress in the child is due to gender variance or secondary effects (e.g., due to ostracization or stigmatization).[26] Hill et al. (2007) suggests, "a less controversial approach, respectful of increasing gender freedom in our culture and sympathetic to a child’s struggle with gender, would be more humane."[26]

Social status for men vs. women[]

Gender nonconformity among males is usually more strictly and sometimes violently policed in the West than is gender nonconformity in females. However, there is a spectrum of types of gender nonconformity in males - some types of gender nonconformity, such as being a stay-at-home father, may pass without comment whereas others, such as wearing lipstick and skirts, may attract stares, criticism, or even questioning of the non-conforming male's sanity, from intolerant people. Some geographical regions are more tolerant than others of such differences.

This is a comparatively recent development in historical terms, because the dress and careers of women used to be policed,[27] and still are in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia (where they are literally policed[28][29]). The success of wikipedia:second-wave feminism is the chief reason for the freedom of women in the West to wear traditionally-male clothing such as trousers, to take up traditionally-male occupations such as being a medical doctor, etc. At the other extreme, some Communist regimes such as the Soviet Union made a point of pushing women into traditionally male occupations in order to advance the feminist ideology of the state — for example, 58% of Soviet engineers were women in 1980 — a trend which went into reverse when freedom returned and women became more free to follow their own interests.[30]

Atypical gender roles[]

An atypical gender role is a gender role comprising gender-typed behaviors not typically associated with a cultural norm. Gender role stereotypes are the socially determined model which contains the cultural beliefs about what the gender roles should be. It is what a society expects men and women to think, look like, and behave. Gender role stereotypes are often based on gender norms.

Examples of some atypical gender roles:

  • Househusbands: men who stay at home and take care of the house and children while their partner goes to work. According to Sam Roberts of the New York Times, in 1970 four percent of American men earned less than their wives. National Public Radio reported that by 2015 this had risen to 38%.[31]
  • Metrosexual: a man of any sexual orientation who has interest in style and fashion and dresses well.
  • Androgynous people: identifying as neither male nor female; OR presenting a gender either mixed or neutral
  • Crossdresser: a person who dresses in the clothing and approximating the appearance of members of the opposite gender, in public or solely in private, without proclaiming themselves to be that gender. Cross dressers may be cisgender, or they may be trans people who have not yet transitioned.
  • Hijra: A (sometimes neutered) person whose anatomy is in most cases identified as male (more rarely female or intersex), but whose gender identity is neither masculine nor feminine, whose gender role includes special clothing that identifies them as a hijra, and whose gender role includes a special place in society and special occupations.
  • Khanith: The gynecomimetic partner in a heterogender homosexual relationship, who may retain his public status as a man, despite his departure in dress and behavior from a socio-normal male role. The clothing of these individuals must be intermediate between that of a male and a female. His social role includes the freedom to associate with women in the entire range of their social interactions, including singing with them at a wedding[Citation needed].

Association with sexual orientation[]

Gender norms vary by country and by culture, as well as across historical time periods within cultures. For example, in Pashtun tribes in Afghanistan, adult men frequently hold hands, without being perceived as gay, whereas in the West this behavior would, in most circumstances, be seen as proof of a homosexual relationship. However, in many cultures, behaviors such as crying, an inclination toward caring for and nurturing others in an emotionally open way, an interest in domestic chores other than cooking, and excessive self-grooming can all be seen as aspects of male gender non-conformity.[17][18][19] Men who exhibit such tendencies are often stereotyped as gay. One study found a high incidence of gay males self-reporting gender-atypical behaviors in childhood, such as having little interest in athletics and a preference for playing with dolls.[32] The same study found that mothers of gay males recalled such atypical behavior in their sons with greater frequency than mothers of heterosexual males.[32] But while many gay or bisexual men exhibit traditionally feminine characteristics, many of them do not, and not all feminine men are necessarily gay or bisexual.

For women, adult gender non-conformity is often associated with lesbianism due to the limited identities women are faced with at adulthood.[17][18][19] Notions of heterosexual womanhood often require a rejection of physically demanding activities, social submission to a male figure (husband or boyfriend), an interest in reproduction and homemaking, and an interest in making oneself look more attractive for men with appropriate clothing, make-up, hair styles and body shape. A rejection of any of these factors may lead to a woman being called a lesbian regardless of her actual sexual orientation, or indeed to a man "crossing her off the list" as a potential romantic or sexual partner regardless of whether he actually believes she is a lesbian. Therefore, attracting a male romantic or sexual partner can be a strong factor for an adult woman to suppress or reject her own desire to be gender variant.

Lesbian and bisexual women, being less concerned with attracting men, may find it easier to reject traditional ideals of womanhood because social punishment for such transgression is not effective, or at least no more effective than the consequences of being openly gay or bisexual in a heteronormative society (which they already experience). This may help account for high levels of gender nonconformity self-reported by lesbians.[17][18][19]


Among adults, the wearing of women's clothing by men is often socially stigmatized and fetishised, or viewed as sexually abnormal. However, cross-dressing may be a form of gender expression and is not necessarily related to erotic activity, nor is it indicative of sexual orientation.[33] Other gender-nonconforming men prefer to simply modify and stylise men's clothing as an expression of their interest in appearance and fashion.

See also[]


  1. Douglas C. Halderman (2000), Gender Atypical Youth: Clinical and Social Issues. School Psychology Review, v29 n2 p192-200 2000
  2. Lynne Carroll, Paula J. Gilroy, Jo Ryan (2002), Counseling Transgendered, Transsexual, and Gender-Variant Clients, Journal of Counseling & Development, Volume 80, Number 2, Spring 2002, pp. 131 - 139
  3. Arlene Istar Lev, (2004) Transgender Emergence: Therapeutic Guidelines for Working With Gender-Variant People and Their Families. Haworth Press, ISBN 978-0-7890-0708-7
  4. Walter O. Bockting, Randall D. Ehrbar (2006), "Commentary: Gender Variance, Dissonance, or Identity Disorder? pp. 125 - 134 in "Sexual and Gender Diagnoses of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM): A reevaluation edited by Dan Karasic and Jack Drescher, 2006, Haworth Press, ISBN 0-7890-3214-7 NB: Several articles in this book use the term "gender variance".
  5. Serena Nanda (2000) Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations, Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc., 2000 ISBN 1-57766-074-9 NB: Nanda uses the term "gender variance" to encompass gender phenomena in different cultures.
  6. "Gender Education and Advocacy (GEA) is a national [US] organization focused on the needs, issues and concerns of gender variant people in human society." Mission statement, available on the front page of the group's website:
  7. 7.0 7.1 Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. ‘’GLAAD Media Reference Guide, 8th Edition. Transgender Glossary of Terms”, ‘’GLAAD’’, USA, May 2010. Retrieved on 2011-03-02.
  8. Department of Health, Victoria, Australia (9 October 2014). Transgender and gender diverse health and wellbeing. Retrieved on 2014-12-30.
  9. 9.0 9.1 National LGBTI Health Alliance statement. National LGBTI Health Alliance (2013). Retrieved on 2014-12-31.
  10. Australian Human Rights Commission (1 August 2013). New Protection. Retrieved on 2014-12-30.
  11. Winter, Sarah (2009). ["Are human rights capable of liberation? The case of sex and gender diversity"] (PDF). Australian Journal of Human Rights 15 (1): 151–174. Retrieved 23 December 2011. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Inclusive Language Guide: Respecting people of intersex, trans and gender diverse experience. National LGBTI Health Alliance (July 2013). Retrieved on 2014-12-31.
  13. "Sex and Gender Diverse" discussion paper on terminology. Organisation Intersex International Australia (9 January 2013). Retrieved on 2014-12-31.
  14. Family Planning Victoria, February 2013, "ABS review of the sex standard / potential new gender standard, A submission by Family Planning Victoria in collaboration with Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria, Transgender Victoria, Y Gender and the Zoe Belle Gender Centre"
  15. [1]Transgender Victoria, February 2013, "Review of ABS Standard Welcome"
  16. Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender. Attorney-General's Department (Australia) (June 2013). Retrieved on 2014-12-31.]
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 17.5 Friedman, RC (2008). Sexual Orientation and Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Sexual Science and Clinical Practice pp. 53–7 Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-12057-9
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 Baumeister, Roy F. (2001). Social Psychology and Human Sexuality: Essential Readings pp. 201–2 Psychology Press. ISBN 978-1-84169-018-6
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 19.3 Brookley, Robert (2002). Reinventing the Male Homosexual: The Rhetoric and Power of the Gay Gene pp. 60–65 Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-34057-3
  20. "Andrea L. Roberts, Margaret Rosario, Heather L. Corliss, Karestan C. Koenen and S.Bryn Austin""Childhood Gender Nonconformity: A Risk Indicator for Child Abuse and Posttraumatic Stress in Youth",Pediatrics Official Journal of the American Acamedy of Pediatrics, February 2012
  21. Thomas, R. N., & Blakemore, J. (2013). Adults' attitudes about gender nonconformity in childhood. Archives Of Sexual Behavior, 42(3), 399-412. doi:10.1007/s10508-012-0023-7
  23. Peate, I. (January 01, 2008). Understanding key issues in gender-variant children and young people. British Journal of Nursing (mark Allen Publishing), 17, 17, 25
  24. 24.0 24.1 Roberts, A., Rosario, M., Slopen, N., et al. (2013). Childhood gender nonconformity, bullying victimization, and depressive symptoms across adolescence and early adulthood: an 11-year longitudinal study. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry, 52(2): 143-152
  25. Snaith, P (1998). Gender dysphoria. Journal of Continuing Professional Development, 4: 356-359
  26. 26.0 26.1 26.2 26.3 26.4 Hill, D., Rozanski, C., Carfagnini, J., & Willoughby, B. (January 01, 2007). Gender identity disorders (GID) in childhood and adolescence. International Journal of Sexual Health, 19, 1, 57-75
  27. Working women in the 1930s. Retrieved on 21 Jan 2017.
  28. Seven things women in Saudi Arabia cannot do. wikipedia:The Week UK (27 Sep 2016). Retrieved on 21 Jan 2017.
  29. Iran travel advice. UK government. Retrieved on 21 Jan 2017.
  30. Template:Cite conference
  31. What Happens When Wives Earn More Than Husbands. wikipedia:National Public Radio (February 8, 2015). Retrieved on April 25, 2016.
  32. 32.0 32.1 J. Michael Bailey, Joseph S. Miller, Lee Willerman; Maternally Rated Childhood Gender Nonconformity in Homosexuals and Heterosexuals, Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 22, 1993.
  33. Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. ‘’GLAAD Media Reference Guide, 8th Edition. Transgender Glossary of Terms”, ‘’GLAAD’’, USA, May 2010. Retrieved on 2011-03-01.

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