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What Does the Term Gender Non-Conforming Mean?

Gender non-conforming is a term used to describe a person whose appearance or behavior is different from the norm.

What Does the Term Gender Non-Conforming Mean?

Gender non-conforming is a term used to describe a person whose appearance or behavior is different from what society considers to be the norm. In other words, they appear and behave differently from how they are expected to behave, according to gender-normative standards.

Not everyone who is gender non-conforming is a trans person, but some trans people are gender non-conforming.

What Exactly Does Gender Non-Conforming Mean?

The meaning of gender non-conforming changes with time, culture, and place. Gender non-conformity is a social construct, and, depending on the culture and the type of non-conformity, people might view it positively or negatively.

What Are The Basics of Gender Non-Conforming?

Gender expectations can be defined as roles, dress, behavior, and appearance expected from a given gender by society.

For example, women might be expected to shave their legs, and men cannot reveal vulnerability.

Mostly, people do not fully conform to gender expectations all the time. For instance, some women choose not to shave their body hair while others choose careers over children and marriage. By the same token, some men show vulnerability and wear make-up.

However, since gender expectations vary from one community to another, what’s seen as gender non-conforming by a certain community might not be in another.

In most North American cultures, here are a few examples of what could be considered gender non-conforming:

  • Men who show their emotions 
  • A man wearing makeup
  • An assertive woman
  • Woman choosing career over children and marriage
  • Stay-at-home dads
  • A man who shaves his body hair
  • A woman wearing a suit on her wedding day instead of a dress

If these standards are nothing to go by, most people are gender non-conforming; only a few conform fully to gender expectations. The question is, is everyone’s gender non-conforming? Does the label apply to all of us?

The answer is no. Gender non-conforming is usually used to describe an individual who intentionally undermines gender norms.


The first use of the term was in 1991, according to Merriam-Webster, when Lisa M. Diamond, Janna Dickenson, and Susan B. Bonner wrote:

Gender identity is a person’s internalized psychological experience of being male or female while gender non-conformity refers to an individual difference in appearance, behavior, interest from the norms of femininity and masculinity.”

Gender Non-Conforming Facts

It isn’t a gender identity: It helps to know that gender identity and gender expression are two different things. Gender identity is about internal knowledge and understanding of one’s gender, meaning it is invisible.

Gender expression is the external presentation of one’s gender, meaning it might be visible.

It isn’t a sexual orientation

As we all know, an individual’s gender does not determine who they are sexually attracted to. As with gender-conforming people, gender non-conforming have different sexual orientations. Remember that being a gender non-conforming person does automatically make you a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

However, gender non-conformity is a huge aspect of LGBTQ+ individuals. Most queer and trans persons like behaving differently from gender norms and expectations.

It’s different from being non-binary

Non-binary is a term used to describe an individual who does not identify as solely a cisgender man nor a cisgender woman. It’s more about an individual’s inner knowledge about who they are. As earlier said, gender non-conforming is about how someones present and expresses themselves outwardly.

It is a way of honoring your true self

Most people feel oppressed by how society expects them to express themselves. Being creative about makeup, dress code, and behavior enables people to express who they really are.

Gender Non-conformity In Children

There are different scales that scientists use to determine childhood gender conformity. The scales seek to categorize whether a child behaves like a male or a female and if these behaviors are expected of them.

Since such scales assume what is female-typical and male-typical, it can be problematic for children raised in families that do not believe in gender diversity. 


The majority of children are taught about traditional gender roles and are aware of negative attitudes towards those who do not conform to gender norms.

This may result in the belief that it is acceptable to bully or discriminate against people who express themselves differently from how they are supposed to. Due to this, there is a need to educate people on embracing gender diversity from early childhood.

According to research, gender non-conforming teens are more likely to be abused and experience other adverse childhood events. Various studies reveal that gender non-conforming people are at a higher risk of bullying, discrimination, and stigma regardless of age.

Bullying and discrimination can cause both physical and mental challenges. For example, gender non-conforming persons exposed to bullying and discrimination can experience minority stress. This kind of stress can cause depression, suicidal thoughts, among other mental and physical problems.

Final Thoughts

Being gender non-conforming is a way of being true to yourself. It’s a way of feeling comfortable with the way you look or express yourself. It does not mean you are transgender, although most trans people are connected to being gender non-conforming. The important thing is how you feel about yourself and how confident you are.

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