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Gender Nonconforming & The Meaning Behind It

Gender Nonconforming & The Meaning Behind It


For those who still haven’t heard of gender nonconforming, it is a term given to people who don’t conform with the gender norms expected of them. Typically, gender nonconforming refers to gender expressions or presentation, yet it can also refer to behavior, preferences, and roles that simply don’t conform to these gender norms. However, if someone is gender-nonconforming it doesn’t imply that a person is transgender or nonbinary, although a person can be both. 

Gender Expectations

Gender expectations are something that a gender non-conforming person will not conform with. They are the roles, dress, behavior, and appearance society expects from certain genders. So, we’ll have women in a specific society where it’s expected of them to shave their legs, while men might be expected not to show vulnerability. The majority of the time, most of us will not conform to those gender expectations. So we’ll have women who choose not to shave their legs and men who show their vulnerability and wear dresses. 

Gender expectations will be different depending on the society and culture, so what might be considered as gender nonconforming in one culture might not be that in another one. For instance, in the American culture, these would be some of the gender nonconformity examples: 

  • men showing emotions and tenderness,
  • women wearing suits on their wedding day instead of dresses,
  • men wearing eyeliner,
  • women pursuing careers instead of marriage or motherhood,
  • men shaving under their armpits,
  • women being assertive.

By looking at these standards, most people are gender nonconforming because probably few people would conform fully to these gender expectations. Would this mean that we’re all gender-nonconforming? Not necessarily. We say that someone is gender-nonconforming when they are intentionally subverting these gender norms. 

Gender Identity

Gender identity refers to a person’s internalized psychological experience of being female or male, and gender nonconformity is about the degree to which a person’s appearance, behavior, interests. And subjective self-concept deviate from the conventional norms the society uses for masculinity or femininity. 

The Gender roles differ from culture to culture. For instance, in the American culture, gender roles would determine:

  • which gender should pursue another romantically,
  • also which gender should be the breadwinner or the only provider of a household,
  • which gender should take care of domestic duties.

Many people will not conform to these gender roles which would be an example of gender nonconformity. For instance, a woman might have a successful career while the man stays at home and takes care of the family. Or, a woman can invite a man on a date. 

Gender Conforming or Gender Nonconforming? 

So, are these your only two options – gender-conforming or gender-nonconforming? Keep in mind that the term gender-conforming is often used without thinking about it. As we’ve already said, the majority of people will not conform fully to the gender expectations mentioned above. We will adjust conform to ones in some way and then subvert the other ones. If you’re uncertain about what you would choose, it probably means that gender conformity is not that big deal for you. In other words, you are quite satisfied with living your life authentically. Regardless of whether it matches the expectations of your gender or not. 

Anyone can be gender nonconforming as it’s not the same as being nonbinary, however, a person can be both gender-nonconforming and nonbinary. Simply put, a person doesn’t have to be nonbinary or transgender to be considered gender non-conforming. For instance, cisgender men might decide to wear dresses as an expression of their gender. Yet this doesn’t immediately imply that he’s nonbinary. It depends on the person’s choice.

You will hear people who will say that a nonbinary person has to be gender non-conforming because they don’t conform to the gender binary or any expectations for their gender. In reality, it depends on what the person chose for themselves. You are the only one who has the right to decide what will apply to you and what won’t. 

Gender Nonconforming In Practice

Depending on your choice, your gender-nonconforming actions can be big or small. Let’s keep in mind that gender nonconformity greatly depends on the cultural context. If in your culture, women are expected to grow their leg hair and not shave it, fitting this norm wouldn’t be gender conforming. However, if you were a woman living in a culture where society expects you to shave your leg, deciding not to do it would be a gender nonconformity action. 

An action of gender nonconformity can be wearing “men’s” clothing instead of “women’s”. Yet it doesn’t have to be like that for everyone. It might also look like wearing androgynous clothing. Gender nonconformity can extend to hairstyles, makeup/no makeup, grooming practices, etc. Besides gender expression, it might also include attitudes, gestures, gender roles, and so on. 

When compared to genderqueer or genderfluid, gender non-conforming is more about fender expression than gender identity. If you’re genderqueer, it means that your gender identity falls outside of heterosexual, cisgender norms. On the other hand, if you’re genderfluid, it means that having a gender identity will change and shift for you over time. Some people will use the term gender nonconforming to even describe their gender identity. All of these options actually imply that each person can decide what will work for them and what doesn’t. And all that works for them might not work for the next person. 

Think of it as a broad term that includes feminine, masculine, and androgynous traits, and sometimes even a mixture of all three. It’s the perfect term for those who enjoy playing around with dressing or gender expression in certain ways yet are not looking for a certain word to describe their gender identity. So, you will need to find what works for you and don’t worry, you can change it anytime you want if you don’t like it anymore.

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