Gender variant

Gender variance, or gender nonconformity, is behaviour or gender expression that does not conform to dominant gender norms of male and female. People who exhibit gender variance may be called gender variant, gender non-conforming, or gender atypical.[1]


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, femme, queen, sissy, travesti, hijra, or tomboy.

The word transgender is sometimes used interchangeably with gender-variant,[7] but usually has a narrower meaning and somewhat different connotations, including a non-identification with the gender assigned at birth. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media Reference Guide defines transgender as an "umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth."[8] 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 refers to one's internal sense of being male, female, both, or neither. Gender expression is the external manifestation of one's gender identity, usually through "masculine," "feminine," or gender variant presentation and/or behavior.[8]

Gopi Shankar (Gender activist) and a student of The American College in Madurai penned the world first book on Gender-Variants in Tamil he used the term Gendervariants for genderqueer.[9][10]

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.[11][12] In some studies, a majority of those who identify as gay or lesbian self-report gender non-conformity as children. However, the accuracy of these studies have been questioned, especially within the academic community.[13] 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.[11] 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.[14]

Studies have also been conducted about the attitudes of adult's 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.[15]

Social status for men vs. women

Gender nonconformity among males is usually more sensitively and violently policed than is nonconformity in females. Many theorists believe this is because femaleness is inherently devalued in a patriarchal society, therefore a male seeking to be more feminine is actively reducing his social status, yet a woman acting in a masculine way is tolerated and encouraged because her social status will be enhanced by the addition of the valuable attributes of maleness (e.g. physical power, assertiveness, ambition). The deep social pressure for those traditionally viewed as "male" to be masculine can be seen in the especially high levels of violence against transgender women.[16]

A fear of being labeled gay or feminine causes many men to overtly reject and devalue such gender non-conforming behaviours, even prosocial ones such as caring for another individual and emotional communication. Some researchers have suggested this self-suppression has a negative impact on men's mental health. As with female gender nonconformity, gay men may find it easier to reject traditional masculinity because the price for doing so has already been paid by being gay.

Association with sexual orientation

Behavior such as expression of emotion, an inclination toward caring for and nurturing others, an interest in cooking or other domestic chores, self-grooming, and a desire to care for children are all aspects of male gender non-conformity. Men who exhibit such tendencies are often stereotyped as gay. One study did find a high incidence of gay males self-reporting gender-atypical behaviors in childhood, such as having little interest in athletics and rather playing with dolls.[17] The same study found that mothers of gay males recalled such atypical behavior in their sons with greater frequency than mothers of heterosexual males.[17] But while many gay and/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. 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 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. 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.


Among adults, the wearing of women's clothing by men is often socially stigmatized and fetishised, or viewed as sexually abnormal. Yet, cross dressing may simply be a form of gender expression and is not necessarily related to erotic activity. It is also not indicative of sexual orientation.[18] Other gender nonconforming males prefer to simply modify and stylise men's clothing as an expression of their interest in appearance and fashion.

See also


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