What It Means to Be Gender Non-Conforming

Gender non-conformists
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Gender refers to the behavioral, cultural, and psychological traits typically associated with males and females. However, this view is limiting since people can be male, female, transgender, genderqueer, gender non-binary, gender non-conforming, or agender, for instance.

The Basics of Gender Identification

There are various forms of gender identification, and while we typically identify with the gender that was assigned to us at birth, the journey of discovering our gender doesn't stop there. Typically, one's gender is revealed over time through an exploration of one's body, identity, and expression:

  • Body: Many people associate "male" with "penis" and "female" with "vagina." However, this binary idea (based on one's reproductive system) fails to include other biological conditions that lend itself to other forms of gender. For instance, there is research that shows how our brains help us define our gender experience, in addition to cultural norms like the association of masculinity and feminity with specific physical characteristics.
  • Identity: Defining our own gender is a part of our gender identity, and coming to that point involves internal work. Most often, people believe there are only two genders—a boy and a girl. However, there are rapidly expanding gender identities outside of the ones given to us through tradition and birth (known as cisgender), like transgender (identifying as the gender that doesn't match the sex assigned at birth).
  • Expression: Gender expression is how we show ourselves to the world through clothes, hair, and styles. Because gender is assigned to many physical things, and even activities, it's possible to express yourself through various preferences in a way that aligns with who you feel you really are. The most common gender association is the color pink with girls and the color blue for boys, but in more modern times, things are changing.

What It Means to Be Gender Non-Conforming

Gender non-conforming refers to people who do not adhere to society's rules about dress and activities for people that are based on their biological sex and gender assignment. A gender non-conforming person may choose to present as neither clearly male, nor clearly female, but rather as a gender-free individual. Some gender non-conformists are transgender, gay, lesbian or bisexual. Others do not identify with any of these categories.

It is also common for people to be gender conforming to some gender markers (like how they dress) but conform to their assigned gender on others (like the pronouns they choose to use). In a world that likes to divide things into clear "male" and "female" boxes, many people are gender conformist without adopting gender non-conforming as an identity. 

Being Gender Non-Binary

Sometimes the term gender non-binary is used as an umbrella term that can include people who are genderqueer, agender, and genderfluid or gender non-conforming. Other times, it's an identity of its own.

The term comes from the idea that most people see gender as "binary," or divided into two. These divisions are generally presented as male and female, man and woman, or for children, boy, and girl. The binary division also divides people's gender expression into masculine and feminine behaviors. Usually, people who identify as gender non-binary have gender identities that don't fit into the gender binary.

Being Gender Non-Conforming and Transgender

Some people who are gender non-conforming may identify as transgender, and others won't. Transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the gender they were assigned at birth. Transgender individuals may have the bodies of one sex, but a gender identity usually associated with the other.

Additionally, some people consider themselves neither men nor women. Others identify as both men and women. It's also possible to be non-binary and identify outside of the male/female divisions, but still be able to identify with a clear gender identity. 

Not an "Either or" Thing

Despite the fact that many people identify along a clear male or female division, plenty of others do not. Acknowledging the range of ways that individuals can experience gender can help affirm people's identities and is a more accurate way to understand gender. Ultimately, gender non-conformity can be an identity, or just how someone chooses to move through a very gendered world.