Gill Foundation: What is Gender Expression?

Gender Expression vs Gender Identity

Info: Sex and Gender

Gender Spectrum: Understanding Gender

Radical Notion: Complete Gender Dictionary
Queer Kid Stuff: Gender Expression

Video: Kate Borstein Speaks About Gender

Teaching Sex, Sexual Orientation, Gender Expression, and Gender Identity

Info: Gender Identity

What is Sex and Gender?


"Sex" refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women, and "'gender" refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.


Gender is a sociological definition of women and men and is not the same as sex. Gender is determined by the conception of tasks, functions and roles attributed to women and men in society and in public and private life.


What is Gender Expression?

“Gender expression” refers to the ways in which we each manifest masculinity or femininity. It is usually an extension of our “gender identity,” our innate sense of being male or female. Each of us expresses a particular gender every day, by the way we style our hair, select our clothing, or even the way we stand. Our appearance, attire, grooming, speech, behavior, movement, gestures, mannerisms, and other factors signal that we feel (and wish to be understood) as masculine or feminine, or as a man or a woman.


For some of us, our gender expression may not match our biological sex. That is, while other people see us as being male or female, we may or may not fit their expectations of masculinity or femininity because of the way we look, act, or dress.


People whose gender expression is not what we might expect represent many different backgrounds. Their age, sex, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation has no bearing on their gender expression.


[Source: Gill Foundation]


Gill Foundation: What is Gender Expression?

Info: Sexual Orientation

Gender Expression vs Gender Identity

Info: Preferred Gender Pronouns

Gender Spectrum: Understanding Gender

Info: Gender Queer

Radical Notion: Complete Gender Dictionary



Butch and Femme


“Butch” and “femme” are terms used in the lesbian and gay subculture to ascribe or acknowledge a masculine (butch) or feminine (femme) identity with its associated traits, behaviors, styles, and self-perceptions for both men and women. The terms are used as a descriptor of one’s appearance or mannerisms and not for one’s desire or identity.


The terms originated in lesbian communities. This concept has been a handy way to organize gender expression within sexual relationships.




“Butch” and “femme” are terms used to describe a person’s gender expression, interactive performance, or public presentation. And it is important to remember that one’s gender expression does not always match one’s gender.


“Femme” (fem) usually describes a person whose public presentation is more feminine or girly. “Butch” (stud, dyke, masc) usually describes someone whose presentation is more masculine or manly.



To further emphasis the notion of a spectrum, there is also the term, “futch,” which denotes a combination or mix or halfway point between “butch” and “femme.”  Both men and women may prefer to express themselves in an androgynous (andro) way, which might be viewed as more gender neutral.


“Femme” and “butch” should not to be confused with “bottom” (submissive, passive, receiver, catcher) and “top” (dominant, domme, dom, giver, pitcher). Tops can be butch or femme as bottoms can be butch or femme.


For both men and women, there is no predictable dating pattern: femmes date femmes, femmes date butches, butches date butches.





“Stop assuming that a woman is straight because she’s wearing lipstick and high heels.”

-Mary Emily O’Hara / Daily Dot


In describing lesbians (gay women), most people recognize a spectrum of identity ranging from “femme” (heels, miniskirts, full makeup, purses, perfect nails) to “butch” (t-shirt, jeans, short hair, not into fussing with hairspray and lip gloss).


One version of the spectrum provides labels that begin with “high femme” to “butchy femme” to “soft butch” to “stone butch.”



On the femme end of the spectrum, lesbians are sometimes described as “lipstick lesbians.” On the butch (stud) end of the spectrum, lesbians typically express themselves in a more tomboy or masculine way.


One lesbian identified herself as “crunchy,” which probably means she is a little bit hippie, bohemian, and natural (flannel shirts, overalls, cargo shorts, Birkenstocks). The spectrum of femininity is as wide in the queer community as it is among all women.


A femme (fem) is the feminine one in a lesbian relationship. Femmes do not usually pass as lesbians or queer unless they are with a butch partner, because they conform to traditional standards of femininity. Otherwise, you usual can’t tell that a femme lesbian is gay unless she wears some type of LGBTQ insignia. In a couple, she is typically more feminine and usually the girlier one in the relationship.





In using the femme-butch spectrum to describe gay men, people might observe the more effeminate, flamboyant, campy, girly traits at one end (femme) and the more stoutly, manly, masculine traits at the other end (butch).


On the femme side, gay men might be more stylish and meticulously groomed, and referred to as a “twink” or an “otter.” Meanwhile, on the butch side, a gay man might be more rustic and brawny and referred to as a “hunk” or a “stud” or a “beefcake.”


Gay men might appear completely straight in appearance, grooming, and mannerisms and express themselves as conventionally masculine. They might appear as a biker or lumberjack type and express themselves in a hypermasculine way. They might appear as fastidious and ostentatious and express themselves in an effeminate way. The spectrum of masculinity is as wide in the queer community as it is among all men.



Real Truth About Butch and Femme

Video: What Does Femme Mean?

Wikipedia: Butch and Femme

Daily Dot: Femme Invisibility

Info: LGBTQ Stereotypes

Video: Femme Q & A

Guide to Dating Butch Women

Chinese Debate: Sissies vs. Macho Men

Info: Preferred Gender Pronouns

Femme: Bisexual Perspective

Urban Dictionary: Femme

Wikipedia: Femme


Gender Identity vs Gender Expression


I’ve let my hair grow out so long that I have to put it in pigtails when I ride my bike so it doesn’t get caught in my helmet straps. I’m wearing my girlfriend’s tiny turquoise athletic shorts. My legs are closely shaved, and I’m sitting curled up on the couch with a game of Candy Crush on my phone to my right and a sleeping cat to my left.


I sound like a girl, right?  I’m not.  Why? Because I don’t identify as one.  And although it really is as simple as that, I understand where some people have trouble: “If you express yourself in this way,” they wonder, “then doesn’t that imply that that is how you identify?”  But the truth is, well, no.


Although gender identity and gender expression can be related, the point is that they don’t have to be.  So what’s the difference?



Gender Identity is Internal


Gender identity is, quite simply, the gender with which you identify. It’s the word (or words) that you could use to decide yourself that simply make sense to you.


Gender identity is whether you’re the lady or the tramp (or neither). It’s the all-encompassing feelings you have about which gender(s) you are or are not. It’s what you would be perceived as if you were able to choose how everyone perceived you.


Gender identity is internal, deeply-rooted, and a central part of many people’s senses of self.


For example, I identify as masculine-of-center. If I were to say “I am a woman,” it would feel as ridiculous as if I were saying “I am a dinosaur.”


Gender expression, on the other hand, is what everyone around us can see. Gender expression is the way in which you express your gender. Sometimes these expressions go along with socially sanctioned ideas of what is appropriate. For example, we live in a society that deems dresses appropriate for women, but not for men. But sometimes they don’t.


You may identify as a woman and dress in a traditionally feminine way. You may identify as a woman and dress in a traditionally masculine way. The point is that the two aren’t necessarily related.  The way that someone expresses their gender is not necessarily a clue as to how they identify their gender.





Many people never get challenged on their gender identity. We see a curvy person with long hair in a dress, and when she says her name is Mary and uses female pronouns to refer to herself, we don’t bat an eye.  But some people, usually trans people, get their gender identities questioned all the time.


People are so programmed that high voices only belong to women that when they hear my voice, they assume I am not the person I say I am. As you can imagine, this is frustrating on a good day and awful on a bad one.


Have you ever had a co-worker get your name slightly wrong? Like your name is Francine and they keep calling you Francesca? And you didn’t correct them at first and now you feel like you can’t, but it pisses you off every single time it happens? Like, seriously I’ve worked with you for four months, learn my damn name?


Have you ever had a family member who aggressively teases you for doing something “cross-gender” like the mom in Bend it Like Beckham who thinks her daughter can’t get a boyfriend because she loves soccer too much?



Being trans, especially if all your gender markers don’t quite line up (like if you’re a man with long hair and breasts or a 6’4” woman with a five o’ clock shadow), is like the situations I mentioned above only multiplied by a factor of a zillion.


People are constantly telling you what you look like is wrong, how you think of yourself is wrong, the pronouns you use are wrong, even the name you go by is wrong. It is an inundation of patronizing comments that all mean “I know you better than you know yourself.”


Trans and genderqueer people are as complex and varied in their gender expression as non-trans people.


We’d never tell Angelina Jolie that she’s not a woman because she shaved her head or Hugh Jackman that he’s not a man because he owns a tiny coat-wearing dog. So why do we police trans people’s identities based on their aesthetic choices or the way their bodies look?


I’m taller than Danny DeVito. Does that make him less of a man than me? Ellen Page has less body fat and slimmer hips than I do. Is she less of a woman?



Gender as a Constellation


Even if you are not transgender, chances are there’s something about you (or lots of things about you) that don’t fit perfectly into a pre-destined gender mold.  That’s the beauty of being human – that when a baby is born, we have no idea whether it will like chocolate, or sing beautifully, or become a champion boxer.


We tend to think of as gender as a fixed quality, but really it’s more of a constellation of traits. Think about the men you know. Does each one love cars? Do they all have beards? Probably not, unless you’re from a NASCAR family of course.  Each man has a constellation of gender characteristics that together add up to “man.”


Trans people also have gender constellations, a whole cloud of characteristics related to their gender.


The ratios of traditionally masculine to traditionally feminine qualities may be different than you’re used to, but that does not make a trans person’s gender any less real or valid. Trans people might appear to have a more confusing gender than you or most of the people you know, but in reality we are all just a sum of our likes, dislikes, values, and habits. We’re all a delightful mish-mash of weirdly specific qualities.



If you are genuinely confused when presented with someone who has an unusual set of gendered characteristics and you’re not sure what to do or how to interact with them, just ask them.


Use general rules of engagement. If you don’t know them, grilling them on their gender is likely not a good idea, but many trans people will be delighted to answer your questions, so long as they are posed respectfully.


They will tell you what pronouns they use, and any other information they feel is relevant or useful, and then you can interact with them just as you would anyone else, by bonding over shared interest or politely ignoring each other.


It’s pretty normal to be shocked, or surprised, or even uncomfortable when you come across someone breaking gender barriers. We’re all socialized to think of gender as a fixed, unchanging, biologically imparted quality. But a little critical thinking reveals that this is a falsehood, and a little open mindedness gives you access to a world of freedom with regards to gender.


Gender “creativity” is getting less and less stigmatized, so there’s more art and fashion and media than ever that showcases people with non-traditional gender presentations. Check it out! And if it feels right to you, experiment with your own gender presentation.


[Source: Everyday Feminism]



Gill Foundation: What is Gender Expression?

Info: Gay Stereotypes

Gender Expression vs Gender Identity

Info: Preferred Gender Pronouns

Gender Spectrum: Understanding Gender

Info: Drag and Cross Dressing

Radical Notion: Complete Gender Dictionary

Queer Kid Stuff: Gender Expression


Third Gender


Third gender or third sex is a non-binary designation in which individuals are categorized, either by themselves or by society, as neither man nor woman. It also describes a social category present in those societies that recognize three or more genders. The term third is usually understood to mean "other." Some anthropologists and sociologists have described not only third genders, but also fourth, fifth, and "some" genders.

Apart from biological/anatomical sex, the state of personally identifying as, or being identified by society as, a man, a woman, or other, is usually also defined by the individual's gender identity and gender role in the particular culture in which they live. Not all cultures have strictly defined gender roles.

In different cultures, a third or fourth gender may represent very different things. To the Indigenous Māhū of Hawaii, it is an intermediate state between man and woman, or to be a "person of indeterminate gender". The traditional Dineh of the Southwestern US acknowledge four genders: feminine woman, masculine woman, feminine man, masculine man. The term "third gender" has also been used to describe Hijras of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan (who have gained legal identity, Fa'afafine of Polynesia, and sworn virgins of the Balkans.

While found in a number of non-Western cultures, concepts of "third", "fourth", and "some" gender roles are still somewhat new to mainstream western culture and conceptual thought. The concept is most likely to be embraced in the modern LGBTQ or queer subcultures, or in ethnic minority cultures that exist within larger Western communities such as the North American Indigenous cultures that have roles for Two Spirit people. While mainstream western scholars, notably anthropologists who have tried to write about Native American and South Asian "gender variant" people, have often sought to understand the term "third gender" solely in the language of the modern LGBTQ community, other scholars especially Indigenous scholars, stress that their lack of cultural understanding and context has led to widespread misrepresentation of third gender people.

Wikipedia: Third Gender

USA Today: California Legally Recognizes Third Gender

Daily Wire: California Offers Non-Binary Option


Appearance and Mannerisms


Gender expression refers to the way that a person uses appearance, mannerisms and other personal traits to communicate their gender. Gender expression can be any combination of masculine, feminine and androgynous traits.


Unlike sex characteristics which cannot be changed without medical intervention, gender expression usually refers to traits which can be changed voluntarily, at least to some degree. Traits which contribute to gender expression can include clothing and accessories, hairstyle, make-up, removal or growth of body hair, development of musculature through exercise, stance and manner of walking, and manner of talking. The name, pronouns and titles you ask others to use in reference to you may also be considered a part of your gender expression.



Gender expression can also include using clothing, make-up and other methods to change the appearance of sex characteristics. Examples of these methods include padding, binding, packing and tucking.


A person of any gender identity can choose to express their personal experience of gender through any combination of traits, although some traits are stereotypically associated with certain identities. Some people, especially those who identify as agender, neutrois and intergender may wish to avoid all traits associated with gender, which can be difficult to do in a society based on the gender binary.


It is important to notice that one's gender expression does not always match their gender.


[Source: Gender Wiki]


Gill Foundation: What is Gender Expression?

Gender Expression vs Gender Identity

Gender Spectrum: Understanding Gender

Radical Notion: Complete Gender Dictionary


Societal Expectations


Gender expression can be defined as the way we show our gender to the world around us. Societal expectations of gender expression are reinforced in almost every area of life. Even very young children are clear about the gendered choices that boys and girls are “supposed to” make in relation to toys, colors, clothes, games and activities.



Girls whose gender expression is seen as somewhat masculine are often considered tomboys. Depending on the context and the degree to which they transgress norms, tomboys might be seen positively, neutrally or negatively. For example, a girl who identifies as a gamer geek, cuts her hair short and wears clothing perceived as masculine may be labeled as a “cute tomboy” or met with words intended to hurt, such as dyke or freak.


Positive or neutral labels are harder to come by for boys whose sex and gender expression are seen as incongruent. Common words used to describe such boys tend to be delivered with negative (sometimes hateful) intentions, words like sissy and faggot. There also is little room for boys to expand their gender expression. Just wearing a scarf or walking in a stereotypically feminine way can lead to abuse from peers, educators or family members.


[Source: Teaching Tolerance]


Gill Foundation: What is Gender Expression?

Gender Expression vs Gender Identity

Gender Spectrum: Understanding Gender

Radical Notion: Complete Gender Dictionary

Queer Kid Stuff: Gender Expression


Gender Rights


Within the trans community, there is a misconception by some that antidiscrimination protections based on gender identity are about transsexual people, while antidiscrimination protections based on gender expression are about crossdressers. The oversimplifying, boiling down of the term gender expression to apply to a narrow subset of trans people strips out the broad concept of what the term gender expression actually is, and its ramifications towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights.



Gender identity and gender expression are terms for two fully separate concepts. From a legal perspective for transsexual people, as well as for transgender people who don’t identify as transsexual people, these are very related terms. And, these terms really can be two peas in a single pod, but at the same time these two terms are definitely not a single pea in a single pod.


For pretty much everyone else in broad society gender expression still applies. It’s just that their gender identities matches the societal sex and gender norms for their assigned birth sex of male or female.


So what do the terms gender identity and gender expression mean?  According to the GLAAD Media Reference Guide:


Gender Identity: One’s internal, personal sense of being a man or a woman (or a boy or a girl). For transgender people, their birth-assigned sex and their own internal sense of gender identity do not match.


Gender Expression: External manifestation of one’s gender identity, usually expressed through “masculine,” “feminine” or gender-variant behavior, clothing, haircut, voice or body characteristics.


The GLAAD Media Reference Guide then adds this regarding transgender people:  Typically, transgender people seek to make their gender expression match their gender identity, rather than their birth-assigned sex.



Sex and Gender Defined

Sexual Orientation Defined

Gender Identity Defined

Gender Queer Defined

Queer Defined

Gay Stereotypes

Drag and Cross Dressing

Gender Pronouns


This is how the GLAAD Media Reference Guide defines transgender: An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. The term may include but is not limited to: transsexuals, cross-dressers and other gender-variant people. Transgender people may identify as female-to-male (FTM) or male-to-female (MTF). Use the descriptive term (transgender, transsexual, cross-dresser, FTM or MTF) preferred by the individual. Transgender people may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically.


Transsexual and genderqueer people (people who live as a gender that doesn’t match the sex they were assigned at birth) may seek to make their gender expression match their gender identity. Crossdressers and drag performers are part time expressers of gender that doesn’t match their birth-assigned sex.  But these folk aren’t seeking to make their gender expression match their gender identity, they are only sometimes expressing gender that doesn’t match their gender identity.


But for the majority of society members who don’t identify as transgender, gender expression still applies.  Pretty much everyone who functions within society expresses gender, or is perceived as expressing gender. For the majority of societal members, gender expression conforms within the range of gender norms for the sex they were assigned at birth.



Even genderqueer, androgynous, and intergender identified people are expressing gender.  They’re just expressing it in a gender neutral manner.


And males who express gender with what is perceived in our culture as more feminine expression, and females who express gender with what is perceived in our culture as more masculine expression.  These folk are perceived to be gay or lesbian, whether or not these folk actually are actually gay or lesbian.


There is a reason why male-to-female trans women who are victims of hate violence aren’t usually referred to by the anti-transgender pejorative “she-male” by their attackers, but instead are usually referred to by the antigay pejorative, “fag.” And, that reason is that people who are perceived to be male, who have what is perceived to feminine gender expression, are perceived to be gay.


I would say that housing, employment, and especially public accommodation antidiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity are protections for people whose expression of gender is perceived to be non-conforming to societal sex and gender norms.


One important concept to remember regarding gender identity and gender expression is that gender is expressed on some level by pretty much all of us in our broad society. When gender expression doesn’t conform to societal sex and gender norms is when that antidiscrimination protections for LGBTQ community become legally important.



The other, key concept regarding gender identity and gender expression is that gender expression is the glue (the commonality) that should bind trans community together.


It’s also a glue that should bind LGBTQ community members together. Significant numbers of LGBTQ community members are indirectly perceived by people outside of LGBTQ community as gender nonconformists, and that indirect perception of gender nonconformity is the why and how they are perceived to be LGBTQ.


And too, that perception by people outside of LGBTQ community that gender nonconformity is an identifier of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people has civil rights implications.


Gender expression isn’t gender identity, and vice versa.  These two terms really do represent two separate concepts. And gender expression? It’s a broad concept. Gender expression isn’t just a transgender term that functions as code wording for crossdressers.


[Source: Autumn Sandeen, Pam's House Blend]



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