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Gender variance, or gender nonconformity, is behavior or gender expression that does not match the gender roles set for males and females. People who exhibit gender variance may be called gender variant, gender non-conforming, gender diverse or gender atypical.
The terms gender variance and gender variant are used by scholars of psychology and psychiatry, anthropology, and gender studies, as well as advocacy groups of gender variant people themselves. 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, but usually has a narrower meaning and somewhat different connotations, including a non-identification with the gender assigned at birth. GLAAD (formerly the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation)'s 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." Not all gender variant people identify as transgender, and not all transgender people identify as gender variant—many identify simply as men or women.
In some countries, such as Australia, the term gender diverse or, historically, sex and/or gender diverse, may be used in place of, or as well as transgender. Culturally-specific gender diverse terms include sistergirls and brotherboys. Ambiguities about the inclusion or exclusion of intersex people in terminology, such as sex and/or gender diverse, led to a decline in use of that term. Current regulations providing for the recognition of trans and other gender identities use terms such as gender diverse and transgender. In July 2013, the Australian National LGBTI Health Alliance produced a guide entitled "Inclusive Language Guide: Respecting people of intersex, trans and gender diverse experience" which clearly distinguishes between different bodily and identity groups.
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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
Studies have also been conducted about adults' attitudes 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.
Children who are gender variant may struggle to conform later in life. They may try to lead a "normal" life by getting involved in heterosexual relationships or marriage to help subdue their core gender identity. As children get older and are not treated for the "mismatch" from mind and bodily appearance, this leads to discomfort, and negative self-image and eventually may lead to depression, or suicide, or self-doubt. If a child is not conforming at a very young age, it is important to provide family support for positive impact to family and the child. Children who do not conform prior to age 11 tend to have an increased risk for depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation as a young adult.
Roberts et al. (2013) found in their study that participants ages 23 to 30 where 26% of nonconforming experience some sort of depressive symptoms versus 18% in conforming. There is no curative treatment for gender non conformity, however behavioral therapy has been reported to be successful, such as recognition and open discussions, or counseling sessions. In fact, treatment for gender identity disorders such as gender variance have been a topic of controversy for three decades. In the works of Hill, Carfagnini and Willoughby (2007), Bryant (2004), "suggests that treatment protocols for these children and adolescents, especially those based on converting the child back to a stereotypically gendered youth, make matters worse, causing them to internalize their distress." In other words, treatment for GID in children and adolescents may have negative consequences. Studies suggest that treatment should focus more on helping children and adolescents feel comfortable in living with GID. There is a feeling of distress that overwhelms a child or adolescent with GID that gets expressed through gender. Hill et al. (2007) states, "if these youth are distressed by having a condition deemed by society as unwanted, is this evidence of a disorder?". Bartlett and colleagues (2000) note that the problem determining distress is aggravated in GID cases because usually it is not clear whether distress in the child is due to gender variance or secondary effects (e.g., due to ostracization or stigmatization). Hill et al. (2007) suggests, "a less controversial approach, respectful of increasing gender freedom in our culture and sympathetic to a child’s struggle with gender, would be more humane."
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.
Atypical gender roles
An atypical gender role is a gender role comprising gender-typed behaviours not typically associated with a cultural norm. Gender role stereotypes are the socially determined model which contains the cultural beliefs about what the gender roles should be. It is what a society expects men and women to think, look like, and behave. Gender role stereotypes are often based on gender norms.
Examples of some atypical gender roles:
- Househusbands: men who stay at home and take care of the house and children while their partner goes to work. According to Sam Roberts of the New York Times, in 1970 four percent of American men earned less than their wives; in 2007 this had risen to 42%
- Metrosexual: a man of any sexual orientation who has interest in style and fashion and dresses well.
- Androgynous people: identifying as neither male nor female; OR presenting a gender either mixed or neutral
- Crossdresser: a person who dresses in the clothing and approximating the appearance of members of the other sex, in public or solely in private. Their gender identity, however, is not necessarily congruent with the gender they are dressing as.
- Hijra: A neutered male person whose gender identity is neither masculine nor feminine, whose gender role includes special clothing that identifies them as a hijra, and whose gender role includes a special place in society and special occupations.
- Khanith: The gynecomimetic partner in a heterogender homosexual relationship, who may retain his public status as a man, despite his departure in dress and behavior from a socio-normal male role. The clothing of these individuals must be intermediate between that of a male and a female. His social role includes the freedom to associate with women in the entire range of their social interactions, including singing with them at a wedding.
Association with sexual orientation
Behaviors 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 found a high incidence of gay males self-reporting gender-atypical behaviors in childhood, such as having little interest in athletics and a preference for playing with dolls. The same study found that mothers of gay males recalled such atypical behavior in their sons with greater frequency than mothers of heterosexual males. 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. Other gender nonconforming males prefer to simply modify and stylise men's clothing as an expression of their interest in appearance and fashion.
The federal Australian government recognises gender diversity through recognition of an 'X' gender classification in Commonwealth Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender published in July 2013. The 'X' classification was first recorded on a passport in 2003.
- Gender binary
- Third gender
- Discrimination towards non-binary gender persons
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