Gender variance

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Gender variance, or gender nonconformity, is behavior or gender expression by an individual that does not match masculine and feminine gender norms. People who exhibit gender variance may be called gender variant, gender non-conforming, gender diverse, gender atypical[1] or genderqueer, and may be transgender or otherwise variant in their gender identity. Some intersex people may also exhibit gender variance.


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. 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."[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 is one's internal sense of their own gender; while most people have a gender identity of a boy or a man, or a girl or a woman, gender identity for other people is more complex than two choices. Furthermore, gender expression is the external manifestation of one's gender identity, usually through "masculine," "feminine," or gender variant presentation or behavior.[8]

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.[9][10][11][12] Culturally-specific gender diverse terms include sistergirls and brotherboys.[13] 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 the terms sex and/or gender diverse and Diverse Sexes and Genders (DSG).[10][14][15][16] Current regulations providing for the recognition of trans and other gender identities use terms such as gender diverse and transgender.[17] 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.[13]

Childhood gender variance[edit]

Multiple studies have suggested a correlation between children who express gender non-conformity and their eventually coming out as gay, bisexual, or transgender.[18][19] In some studies, a majority of those who identify as gay or lesbian self-report gender non-conformity as children.[18][19] However, the accuracy of these studies have been questioned, especially within the academic community.[20] 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.[18] 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.[21]

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.[22]

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.[23] 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.[24] 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.[25]

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.[25] 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.[26] In fact, treatment for gender identity disorders such as gender variance have been a topic of controversy for three decades.[27] 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.[27] 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.[27] 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).[27] 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."[27]

Social status for men vs. women[edit]

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.[28]

Atypical gender roles[edit]

An atypical gender role is a gender role comprising gender-typed behaviors 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%[citation needed]
  • 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[citation needed].

Association with sexual orientation[edit]

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.[18][19][20] 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.[29] The same study found that mothers of gay males recalled such atypical behavior in their sons with greater frequency than mothers of heterosexual males.[29] But while many gay 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.[18][19][20] 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 for men 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.[18][19][20]


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.[30] Other gender-nonconforming men prefer to simply modify and stylise men's clothing as an expression of their interest in appearance and fashion.

Legal recognition[edit]


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.[17] The 'X' classification was first recorded on a passport in 2003.[31][32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Douglas C. Halderman (2000), Gender Atypical Youth: Clinical and Social Issues. School Psychology Review, v29 n2 p192-200 2000
  2. ^ Lynne Carroll, Paula J. Gilroy, Jo Ryan (2002), Counseling Transgendered, Transsexual, and Gender-Variant Clients, Journal of Counseling & Development, Volume 80, Number 2, Spring 2002, pp. 131 - 139
  3. ^ Arlene Istar Lev, (2004) Transgender Emergence: Therapeutic Guidelines for Working With Gender-Variant People and Their Families. Haworth Press, ISBN 978-0-7890-0708-7
  4. ^ Walter O. Bockting, Randall D. Ehrbar (2006), "Commentary: Gender Variance, Dissonance, or Identity Disorder? pp. 125 - 134 in "Sexual and Gender Diagnoses of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM): A reevaluation edited by Dan Karasic and Jack Drescher, 2006, Haworth Press, ISBN 0-7890-3214-7 NB: Several articles in this book use the term "gender variance".
  5. ^ Serena Nanda (2000) Gender Diversity: Crosscultural Variations, Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc., 2000 ISBN 1-57766-074-9 NB: Nanda uses the term "gender variance" to encompass gender phenomena in different cultures.
  6. ^ "Gender Education and Advocacy (GEA) is a national [US] organization focused on the needs, issues and concerns of gender variant people in human society." Mission statement, available on the front page of the group's website:
  7. ^ After defining transgender as primarily "an umbrella term to describe those who defy societal expectations and assumptions regarding femaleness and maleness" including people who are transsexual, intersexual or genderqueer, as well as crossdressers, drag performers, masculine women and feminine men, Serano goes on to state: "I will also sometimes use the synonymous term gender-variant to describe all people who are considered by others to deviate from societal norms of femaleness and maleness". (p. 25), Serano, Julia (2007), Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity, Seal Press, 2007. ISBN 978-1-58005-154-5, ISBN 1-58005-154-5
  8. ^ a b Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. ‘’GLAAD Media Reference Guide, 8th Edition. Transgender Glossary of Terms”, ‘’GLAAD’’, USA, May 2010. Retrieved on 2011-03-02.
  9. ^ Department of Health, Victoria, Australia (9 October 2014). "Transgender and gender diverse health and wellbeing". Retrieved 2014-12-30. 
  10. ^ a b National LGBTI Health Alliance (2013). "National LGBTI Health Alliance statement". National LGBTI Health Alliance. Retrieved 2014-12-31. 
  11. ^ Australian Human Rights Commission (1 August 2013). "New Protection". Retrieved 2014-12-30. 
  12. ^ Winter, Sarah (2009). "Are human rights capable of liberation? The case of sex and gender diversity" (PDF). Australian Journal of Human Rights 15 (1): 151–174. Retrieved 23 December 2011. 
  13. ^ a b National LGBTI Health Alliance (July 2013). "Inclusive Language Guide: Respecting people of intersex, trans and gender diverse experience" (PDF). National LGBTI Health Alliance. Retrieved 2014-12-31. 
  14. ^ Organisation Intersex International Australia (9 January 2013). ""Sex and Gender Diverse" discussion paper on terminology". Organisation Intersex International Australia. Retrieved 2014-12-31. 
  15. ^ Family Planning Victoria, February 2013, "ABS review of the sex standard / potential new gender standard, A submission by Family Planning Victoria in collaboration with Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria, Transgender Victoria, Y Gender and the Zoe Belle Gender Centre"
  16. ^ Transgender Victoria, February 2013, "Review of ABS Standard Welcome"
  17. ^ a b Attorney-General's Department (Australia) (June 2013). "Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender". Attorney-General's Department (Australia). Retrieved 2014-12-31. ]
  18. ^ a b c d e f Friedman, RC (2008). Sexual Orientation and Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Sexual Science and Clinical Practice. Columbia University Press. pp. 53–7. ISBN 978-0-231-12057-9. 
  19. ^ a b c d e Baumeister, Roy F. (2001). Social Psychology and Human Sexuality: Essential Readings. Psychology Press. pp. 201–2. ISBN 978-1-84169-018-6. 
  20. ^ a b c d Brookley, Robert (2002). Reinventing the Male Homosexual: The Rhetoric and Power of the Gay Gene. Indiana University Press. pp. 60–65. ISBN 978-0-253-34057-3. 
  21. ^ "Andrea L. Roberts, Margaret Rosario, Heather L. Corliss, Karestan C. Koenen and S.Bryn Austin""Childhood Gender Nonconformity: A Risk Indicator for Child Abuse and Posttraumatic Stress in Youth",Pediatrics Official Journal of the American Acamedy of Pediatrics, February 2012
  22. ^ Thomas, R. N., & Blakemore, J. (2013). Adults' attitudes about gender nonconformity in childhood. Archives Of Sexual Behavior, 42(3), 399-412. doi:10.1007/s10508-012-0023-7
  23. ^
  24. ^ Peate, I. (January 01, 2008). Understanding key issues in gender-variant children and young people. British Journal of Nursing (mark Allen Publishing), 17, 17, 25
  25. ^ a b Roberts, A., Rosario, M., Slopen, N., et al. (2013). Childhood gender nonconformity, bullying victimization, and depressive symptoms across adolescence and early adulthood: an 11-year longitudinal study. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry, 52(2): 143-152
  26. ^ Snaith, P (1998). Gender dysphoria. Journal of Continuing Professional Development, 4: 356-359
  27. ^ a b c d e Hill, D., Rozanski, C., Carfagnini, J., & Willoughby, B. (January 01, 2007). Gender identity disorders (GID) in childhood and adolescence. International Journal of Sexual Health, 19, 1, 57-75
  28. ^ Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. “Transgender Day of Remembrance: Honoring the Lives Lost”, ‘’GLAAD’’, USA, November 19, 2010. Retrieved on 2011-03-02.
  29. ^ a b J. Michael Bailey, Joseph S. Miller, Lee Willerman; Maternally Rated Childhood Gender Nonconformity in Homosexuals and Heterosexuals, Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 22, 1993.
  30. ^ Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. ‘’GLAAD Media Reference Guide, 8th Edition. Transgender Glossary of Terms”, ‘’GLAAD’’, USA, May 2010. Retrieved on 2011-03-01.
  31. ^ Holme, Ingrid. "Hearing People's Own Stories". Science as Culture 17 (3): 341–344. doi:10.1080/09505430802280784. Retrieved 27 December 2014. 
  32. ^ "X marks the spot for intersex Alex", West Australian, via 11 January 2003