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Gender expression, or gender presentation, is a person's behavior, mannerisms, interests, and appearance that are socially associated with gender, namely femininity or masculinity.[1] Gender expression can also be defined as the external manifestation of one's gender identity through behavior, clothing, hairstyles, voice, or body characteristics.[2][3] Typically, people think about a person's gender expression in terms of masculinity and femininity, but there are many more ways to express gender than just those two options.[vague] A person's gender expression may or may not match their assigned sex at birth. This includes gender roles, and accordingly relies on cultural stereotypes about gender. It is distinct from gender identity.[4]


Gender expression typically reflects a person's gender identity (their internal sense of their own gender), but this is not always the case.[5][6] Gender expression is separate and independent both from sexual orientation and sex assigned at birth.[7] Gender identity can be expressed through behavior, clothing, hair, makeup, voice, body language and other aspects of one's external appearance.[8] Gender expression does not always fall in line with a person's gender identity.[9] A type of gender expression that is considered atypical for a person's externally perceived gender may be described as gender non-conforming.

Gender expression can vary widely between individuals and cultures, and may not always align with traditional gender roles or expectations.[10] Some people may express their gender in a way that is typically associated with the opposite sex, such as a man wearing a dress or a woman having short hair and wearing masculine clothing.[11] Others may prefer a gender-neutral or androgynous appearance, or may choose to present differently depending on the situation or context.[12][13]

In men and boys, typical or masculine gender expression is often described as manly, while atypical or feminine expression is known as effeminate.[14] In girls and young women, atypically masculine expression is called tomboyish. In lesbian and queer women, masculine and feminine expressions are known as butch and femme respectively. A mixture of typical and atypical expression may be described as androgynous.

The term gender expression is used in the Yogyakarta Principles, which concern the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics.[15] The term also designates a criterion for human rights protection in certain countries, including Canada.[16]

Versus sexual orientation

While gender expression does not necessarily connect to sexuality, individuals often are misinterpreted as more masculine if lesbian and more feminine if gay, regardless of the individual's gender expression. These beliefs can lead to people misinterpreting an individual's gender expression based on their sexuality. Studies on adolescents conducted by Stacey Horn, showed that gay and lesbian individuals who did not express themselves as their assigned gender were seen as less acceptable. Individuals who expressed themselves with their assigned gender typically faced less social harassment and discrimination. On the other hand, heterosexual males whose gender expression was more feminine than masculine were the most discriminated against.[1]

"The heterosexual matrix" theory created by gender theorist Judith Butler posits that people often assume someone's sexuality based on their visible gender and sex. Lisa Disch states that it explains why people tend to assume someone's gender expression based on their sex and sexuality.[4] Some sexologists, especially earlier on in the 20th century, viewed gay men and lesbians as "gender inverts". This idea was seen in figures in 1950's New York gay culture: effeminate men referred to as "fairies", as well as butch lesbians. Drag shows also can be considered a way that modifying one's gender expression can indicate their sexuality, though this is not always the case.[17] Some research proved a similar idea, showing that homosexual people are generally more gender nonconforming than heterosexual people, and gender nonconformity throughout life can be an indicator of sexuality.[18]


People sometimes face discrimination because of their gender expression. Victims of discrimination often culturally express different genders than their gender identity or biological sex. Gender expression-based discrimination can be independent of sexual orientation, and it can lead to bullying, childhood abuse, sexual assault, discrimination, and various other traumatizing hardships.[10]

Discrimination based on sexual orientation can be connected to a person's gender expression. Scholars say it is difficult to separate the connection between anti-LGBTQ discrimination and gender expression, especially when the expression differs from the person's assigned gender at birth. In a study done by Steph M. Anderson, she found that in discriminatory situations, participants' gender affected whether or not they were perceived as LGBTQ. People whose expression aligned with their assigned gender felt less of an impact than those whose expression did not align with their assigned gender.[19] When it comes to health care, one study shows that people with a non-normative gender expression experienced biases during their care. For example, lesbians who presented femininely may be more comfortable in healthcare spaces than people whose expression does not match their assigned gender. Some gender non-conforming people in the study expressed feelings that having one's gender or sexuality assumed because of their expression limited their comfort and access to healthcare.[11]

Gender expression is a sizable aspect of how a person views themselves, and thus will impact self confidence. When an individual is forced, for personal or societal influences, to portray themselves in a manner they don't personally identify with, confidence can be greatly hindered in turn damaging mental health. A 2017 study reported that when masculine presenting lesbians are made to dress in a feminine style, their confidence suffers greatly.[12]

Related terms

Other, rarer terms exist for aspects of gender expression. In academic sources, a feminine gender expression in a male (of any orientation) may be called gynemimesis (adjective: gynemimetic).[20][21] The converse is andromimesis (adj.: andromimetic).[20]: 402 [22]

See also


  1. ^ a b Horn, Stacey S (2007). "Adolescents' Acceptance of Same-Sex Peers Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Expression". Journal of Youth and Adolescence. 36 (3): 373. doi:10.1007/s10964-007-9176-4. PMID 27519035.
  2. ^ Edelman, Elijah Adiv (6 November 2019), Bosia, Michael J.; McEvoy, Sandra M.; Rahman, Momin (eds.), "Gender Identity and Transgender Rights in Global Perspective", The Oxford Handbook of Global LGBT and Sexual Diversity Politics, Oxford University Press, pp. 61–74, doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190673741.013.24, ISBN 978-0-19-067374-1, retrieved 17 March 2023
  3. ^ Carabez, Rebecca; Pellegrini, Marion; Mankovitz, Andrea; Eliason, Mickey; Scott, Megan (12 August 2015). "Does your organization use gender inclusive forms? Nurses' confusion about trans* terminology". Journal of Clinical Nursing. 24 (21–22): 3306–3317. doi:10.1111/jocn.12942. ISSN 0962-1067. PMID 26263919.
  4. ^ a b Disch, Lisa (1999). "Judith Butler and the Politics of the Performative". Political Theory. 27 (4): 545–559. doi:10.1177/0090591799027004006. S2CID 144841050.
  5. ^ Summers, Randal W. (2016). Social Psychology: How Other People Influence Our Thoughts and Actions [2 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 232. ISBN 9781610695923.
  6. ^ American Psychological Association (December 2015). "Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People" (PDF). American Psychologist. 70 (9): 861. doi:10.1037/a0039906. PMID 26653312. S2CID 1751773.
  7. ^ "Gender, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression". Government of Alberta. Retrieved 20 September 2020.
  8. ^ "Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Definitions". HRC. Retrieved 17 November 2021.
  9. ^ Kirkup, Kyle (1 January 2018). "The origins of gender identity and gender expression in Anglo-American legal discourse". University of Toronto Law Journal. 68 (1): 80–117. doi:10.3138/utlj.2017-0080. ISSN 0042-0220. S2CID 148583324.
  10. ^ a b Lehavot, Keren; Molina, Yamile; Simoni, Jane M. (1 September 2012). "Childhood Trauma, Adult Sexual Assault, and Adult Gender Expression among Lesbian and Bisexual Women". Sex Roles. 67 (5): 272–284. doi:10.1007/s11199-012-0171-1. ISSN 1573-2762. PMC 3758810. PMID 24003263.
  11. ^ a b ""Automatic assumption of your gender, sexuality and sexual practices is also discrimination": Exploring sexual healthcare experiences and recommendations among sexually and gender diverse persons in Arctic Canada". Health & Social Care in the Community. 27 (5): 1204–1213. September 2019 – via EBSCO.
  12. ^ a b Henrichs-Beck, Christine L.; Szymanski, Dawn M. (2017). "Gender expression, body–gender identity incongruence, thin ideal internalization, and lesbian body dissatisfaction". Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity. 4 (1): 23–33. doi:10.1037/sgd0000214. ISSN 2329-0390. S2CID 151550839.
  13. ^ "TRANS 101". A Gender Agenda. Retrieved 13 March 2023.
  14. ^ Kachel, Sven; Steffens, Melanie C.; Niedlich, Claudia (2016). "Traditional Masculinity and Femininity: Validation of a New Scale Assessing Gender Roles". Frontiers in Psychology. 7: 956. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00956. ISSN 1664-1078. PMC 4932111. PMID 27458394.
  15. ^ Yogyakarta Principles plus 10
  16. ^ Macfarlane, Emmett (2018). Policy Change, Courts, and the Canadian Constitution. University of Toronto Press. p. 391.
  17. ^ Hillman, Betty Luther (January 2011). ""The most profoundly revolutionary act a homosexual can engage in": Drag and the Politics of Gender Presentation in the San Francisco Gay Liberation Movement, 1964–1972". Journal of the History of Sexuality. 20 (1): 153–181. JSTOR 40986358. PMID 21488422 – via JSTOR.
  18. ^ "Femininity in men and masculinity in women is positively related to sociosexuality". Personality and Individual Differences. 152: 1–5. 1 January 2020 – via OhioLINK.
  19. ^ Anderson, Steph M. (September 2020). ""Gender Matters: The Perceived Role of Gender Expression in Discrimination Against Cisgender and Transgender LGBQ Individuals"". Psychology of Women Quarterly. 44 (3): 323–341. doi:10.1177/0361684320929354. S2CID 221217350 – via EBSCO.
  20. ^ a b Denny, Dallas (13 May 2013). Current Concepts in Transgender Identity. London: Routledge. pp. 402, 412–414. ISBN 978-1134-82110-5. OCLC 1100456679.
  21. ^ Weinrich, James D. (1987). Sexual Landscapes: Why We are what We Are, why We Love Whom We Love. Scribner's. pp. 276–277. ISBN 978-0-684-18705-1. OCLC 299414370.
  22. ^ Money, John (30 December 2010). Sin, Science, and the Sex Police: Essays on Sexology & Sexosophy. Prometheus. pp. 246–. ISBN 978-1615-92830-9. OCLC 1131230541.