Gender nonconforming is a facet of a person’s expression rather than an insight into their gender identity or sexuality.

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Gender nonconformity is when a person lives their life in a way that challenges societal expectations.

Conversely, the term “gender conformity” means adherence to societal expectations.

Neither choice is “right” or “wrong.” What matters is being your authentic self and remaining respectful of everyone else’s choice to do so. How you express your gender identity is up to you.

Because gender is a societal construct — something people have created and choose to make decisions around rather than biological — there are plenty of folks who don’t live their lives following those constructs.

Gender nonconformity — which is different from terms related to gender identity, such as gender fluid or nonbinary — is more about how you show up in the world instead of your actual gender identity. Anyone of any gender can be gender nonconforming.

Gender roles

Some examples could feel more akin to ignoring gender-based stereotypes. These stereotypes may include:

  • women being emotional
  • men being stoic
  • men doing hard, physical labor
  • women tending to the children

While bucking these concepts could be considered gender nonconforming, more folks are pushing against stereotypes to where many aren’t held as truth or expectation any longer.

Understandings of gender identity and expression vary amongst different cultures, as do the expectations of how people within those gender groups should behave.

Is gender nonconforming the same as genderqueer or gender-fluid?

Many people still operate under the framework of only two possible genders — male and female — making it a binary system.

A term for folks who operate outside that framework is “nonbinary.”

Nonbinary can be an umbrella term to explain those above, or it can be a person’s chosen gender identity.

Other identities outside of only two options include:

  • genderfluid: having a gender identity that is fluid or changing
  • bigender: identifying with more than one gender
  • agender: not identifying with any gender
  • genderqueer: identifies outside of the binary, sometimes used similarly to nonbinary but can also fall underneath its umbrella

Gender expression vs. gender identity vs. sexuality

The difference between gender nonconforming, gender-fluid, and genderqueer is that the latter two are connected to a person’s gender identity. Gender nonconforming is about expression.

In reality, gender is expansive, and how a person identifies is up to them and doesn’t always mirror their sex assigned at birth.

Ultimately, you can’t tell a person’s gender identity or sexuality simply by looking at them.

For example, Mark Bryan is a straight, cisgender male. He has a wife, three children, and an extensive heel collection.

Because U.S. societal standards say men aren’t supposed to wear dresses and skirts or heels, Bryan is a showcase of gender nonconformity.

Gender identity is about how people understand themselves and can be determined only by the individual.

How someone presents outwardly is known as gender expression. This is done through external ways, such as clothing choices or hairstyles.

A person’s sexuality or sexual orientation is about who they are physically and romantically attracted to. It’s not dependent on gender identity or gender expression.

For example, a transgender woman may dress in traditionally masculine clothing and be attracted to other women. This doesn’t detract from her gender identity.

Sometimes there are assumptions that gender nonconforming is synonymous with a trans identity.

While trans folks can choose gender nonconformity, this shouldn’t be an automatic association.

It may be safer and more accessible for cisgender folks to bend gender expectations. Due to societal expectations, some trans folks may feel obligated to fit more neatly into their gender role.

For a trans person, going against societal gender expectations may lead to a further lack of acceptance or safety concerns.

If a person hasn’t shared their pronouns directly, it’s always a good idea to ask respectfully and directly.

Assuming what someone identifies as can be offensive, especially because gender nonconformity doesn’t automatically connect to a person’s gender identity.

If you’re unsure of how to start that conversation with someone you’ve recently met, consider introducing yourself the way you generally would and include what your pronouns are.

By opening the floor, you can let folks know that your goal is to be respectful of their pronouns from the beginning.

Gender nonconformity is a way of expressing rejection of societal gender roles and expectations.

It isn’t automatically connected to a person’s gender identity or sexuality. Anyone of any gender identity can be gender nonconforming.

It’s best to inquire about how a person identifies and what pronouns they use rather than making any assumptions.