Gender expression Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_expression

Gender expression, or gender presentation, is a person's behavior, mannerisms, interests, and appearance that are associated with gender, specifically with the categories of femininity or masculinity. This also includes gender roles. These categories rely on stereotypes about gender.


Gender expression typically reflects a person's gender identity (their internal sense of their own gender), but this is not always the case.[1][2] Gender expression is separate and independent both from sexual orientation and sex assigned at birth.[3] Gender identity can be expressed through behavior, clothing, hair, makeup and other aspects of one’s external appearance.[4] Gender expression does not always fall in line with a person's gender identity.[5] A type of gender expression that is considered atypical for a person's externally perceived gender may be described as gender non-conforming.

In men and boys, typical or masculine gender expression is often described as manly, while atypical or feminine expression is known as effeminate. 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. A type of expression that is perceived as neither typically feminine or masculine can be described as gender-neutral or undifferentiated.

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.[6] The term also designates a criterion for human rights protection in certain countries, including Canada.[7]

Confusion between gender expression and sexual orientation[edit]

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.[8]

"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.[9]


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]

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.[11]

Related terms[edit]

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).[12][13] The converse is andromimesis (adj.: andromimetic).[12]: 402 [14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Summers, Randal W. (2016). Social Psychology: How Other People Influence Our Thoughts and Actions [2 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 232. ISBN 9781610695923.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ "Gender, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression". Government of Alberta. Retrieved 20 Sep 2020.
  4. ^ "Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Definitions". HRC. Retrieved 2021-11-17.
  5. ^ Kirkup, Kyle (2018-01-01). "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.
  6. ^ Yogyakarta Principles plus 10
  7. ^ Macfarlane, Emmett (2018). Policy Change, Courts, and the Canadian Constitution. University of Toronto Press. p. 391.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Disch, Lisa (1999). "Judith Butler and the Politics of the Performative". Political Theory. 27 (4): 545–559. doi:10.1177/0090591799027004006. S2CID 144841050.
  10. ^ Lehavot, Keren; Molina, Yamile; Simoni, Jane M. (2012-09-01). "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. ^ 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.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ 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.


  • Serano, Julia (2016). Whipping Girl: A transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of femininity (2nd ed.), Berkeley, CA: Seal Press.

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