Welcome to another installment of our “Defining” series, where we unpack various terms and identities. Do you have a word that needs defining? Let us know!
Gender nonconforming is a complicated term that can be used in a few different ways, but for now we’re going to focus on what it means when someone identifies as a gender nonconforming person.
Gender nonconforming is a term that some people use to describe themselves when they do not dress, behave, or otherwise “fit in” with gender expectations.
Now that we have a definition, let’s get into what it means to be gender nonconforming. Typically, people who are gender nonconforming will express this identity through individual expression: how they dress, walk, talk, and act in the world.
In our society, pretty much every way that a person behaves, dresses, speaks, moves, and interacts with others is gendered. Women are expected to act, dress, speak, and move in specific ways simply because they are women, and men are expected to act, dress, speak, and move in specific ways simply because they are men. For example, women are often expected to wear dresses, be mothers, cross their legs, smile, and have long hair. Men are often expected to be strong, breadwinners, emotionless, and wear pants and neckties.
Gender nonconforming is used as an identity term in two ways. First, it can be an umbrella term. Often, people say “trans and gender nonconforming (GNC)” as a way to describe people who, regardless of their gender identity (you do not have to identify as trans to identify as gender nonconforming), do not adhere to gender expectations.
Second, people can use the term gender nonconforming as a label for their own gender identity. Much like the identity term non-binary, people who use gender nonconforming to describe their identity do not fit in the traditional categories of “men” or “women.” Gender nonconforming people fit into the non-binary community because they don’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth or with either of the two traditional binary genders (man and woman). However, this does not mean that gender nonconforming people cannot be men or women. For example, some gender nonconforming people identify as “gender nonconforming men” or “gender nonconforming women.” If this seems a little confusing, consider that gender categories are not mutually exclusive. In other words, people don’t always have just one gender. In this way, gender nonconforming people can have ‘gender nonconforming’ as the only gender identity term they use, or they can use a combination of terms to express their gender identity.
Only transgender people are gender nonconforming. As noted above, this isn’t true! Anyone can identify as gender nonconforming, including men, women, and non-binary people alike.
All people who identify as gender nonconforming are transgender or non-binary. Much like the answer above, this isn’t true! While it might be helpful to think of gender nonconforming as being similar to non-binary or transgender identities, it is important to remember that not all gender nonconforming people use those terms to describe themselves. For example, some people identify as gender nonconforming women or gender nonconforming men. As with all identities, each person has their own relationship to the term, their own understanding of what it means for them, and their own combination of identity terms to best describe their experience with gender and sexuality.
Gender nonconforming people all use “they/them” pronouns. When it comes to pronouns, the general rule is to always ask someone what pronouns they use. The rule isn’t any different here! Gender nonconforming people use a wide variety of pronouns, from the binary pronouns “he/him” and “she/her” to gender neutral and other pronouns. Instead of assuming someone’s pronouns, make it a habit to learn everyone’s pronouns. If you’re in a group, the easiest way to do this is to tell others your pronouns first, and then ask everyone to let you know which pronouns they use. This is a good practice because you not only create an environment where sharing your pronouns is a normal thing, but you also give gender nonconforming people and others the space to share their pronouns without being singled out or overlooked. And if you forget a person’s pronouns or meet someone new, you can always politely ask them in private which pronouns they use.
Be sure to check out the rest of The Defining Series right here!
Kai River Blevins is a genderqueer/femme poet, community organizer, and graduate student from western New York who now lives in Salem, Oregon. When Kai isn’t doing homework or writing on their blog, Queer as Life, they love to read, color, cook delicious vegan food, and spend time with their loving partner and adorable fur-child, Sir Reginald, the Earl of Puppydom. Follow them on Twitter @queeraslife