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What Does it Mean to be Gender Nonconforming?

To be gender nonconforming is to not adhere to stereotypical gender roles, expressions, and/or attributes. Gender nonconforming has nothing to do with a person's sexual orientation. Instead, gender nonconforming is a way to describe someone's expression of their gender, or the lack thereof.

To mitigate the amount of information our brains have to take in, it automatically categorizes similar attributes. This is the brain's primal response as it tries to protect the body.

Applying this primal response to the complex society of today means that we naturally are inclined to label people with various attributes and characteristics based on how they look. However, this is a natural instinct that we have to retrain our brains how to process.

There are many ways for someone to express how they feel internally. This can manifest into likes and dislikes, taste in music, makeup, and even clothes. Whether or not someone does so intentionally, each decision you make about your appearance communicates that message to the others around you.

In most of the Western world, there has traditionally been a binary to describe and categorize the expected outward expressions of a man and a woman. The main descriptors being masculine and feminine. These attributes can be affirmed through the use of clothing, mannerisms, and even expectations of specific responsibilities.

The traditional, more so stereotypical, roles, responsibilities, and expectations of each gender are for those who are girls to be, act, and present as feminine, and for those who are boys to be, act, and present as masculine. And with these roles come the expectations of specific responsibilities, such as girls are to become mothers and take care of the children at home, while the boys are to become men who conduct business or perform hard labor outside of the house and only hold the responsibilities of being a father and a husband to just a few hours each night.

This does not work for everyone (and it shouldn't!). Everyone expresses themselves differently and in different ways, and not everyone relates to this stereotypical expression of gender. Now, gender nonconforming is an adjective used to describe a subject. That subject does not have to be a person.

This descriptor can be used to describe a great deal of things. However, if someone tells you that they are or identify as gender nonconforming, it usually means one of two things. Either someone could be talking about the way that they dress and the way that they present themselves outwardly, or it could mean a larger disconnect not just of expression but of identity as well.

It may be difficult to comprehend, but not all people identify with being a man or a woman. Yes, there are those who transition from the gender they are assigned at birth to the one that better aligns with who they are. However, the trans experience is different. In many cases, those who are trans are simply moving from one binary to the next. But that is not necessarily the case with those who are gender nonconforming.

For some, they do not feel more of one way than another, relating to either gender, or may even feel more masculine one day and more feminine the next. Everyone is different including their experiences and how they choose to present themselves to the world.

Sometimes there can be biological factors or indicators that someone is, or can identify as, gender nonconforming, such as being born intersex, which means that people can be born with both presenting forms of genitalia, varying hormone levels, and chromosomes that differ from the gender that they were assigned to at birth. However, this does not have to be the case and is oftentimes not, as the rate of being born intersex is rather low.

Now knowing that gender nonconforming can indicate or even mean different things, it is always best practice, and most importantly polite and respectful, to ask and confirm what pronouns someone identifies with before addressing them as something anything other than their name.