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What’s the Difference Between Gender Identity and Expression?

Oct 15, 2023

What’s the difference between gender identity and expression?     

This is a great question, very straightforward and simple.

Expression is about how you present yourself to the world.

So gender expression, how you present yourself to the world. 

Gender identity is your internal experience of gender.

So people may have an alignment between the two.

So most cisgender people internally feel that they are the gender they were assigned at birth and they present themselves to the world in a way that is in alignment with what we would expect of somebody who is that gender.

So if they are a man, they wear clothes we would associate with men.

A woman wear clothes we would associate with women, hairstyles, makeup or not, nail polish or not, those kinds of things.

So expression is what people can see of your gender as they walk around. 

Identity is what you experience inside.

So for people like me who are gender queer, the way that I experience gender internally may not be exactly the same that I a presenting, in part because like gender expression as we view it in this culture tends to be highly binary because the way that most people think about and understand gender is strongly binary.

And so if you are not presenting as a man or a woman, people just kind of slot you into one of those anyway. 

So I try to work clothing that feels right for how I feel that day.

But whether people read that expression as men, women, whatever, is something I don’t have a lot of control over.

My internal experience of my gender moves back and forth a lot between more masculine and more feminine so I have a variety of clothes available for me to choose my expressions to express my identity. 

Now, people who live in areas where it is less safe to be transgender or where they are afraid of what would happen if they tried to express their gender that they experience internally, express their identity, they may express themselves in a gender that is totally different from the gender that they internally experience.

So people who are in the closet who have not yet come out, who have not socially transitioned will often have a very different gender expression than gender identity. 

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