Gender Expression

What Is Gender Expression?

“Gender expression” refers to the ways in which we each manifest masculinity or femininity. It is usually an extension of our “gender identity,” our innate sense of being male or female. Each of us expresses a particular gender every day – by the way we style our hair, select our clothing, or even the way we stand. Our appearance, speech, behavior, movement, and other factors signal that we feel – and wish to be understood – as masculine or feminine, or as a man or a woman.

For some of us, our gender expression may not match our biological sex. That is, while other people see us as being male or female, we may or may not fit their expectations of masculinity or femininity because of the way we look, act, or dress.

People whose gender expression is not what we might expect represent many different backgrounds – their age, sex, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation has no bearing on their gender expression.

Why Do Employees Need Our Help?

Employees who express gender outside of societal stereotypes struggle with a number of conflicting decisions at work on a daily basis: which restroom to use, which uniform to wear, when, how, or even whether to inform employers that they are transgender. Additionally, they face verbal abuse, such as name-calling and taunting; denials of promotions; punishment for expressing a gender identity outside an employer’s expectation; requirements to wear the uniform of their non-preferred gender; and in rare cases, physical abuse by co-workers. Also, despite legislation in many states designed to protect employees from such harassment, only six of the thirty-one Employment Nondiscrimination Acts (ENDAs) currently in place include gender expression and a few ENDAs allow certain types of employer’s exemptions from the law.

Discrimination Is a Real Problem

The relevance of these issues is clear. As recently as February 2007, the city of Largo, Florida, dismissed its city manager after fourteen years of dedicated service when he disclosed he was planning on undergoing gender-reassignment surgery. Despite the support of Largo’s citizens and a history of superior service, the city manager was let go because of his nonconforming gender identity.

The city manager was not alone. Studies have shown that employees who do not adhere to gender stereotypes frequently switch employers in order to avoid issues in the workplace. According to the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), 60 percent of all transgender people have been victimized by hate violence. Additionally, on average, one transgender person is murdered in the United States each month.