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Atypical gender role

An atypical gender role is a gender role comprising gender-typed behaviours not typically associated with a cultural norm.

Gender roles and gender identity

A gender role is a set of social and behavioral norms that are generally considered appropriate for either a man or a woman in a social or interpersonal relationship. A person who exhibits a gender role at odds with the norm for their gender and class, in a society, is said to have an atypical gender role.

A person who has normal male genitalia and identifies himself as a man will usually take up a masculine gender role, a role in society that will be viewed by the other people in his society as a normal and expected kind of thing for a man to do. A person who has normal female genitalia and identifies herself as a woman will probably do things that other people in her society will regard as appropriate to women. People with other gender identities — people who identify as neither a woman nor a man — may be less likely to take up a conventional gender role.

Gender roles are not always adhered to completely. If a person has an atypical gender role, also known as being “gender-variant”, it may or may not be a consequence of an atypical gender identity. For example, a man may enjoy traditionally feminine hobbies, work in a profession traditionally associated with women, and approach conversations in more traditionally feminine ways, while still identifying completely as male.


Heteronormativity describes a binary system in which a person’s gender identity and gender role should match a person’s external genitalia. The term is used to describe (usually critically) the manner in which many social institutions and policies reinforce the belief that all human beings are either male or female (as determined by their birth sex), that sexual and romantic relations are only possible between two people of different genders, and that each person’s gender roles should adhere to either all-male or all-female norms.

People with atypical gender roles may face societal exclusion due to heteronormativity.


Hormonal disturbances during gestation are known to interfere with the normal development of the genitalia, and, although the hypothesized physical differences in brain structure are difficult to demonstrate, it is believed by some that some small percentage of people have “hard-wired” psychological and motivational characteristics that are not in good agreement with their external genitalia.

If one feels oneself to be of one gender but one has external genitalia that do not match, e.g., if one understands oneself to be a woman but has male genitalia or if one understands oneself to be a man but has female genitalia, then it will be difficult to live out the gender role that matches one’s gender identity. Faced with this contradiction, some people elect to have their genitalia surgically altered to make it possible to live out a gender role that is more in keeping with their gender identity.

Role models

It sometimes happens that children with unambiguous genitalia and presumably a matching gender identity will be raised by one or more people of the opposite gender identity. For instance, a girl might be raised by her father and her uncles, or a boy might be raised by several of his aunts. If these children are raised substantially in isolation from other people, then the girls might not have traditional female role models, there being no women in their everyday environment, and the boys might not have traditional male role models, there being no men in their everyday environment. They would then tend strongly to learn vocabulary, mannerisms, and other kinds of behavior that would be inconsistent with their true gender identities.

Other people might then make false inferences regarding their gender identities, and/or they might assume that these young people would be permanently unable to live out a gender role that would match their sexual characteristics. This kind of situation is now well enough understood that people generally make ample provision for traditional gender role models in the lives of such children.

Other gender identities

One’s gender identity goes beyond one’s sexual characteristics (the details of one’s genitalia) to include one’s entire understanding of what one is, what one prefers to do, how one actually acts during interactions with other people, etc. So the gender identities of some people include descriptions such as: homosexual man (gay man), homosexual woman (lesbian), and several others that include mention of the many types of paraphilia (kinky sex).

Examples of atypical gender roles

Examples of some atypical gender roles:

  • Hustler: a man who, as one feature of the way he lives out his manliness in society, provides sexual services for other men. Other people may conclude from his behavior that anyone with this gender role takes sexual pleasure predominantly from other men and thus desires this line of work as a way to satisfy his erotic appetites, when, in fact, for many the primary motivation is money.
  • Transvestite: a person who may practice dressing in the clothing and approximating the appearance of members of the opposite sex, in public or solely in private.
  • Butch lesbian: a lesbian who chooses to wear clothing normally thought appropriate to men and/or to make other choices of gender role that approximate those of a man, without, however, going so far as to seek surgical transformation to a male body type.
  • Bisexual: a man or a woman who seeks and enjoys both homosexual and heterosexual relationships. Typically these individuals maintain sets of gender signals (clothing, etc.) that are concordant with their external genitalia, and maintain sets of gender roles that are generally concordant with the expectations of the general society regarding the various kinds of behavior outside the domain of courtship, precoital, and coital behavior.
  • Hijra: A neutered male person whose gender identity is neither masculine nor feminine, whose gender role includes special clothing that identifies “him” as a hijra, and whose gender role includes a special place in society and special occupations.
  • Xanith (pronounced hanith): The gynecomimetic partner in a homosexual relationship, who may retain his public status as a man, despite his departure in dress and behavior from a socio-normal male role. The clothing of these individuals must be intermediate between that of a male and a female. His social role includes the freedom to associate with women in the entire range of their social interactions, including singing with them at a wedding.
  • Winkte is an old Lakota word, “Winyanktehca,” that has been contracted through long use. Its meaning is ‘two-souls-person,’ or more directly, ‘to be as a woman.’
  • A castrato is a male soprano, mezzo-soprano, or alto voice produced by castration of the singer before puberty. The main difference between their gender roles and the gender roles of the majority of uncastrated males is that even though they may be sexually active with females they will never carry out the precise role of “father of my own children.” They may, of course, become quite adequate foster fathers.