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  • A person’s gender self-expression may not always reflect their gender identity because of not feeling comfortable / fear of discrimination.
  • Social gender can be variable in time and space; therefore, it cannot be the norm. There is no right or wrong gender expression.
  • Every school has students who are transgender, non-binary or have different gender self-expressions. This is the reason that schools should take that into account when setting requirements for accessibility and self-expression such as clothing, etc.


When a person enters a room, one of the first things we notice about them is how they look, and their gender is often determined based on that. We often think about it so quickly that we may not even acknowledge it. Due to societal influences, we have come to understand that certain forms of self-expression are related to a certain gender, for example, women wear dresses. However, the world of gender expression is just as diverse and exciting, and perceptions of alleged binary have changed a lot over time.


Gender is socially created set of expectations, behaviours, and activities that are associated to men and women based on their sex. Any particular set of gender roles’ social expectations are influenced by a variety of socioeconomic, political, and cultural contexts as well as other elements including race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, and age. The roles that women and men play in human society are learned, diverse, and ever-changing (Council of Europe, n.d.).

Since the moment of our birth, we are socialized. Our family, school, workplace, media, new information technologies, and popular culture all have a significant impact on how we develop, grow, and learn about how to behave in accordance with the society we live in. For individuals to contribute to a group of people effectively, socialization is a crucial process. However, not all of the messages we are exposed to as part of our socialization can be viewed as being advantageous to either ourselves or society. Children may be unable to fully develop their talents and interests due to gender socialization. Often unrealistic and conflicting expectations can lead to internal conflicts and psychological problems, and failure to meet these expectations can lead to some form of punishment from others (Council of Europe, n.d.). Gender expression

Gender expression may be the expression of an individual’s gender identity, including the use of name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behaviour, voice, or body characteristics.

It is important to stress that the way somebody expresses their gender does not always precept the gender they identify with. Lot of people try to hide or suppress their gender expression out of fear of negative responses or discrimination, both of which can have a major harmful consequence on their mental health. In fact, many transgender mental health issues arise from the worry or negative reactions of their gender expression (O’Neill, 2021).

As society has a well-established understanding of what a man or woman should look like, this pressure can create obstacles for young people (as well as adults) on the journey of understanding their identity and finding their comfortable place in society. Different gender expressions

  • Androgyne: someone who has a gender presentation or identity that’s gender-neutral, androgynous, or has both masculine and feminine characteristics.
  • Cross-dressing: the name for the act of a person wearing clothing usually associated with a different gender. Cross-dressing is not synonymous with being transgender.
  • Butch: the term traditionally, in lesbian culture, refers to a woman who presents herself in a more masculine manner, challenging traditional gender roles and expressions. The concept of butch gained recognition in American underground lesbian bars in the 1940s and 1950s, where it was part of a dynamic with “femme” women that both reflected and subverted traditional binary society’s gender norms. Being butch isn’t solely defined by clothing and appearance. It can also include adopting masculine roles and pursuing careers that were traditionally associated with men.

These are just a few examples of different gender expressions. Some of the gender expressions, especially when the gender expression does not match the sex assigned at birth, can also fall under the umbrella term trans. Whether or not a person places themselves under the term trans is a personal decision.

Different gender identity or expression labels can mean different things to people, that means if a person discloses their gender identity or expression to you, you could ask them to explain what that means to them. In that case, it will be easier for you to be supportive as a teacher or parent. Gender Expression in time and cultures

Gender expression changes over time because it is related to society’s understanding of masculinity and femininity. Just as society changes over time and space, so do perceptions of men, women, masculinity, femininity, and gender in general.

As a good example, we can look back to the history of the colours pink and blue, which are also often associated with gender – girls wear pink clothes and boys wear blue. However, these colours have not always been this way. At the beginning of the 20th century, some stores began suggesting “sex-appropriate” colours, when originally pink for the boys, and blue for the girls, because the pink, being a more decided and stronger colour, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and daintier, is prettier for the girl.” In the 1940s, children were dressed in sex-specific clothing – boys and girls were dressed like miniature men and women. Pink became the girls’ colour, blue the boys’ (Grannan, 2016).

However, if we look at gender self-expression through different cultural spaces, we see that there are also different understandings of what makes a person masculine or feminine. In many cultural spaces, for example, a skirt is only a woman’s clothing, but there are cultural spaces where men also wear a skirt, for example, Scottish men wear a skirt (kilt) on a festive day, or a policeman wears a skirt (sulu) in Fiji.

Although social gender and its parts (gender roles, self-expression, etc.) are changing in time and space, people and society still collide, because someone’s gender expression is not, as it were, right or appropriate. At the same time, we as a society should not judge people based on their gender expression, because what is masculine or feminine today may not be so in a hundred years.


Teachers can provide children with a safe and inclusive environment using small and simple activities.

  • Create an inclusive curriculum where gender diversity topics are included. It is recommended that gender topics are not being handled separately from the main topics but are naturally integrated into the curriculum.
  • Children need to be talked to more about the fact that gender, including gender self-expression, do not have a norm. Self-expression is part of our identity, there is no right, or wrong way and it can change through time.
  • Make yourself visible to children by wearing the LGBTQ+ symbols or keeping it in your class. In this way, a student can be sure who is the safe adult at their school. Students need to know who the safe staff at school is, whom they can turn to if needed. This is necessary so that if the child has a previous negative experience with a specialist, or if they do not have a supportive family, etc., then they will find a safe adult to talk to at school and they will not be left alone with their questions and concerns.
  • Propose to the school management that, next to gender-specific rooms, there should also be unisex rooms – toilets, locker-room, etc.

Every school has students who are transgender, non-binary and have different gender self-expressions. In order to be more accessible to every student, schools should take this into account when they design their school uniform or set specific requirements for students on clothing, hairstyle, jewellery, make-up, etc.


Council of Europe. (n.d.). Gender. Manual for Human Rights Education with Young People. Retrieved 26 September 2022, from https://www.coe.int/en/web/compass/gender

Grannan, C. (2016, August 30). Has Pink Always Been a “Girly” Color? | Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/story/has-pink-always-been-a-girly-color

O’Neill, R. (2021, October 25). Gender Identity vs. Gender Expression: What’s the Difference? Talkspace. https://www.talkspace.com/blog/gender-identity-vs-gender-expression/2.2.2

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