Atypical gender role

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Gender role is a term used in the social sciences and humanities to denote a set of behavioral norms associated with a given gendered status (also called a gendered identity) in a given social group or system. 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.

If a person has an atypical gender role, it will ordinarily be a consequence of an atypical gender identity. 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. But people who have unusual gender identities or sexual identities may be far less likely to take up a conventional gender role.

If, for instance, a boy were castrated as an infant, then it would be impossible for him to take up the normal gender role of "biological father" in his society. He would possibly have some degree of deficiency in sexual motivation. Therefore, even if he should become married, his interactions with his wife might be very different from those of the average married man. This person's gender role would therefore be apt be very different from that of the average man.

If a girl were neutered as an infant, then she might become an adoptive mother, but never the biological mother of her husband's child. Depending on exactly what was done to her, there might be greater or lesser differences between her behavior and motivations and those of an average woman.


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.


In cases where hormonal disturbances during gestation have produced a body that is indeterminate in its sexual characteristics, the individual is known as an intersexual. It used to be common practice to surgically alter the sexual characteristics of such a person so that the sexual organs were unambiguously male or female in appearance. In recent years the practice has been severely criticised by many of those upon whom these surgeries were performed. They have argued that it would be better to wait until such time as the person in question can make an informed decision on what is to be done to his or her body. They have maintained that there is generally no way to know from the external genitalia of a person what his or her gender identity will turn out to be, so there is a very good chance that someone who is destined to have a masculine gender identity will be surgically transformed to have female sexual characteristics during infancy, or that someone who is destined to have a feminine gender identity will be surgically transformed to have male sexual characteristics during infancy. They argue that the social problems caused to a child by having ambiguous genitalia are much more easily managed than are the results of an inappropriate surgical "assignment" to one sex or the other.

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.'
  • 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.


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