Perceptions of Gender Non-Conforming Women
Why is it that when one encounters a women with short hair and a man’s dress shirt, theautomatic response tends to be “lesbian”? In dealing with the connection between gender andsexual orientation, authors have used studies on the relationshipbetween gender non-conformingchildren and homosexuality in adolescence. These studies have been interpreted in differentways, so as to highlight opposing theories on the relationship between gender and sexualorientation. Through an examination and literature review of several authors’ interpretations of such studies, a clear understanding of the connection between gender non-conformity andhomosexuality will be exposed. The product of such examination may in turn have an effect onone’s perception of masculine women and lesbians. The question is raised, why might the casualpasserby continue to believe that ‘masculine’ women are in fact lesbians? Furthermore, whatdoes it mean to be a masculine female? Various authors have discussed the implications of associating gender with sexual orientation, on identity and health for both children and adults.Alternative representations of gender will be proposed so as to lead discussion into implicationsof this research for social work practice. Through acknowledgement of the complexity of identities, the social construction of gender, and the resulting perceptions of society, one maychoose to approach social work practice with gender in a subjective manner. Without discountingthe importance of education and study of gender and its implications for health and identity,social work practice must begin without assumption. It is hoped that this research andexamination will not only hold implications for social work practice, but for the understandingand perceptionof gender non-conformity for society at large.
Prior to a review of the literature that pertains to various issues of gender and sexuality, itis important to first define some of the concepts that will be discussed. The term ‘sex’ will beused to describe the “biological status of a person as either male or female” (Newman, 2002, p.353) whereas ‘gender’ or ‘gender role’ will be used to describe personality traits, behaviours,attitudes or expectations that are designated by a particular culture as being more ‘appropriate’for either male or female persons (Zucker, 2008). The term ‘butch’ is “the lesbian vernacularterm for women who are more comfortable with masculine gender codes, styles, or identitiesthan with feminine ones” (Rubin, as cited in Hiestand & Levitt, 2005, p. 119). This term will befurther examined in this paper, including the relationship between being ‘butch’ and being‘gender-non-conforming’, that is, when one exhibits behaviours, attitudes and characteristics that