“Gender identity” is how one sees oneself, and “gender expression” is how one expresses that.

Tell me more about gender identity.
A CBS News primer called “The gender identity terms you need to know,” defined gender identity as “a person’s innermost concept of self as man, woman, a blend of both, or neither – how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. Gender identity can be the same or different from one’s sex assigned at birth.”

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And “gender expression” is how one would express that sense of self?
The LGBTQIA+ Resource Center at UC Davis defines gender expression as “how one expresses oneself, in terms of dress and/or behaviors.” CBS News expanded upon that with its definition: “The external appearance of a person’s gender identity, usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut or voice, and which may or may not conform to socially defined masculine or feminine behaviors and characteristics.”

What are some examples of gender expression?
It could be someone conforming to societal expectations, like a woman wearing a dress and her hair long. Or a man wearing his hair short, with a beard, while wearing a suit. Those are forms of gender expression. But so would a woman wearing a beard, short hair, and a suit, or a man wearing long hair and a dress.

And that’s separate from how they identify, right?
Right. So, for years, it was considered odd for men to have long hair and for women to have short hair, but there were (and still are!) people who identify as with all sorts of gender identities who wear their hair in all sorts of ways. Their identity stays intact, even if the way they express it doesn’t conform to how society defines the way those identities “should” look. Same with people whose gender identity exists beyond being a man or woman. That person might dress in ways traditionally associated with masculinity or femininity, but that doesn’t change that the person doesn’t identify as a man or woman.

So it sounds like you can’t easily know how someone identifies just by looking at them?
That’s precisely the point.

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