Scroll To Top

What is 'GNC lesbian' and why is it important to know?

What is 'GNC lesbian' and why is it important to know?

What does it mean to be a GNC lesbian and why is it important to know?

Our community is gorgeously complex, here's how these Sapphics fit into the mix!


What does it mean to be a GNC lesbian and why is it important to know?


When it comes to sexuality and gender identity, it may feel like things are constantly changing. On the one hand, there is some truth to that. But it's also a case of society actually becoming more aware of the different types of identities that already exist. While there’s still so much work to do, we’re at least on the right track to being more inclusive… for the most part, anyway.

A term that’s finally getting some much-needed attention is "GNC lesbian," which stands for gender-nonconforming lesbian.

If you’re not sure what gender-nonconforming is — especially how it’s different from being nonbinary — keep reading! We'll also explain why it’s so important for the term to be more well-known.

What does gender non-conforming mean?

gender non-conforming lesbian


Gender non-conforming (GNC) refers to people who do not subscribe to every-day gender stereotypes, and also expand their ideas of gender expression or identity. Sometimes, people refer to gender non-conforming as “gender expansive,” though GNC is the preferred term.

A main area of confusion in this regard comes down to the difference between being gender non-conforming and being nonbinary. We’ll cover that a little more in a bit, but know for now that being gender non-conforming and being nonbinary are not one and the same, and nonbinary folx are just as capable of being GNC as cisgender or transgender individuals.

So, what IS the difference between gender non-conforming and nonbinary?

gender non-conforming nonbinary individual


In a basic definition, being GNC refers to an individual’s gender expression or the ways in which their behavior doesn’t match the traditional gender norms. On the flip side, being nonbinary is an entirely separate umbrella term that refers to people whose genderidentities fall outside of the traditional forms of gender identity. In general, gender is often broken down into two different binaries between male and female. Someone who identifies as GNC is about rejecting the societal norms, and being nonbinary is about not being classed as either male or female.

Think about it in terms of the difference between sex and gender. Sex refers to the biological body parts that make up our sex organs, and gender is a societal construction that dictates behaviors and roles associated with the different sexes. Within that is cisgender, or someone who agrees with their sex assigned at birth, and transgender or nonbinary, where they do not.

As mentioned above, you can be cisgender or transgender and still identify as GNC, just as much as you can be nonbinary and do the same. If you identify as cisgender GNC, this simply means you reject the societal implications of your gender. An example would be a cis man who paints his nails.

How do lesbians fit into the mix?

gender non-conforming girl doing makeup


When it comes to being a GNC lesbian, this is part of the lesbian terminology that revolves around cis lesbians who exist as part of the wider concepts of gender identity. Oftentimes, cis GNC lesbians are told they're "incorrectly female" because of their "masculine" presentation, and GNC lesbians who identify as nonbinary have an even tougher struggle. More often than we realize, that struggle can also have harmful implications, but we'll talk about that in a bit.

In a lot of ways, being a GNC lesbian is also what’s commonly referred to as “butch lesbians,” but there’s so much more to it than that.For example, gender fluidity is something that’s much more widely accepted outside of Western society. In Ancient Egypt, individuals were thought to have “gender-swapped” to find acceptance in the afterlife, and 18th-century Italian art often depicted a third gender. Still to this day, countries like India have intersex or transgender people known as hijras, but the idea has only recently seen more acceptance in Western cultures.

What exactly is a "butch lesbian"?

someone considered a butch lesbian


The “butch lesbian” term in particular became a central identity for masculine lesbian women in the 1940s and '50s, and they’re still viewed as cis women who defy the notions of having a femme identity, which separated the lesbian culture between the “butch” and “femme” terminologies we often place them into. When it first came about, gender non-conformity allowed lesbians to “pass” as men, but it wasn’t until trans activist Riki Anne Wilchens coined the term “genderqueer” in 1995 that the idea of being “gender non-conforming” started to gain some traction.

It’s always important to remember that labels are just labels, and even if you consider someone a “GNC lesbian,” she may not identify as the same. As with any other expression or identity, respect is just the key. Educate yourself when and where appropriate, and remain open to learning when the time is necessary.

Why is all of this important?

a woman with pride lights on her face


Outside of simply respecting people and how they express themselves, there are also some deeper reasons to be more cognizant of GNC individuals, especially when they identify as lesbian or non-binary. As mentioned above, those implications can sometimes be harmful.

An infographic by LGBT Map shows that GNC girls are over twice as likely to be profiled or over-policed as opposed to their heterosexual counterparts, and Black GNC women especially were noted to see harsher punishment starting as early as high school. Within the criminal justice system, nearly half of the women imprisoned are GNC, with most of them being girls of color. There’s also a large number of youth involved in those stats, which makes it even more important to pay attention to what’s going on.

How can I be supportive of my GNC friends?

two gender non-conforming people laying down


The key is to just do your best to meet people with respect and kindness, even if you’re not sure how to have a conversation. There’s a lot more respect that comes with doing your best, and sometimes that’s all that’s needed in order to move the conversation forward.

Besides that, also remember that none of this is actually new. It isn’t some “woke” agenda that’s suddenly bubbled up out of nowhere. Being GNC has been a long battle, just as any other form of sexual identity. If you’re unsure how someone identifies, err on the side of not imparting any stereotypes onto them. Honestly, it's just the best and kindest way to move through life.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Related Stories

Most Recent

Recommended Stories for You

author avatar

Andrew J. Stillman

Contributing Writer for

Andrew J. Stillman is a freelance writer and yoga instructor exploring the world. Check him out at or follow him @andrewjstillman on all the things.

Andrew J. Stillman is a freelance writer and yoga instructor exploring the world. Check him out at or follow him @andrewjstillman on all the things.