Sex Roles

, Volume 80, Issue 7–8, pp 409–428 | Cite as

Gender Nonconformity Is Perceived Differently for Cisgender and Transgender Targets

  • Kristin A. BroussardEmail author
  • Ruth H. Warner
Original Article


The present research examined the role gender non-conformity plays in attitudes toward transgender people. Study 1 with 232 U.S college students focused on attitudes toward female targets; Study 2 with 217 U.S. college students focused on male targets; and Study 3 with 462 mTurk workers directly compared attitudes toward female and male targets. In all three studies, participants read a vignette depicting either a transgender or cisgender target who presents as either gender conforming or gender nonconforming. In all three studies, we found that gender nonconforming targets and transgender targets were perceived as more threatening to the distinction between men and women, and in two of the studies, we found that gender conforming transgender targets were more threatening than conforming cisgender targets. We also found that anti-transgender prejudice, traditional gender role beliefs (Studies 1 and 2), and biological gender essentialism (Study 3) moderated these effects. Transgender targets who conform to the traditional binary gender role associated with their gender expression are perceived as transgressing distinct binary gender boundaries, which may be threatening because “passing” transgender individuals are harder to detect as transgressors and because their “passing” challenges the belief that gender is biologically essential and immutable. Furthermore, as anti-transgender prejudice, traditional gender role beliefs, and gender essentialist beliefs increase, liking decreased and threat increased for transgender and gender nonconforming targets. Working to alter gender essentialist beliefs may be a route to reducing anti-transgender prejudice.


Transgender (attitudes toward) Gender conformity Gender roles Prejudice Stereotyped behavior Boundary violations Explicit attitudes 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

We have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Research Involving Human Participants

The research was conducted in compliance with APA’s ethical standards.

Informed Consent

The study was approved by an Institutional Review Board at the authors’ institutions.


  1. Antoszewski, B., Kasielska, A., Jędrzejczak, M., & Kruk-Jeromin, J. (2007). Knowledge of and attitude toward transsexualism among college students. Sexuality and Disability, 25, 29–35. Scholar
  2. Blashill, A. J., & Powlishta, K. K. (2009). The impact of sexual orientation and gender role on evaluations of men. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 10, 160–173. Scholar
  3. Blashill, A. J., & Powlishta, K. K. (2012). Effects of gender-related domain violations and sexual orientation on perceptions of male and female targets: An analogue study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 1293–1302. Scholar
  4. Branscombe, N. R., Ellemers, N., Spears, R., & Doosje, B. (1999). The context and content of social identity threat. In N. Ellemers, R. Spears, & B. Doosje (Eds.), Social identity: Context, commitment, content (pp. 35–58). Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  5. Brescoll, V. L., Uhlmann, E. L., & Newman, G. E. (2013). The effects of system-justifying motives on endorsement of essentialist explanations for gender differences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105, 891–908. Scholar
  6. Ching, B. H. H., & Xu, J. T. (2018). The effects of gender neuroessentialism on transprejudice: An experimental study. Sex Roles, 78, 228–241. Scholar
  7. Cottrell, C. A., & Neuberg, S. L. (2005). Different emotional reactions to different groups: A sociofunctional threat-based approach to “prejudice.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88, 770–789. Scholar
  8. Flores, A. R., Haider-Markel, D. P., Lewis, D. C., Miller, P. R., Tadlock, B. L., & Taylor, J. K. (2018). Challenged expectations: Mere exposure effects on attitudes about transgender people and rights. Political Psychology, 39, 197–216. Scholar
  9. Gazzola, S. B., & Morrison, M. A. (2014). Cultural and personally endorsed stereotypes of transgender men and transgender women: Notable correspondence or disjunction? International Journal of Transgenderism, 15, 76–99. Scholar
  10. Gentry, C. S. (1987). Social distance regarding male and female homosexuals. The Journal of Social Psychology, 127, 199–208. Scholar
  11. Gerhardstein, K. R., & Anderson, V. N. (2010). There’s more than meets the eye: Facial appearance and evaluations of transsexual people. Sex Roles, 62, 361–373. Scholar
  12. Glotfelter, M. A., & Anderson, V. N. (2017). Relationships between gender self-esteem, sexual prejudice, and trans prejudice in cisgender heterosexual college students. International Journal of Transgenderism, 18, 182–198. Scholar
  13. Gottschalk, L. (2003). Same-sex sexuality and childhood gender non-conformity: A spurious connection. Journal of Gender Studies, 12, 35–50. Scholar
  14. Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis: A regression-based approach. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  15. Heilman, M. E., & Okimoto, T. G. (2007). Why are women penalized for success at male tasks? The implied communality deficit. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 81–92. Scholar
  16. Herek, G. M. (1984). Beyond “homophobia:” a social psychological perspective on attitudes toward lesbians and gay men. Journal of Homosexuality, 10, 1–21. Scholar
  17. Herek, G. M. (1994). Assessing heterosexuals’ attitudes toward lesbians and gay men: A review of empirical research with the ATLG scale. In B. Greene & G. M. Herek (Eds.), Lesbian and gay psychology: Theory, research, and clinical applications (pp. 206–228). Thousand Oaks: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hill, D. B., & Willoughby, B. L. (2005). The development and validation of the genderism and transphobia scale. Sex Roles, 53, 531–544. Scholar
  19. Horn, S. S. (2007). Adolescents’ acceptance of same-sex peers based on sexual orientation and gender expression. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36, 363–371. Scholar
  20. Human Rights Campaign. (2016). Anti-transgender legislation spreads nationwide, bills targeting transgender children surge. Retrieved from Accessed 6 May 2018.
  21. James, S. E., Herman, J. L., Rankin, S., Keisling, M., Mottet, L., & Anafi, M. (2016). The report of the 2015 U.S. transgender survey. Washington, DC: National Center for Transgender Equality.Google Scholar
  22. Jetten, J., Spears, R., & Manstead, A. S. R. (1996). Intergroup norms and intergroup discrimination: Distinctive self-categorization and social identity effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 1222–1233. Scholar
  23. Jetten, J., Spears, R., & Manstead, A. S. (1997). Distinctiveness threat and prototypicality: Combined effects on intergroup discrimination and collective self-esteem. European Journal of Social Psychology, 27, 635–657.<635::AID-EJSP835>3.0.CO;2-#.
  24. Jetten, J., Spears, R., & Postmes, T. (2004). Intergroup distinctiveness and differentiation: A meta-analytical investigation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86, 862–879. Scholar
  25. Jetten, J., Summerville, N., Hornsey, M. J., & Mewse, A. J. (2005). When differences matter: Intergroup distinctiveness and the evaluation of impostors. European Journal of Social Psychology, 35, 609–620. Scholar
  26. Kapoor, U., Pfost, K. S., House, A. E., & Pierson, E. (2010). Relation of success and nontraditional career choice to selection for dating and friendship. Psychological Reports, 107, 177–184. Scholar
  27. Larsen, K. S., & Long, E. (1988). Attitudes toward sex-roles: Traditional or egalitarian? Sex Roles, 19(1–2), 1–12. Scholar
  28. Lehavot, K., & Lambert, A. J. (2007). Toward a greater understanding of antigay prejudice: On the role of sexual orientation and gender role violation. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 29, 279–292. Scholar
  29. Levy, G. D., Taylor, M. G., & Gelman, S. A. (1995). Traditional and evaluative aspects of flexibility in gender roles, social conventions, moral rules, and physical laws. Child Development, 66, 515–531. Scholar
  30. Lick, D. J., Johnson, K. L., & Gill, S. V. (2014). Why do they have to flaunt it? Perceptions of communicative intent predict antigay prejudice based upon brief exposure to nonverbal cues. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5, 927–935. Scholar
  31. Makwana, A. P., Dhont, K., De keersmaecker, J., Akhlaghi-Ghaffarokh, P., Masure, M., & Roets, A. (2017). The motivated cognitive basis of transphobia: The roles of right-wing ideologies and gender role beliefs. Sex Roles.
  32. McCreary, D. R. (1994). The male role and avoiding femininity. Sex Roles, 31, 517–531. Scholar
  33. Miller, L. R., & Grollman, E. A. (2015). The social costs of gender nonconformity for transgender adults: Implications for discrimination and health. Sociological Forum, 30, 809–831. Scholar
  34. Moss-Racusin, C. A., Phelan, J. E., & Rudman, L. A. (2010). When men break the gender rules: Status incongruity and backlash against modest men. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 11, 140–151. Scholar
  35. Nagoshi, J. L., Adams, K. A., Terrell, H. K., Hill, E. D., Brzuzy, S., & Nagoshi, C. T. (2008). Gender differences in correlates of homophobia and transphobia. Sex Roles, 59, 521–531. Scholar
  36. Nagoshi, C. T., Cloud, J. R., Lindley, L. M., Nagoshi, J. L., & Lothamer, L. J. (2018). A test of the three-component model of gender-based prejudices: Homophobia and transphobia are affected by raters’ and targets’ assigned sex at birth. Sex Roles. Advance online publication.
  37. National Center for Transgender Equality. (2015, January 30). Map: State nondiscrimination laws. Retrieved from
  38. Norton, A. T., & Herek, G. M. (2013). Heterosexuals’ attitudes toward transgender people: Findings from a national probability sample of US adults. Sex Roles, 68, 738–753. Scholar
  39. Oppenheimer, D. M., Meyvis, T., & Davidenko, N. (2009). Instructional manipulation checks: Detecting satisficing to increase statistical power. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 867–872. Scholar
  40. Richardson, D., Bernstein, S., & Hendrick, C. (1980). Deviations from conventional sex-role behavior: Effect of perceivers' sex-role attitudes on attraction. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 1, 351–355. Scholar
  41. Rudman, L. A. (2005). Rejection of women? Beyond prejudice as antipathy. In P. Dovidio, P. Glick, & L. Rudman (Eds.), On the nature of prejudice (pp. 106–120). Malden: Blackwell Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Rudman, L. A., & Phelan, J. E. (2008). Backlash effects for disconfirming gender stereotypes in organizations. Research in Organizational Behavior, 28, 61–79. Scholar
  43. Schope, R. D., & Eliason, M. J. (2004). Sissies and tomboys: Gender role behaviors and homophobia. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 16, 73–97. Scholar
  44. Sirin, S. R., McCreary, D. R., & Mahalik, J. R. (2004). Differential reactions to men and women’s gender role transgressions: Perceptions of social status, sexual orientation, and value dissimilarity. Journal of Men’s Studies, 12, 119–132. Scholar
  45. Spears, R., Doosje, B., & Ellemers, N. (1997). Self-stereotyping in the face of threats to group status and distinctiveness: The role of group identification. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 538–553. Scholar
  46. Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The Social Psychology of intergroup relations (pp. 33–47). Monterey: Brooks/Cole.Google Scholar
  47. Tate, C. C., Youssef, C. P., & Bettergarcia, J. N. (2014). Integrating the study of transgender spectrum and cisgender experiences of self-categorization from a personality perspective. Review of General Psychology, 18, 302–312. Scholar
  48. Tebbe, E. N., & Moradi, B. (2012). Anti-transgender prejudice: A structural equation model of associated constructs. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 59, 251–261. Scholar
  49. Tebbe, E. A., Moradi, B., & Ege, E. (2014). Revised and abbreviated forms of the genderism and transphobia scale: Tools for assessing anti-trans* prejudice. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 61, 581–592. Scholar
  50. Turner, J. C. (1999). Some current issues in research on social identity and self-categorization theories. In N. Ellemers, R. Spears, & B. Doosje (Eds.), Social identity: Context, commitment, content (pp. 6–34). Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  51. Turner, J. C., Hogg, M. A., Oakes, P. J., Reicher, S. D., & Wetherell, M. S. (1987). Rediscovering the social group: A self-categorization theory. New York: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  52. Van Knippenberg, A., & Ellemers, N. (1990). Social identity and intergroup differentiation processes. In W. Stroebe & M. Hewstone (Eds.), European review of social psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 137–169). Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  53. Warner, R., Hornsey, M. J., & Jetten, J. (2007). Why minority group members resent impostors. European Journal of Social Psychology, 37, 1–17. Scholar
  54. Winter, S., Chalungsooth, P., Teh, Y. K., Rojanalert, N., Maneerat, K., Wong, Y. W., … Macapagal, R. A. (2009). Transpeople, transprejudice and pathologization: A seven-country factor analytic study. International Journal of Sexual Health, 21, 96–118.
  55. Yoder, J. D. (2012). Women and gender: Making a difference. In Cornwall-on Hudson (4th ed.). New York: Sloan Publishing.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologySaint Louis UniversitySt. LouisUSA

Personalised recommendations