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What is gender envy, and how do you know if you have it?

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Jun 19, 2023

What is gender envy, and how do you know if you have it?

Have you always been low-key obsessed with the gender vibes of a celebrity, fictional character, or a real person? Are you wondering if there is a word to describe what you’re feeling? The term you might be looking for is “gender envy.”

Maybe you’ve recently heard of gender envy while surfing on #transtok. Maybe you’ve found yourself scrolling deep into the archives of someone else’s page, unsure if you’re attracted to them, jealous of them, or both. Perhaps you are trans or nonbinary and unpacking your own feelings of gender envy that have recently come up.

Either way, it’s a very common feeling to be envious or jealous of someone because of their gender or presentation. We are here to break down the concept of gender envy and how it can show up in your life.

But what exactly is gender envy, and what does it feel like? Where did the term come from? Is gender envy a common thing for trans and nonbinary people to feel? What’s the difference between gender envy and gender dysphoria? Can cis people experience gender envy? Read on to get answers to all these questions and even a couple more.

Source: Unsplash

What does gender envy mean?

Gender envy is a term that describes the feelings of jealousy you might have when you see someone’s gender presentation that you admire. 

The jealousy you feel can include envy of someone’s physical appearance, body, voice, mannerisms, secondary sex characteristics, style or fashion, or just how they generally express their gender. 

Maybe envy doesn’t quite feel like the right word to describe it, but you’ve felt more of a deep admiration for someone else’s ~gender vibes~. Or perhaps you’ve been confused about whether you are sexually attracted to someone or if they embody a gender expression that you wish you had access to. No matter what type of gender envy you might be experiencing, know that you are not alone in this feeling.

Envy and jealousy can feel like negative words or emotions. Gender envy doesn’t have to be a feeling of hostility or resentment, although some people may experience it this way. Rather, gender envy can point to a desire to present similarly to someone else or an appreciation of someone else’s appearance, style, and embodiment.

Where did the term come from?

Gender envy is a casual term that’s been circling around the transgender community for decades. Most transgender, nonbinary, and gender-expansive people have experienced some feelings of gender envy at one point in time. Many transgender people experience gender envy for the first time when they see another gender non-conforming person expressing themselves outside of binary gender norms. 

While the concept of gender envy (which is also known as gender admiration) is not new, the term has seen a rise on Tik Tok and Tumblr over the past few years. It has been proposed on these platforms that the term “gender envy” is trans-exclusive and can only be used by transgender or non-binary people. However, lots of different people experience feelings of gender envy, even cisgender people! Let’s unpack all the ways gender envy can show up in our lives.

Gender Envy vs. Gender Dysphoria

Is gender envy the same thing as gender dysphoria? The answer is more complicated than a simple yes or no. Gender envy is a common feeling that transgender, non-binary, and genderqueer people experience. 

That said, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always tied to an urgency to take action. As in, you might not want to change your appearance or transition. However, it can be helpful to note what types of gender expressions you are drawn to and ask yourself why. 

A stylish young queer person sitting on a ledge with sunglasses and overalls.

Source: Adobe Stock

According to the WPATH’s Standards of Care, gender dysphoria is broadly defined as “discomfort or distress that is caused by a discrepancy between a person’s gender identity and that person’s sex assigned at birth.” 

This could manifest as an uneasiness with how your gender is perceived or feeling like your gender and assigned sex at birth are mismatched somehow. It’s important to note that not every trans person experiences gender dysphoria, and not everyone who experiences gender dysphoria is transgender. 

It’s extremely common to experience gender envy if you are questioning your gender identity. If you are considering medically or socially transitioning, you might feel envy towards someone who looks the way you want to. It’s normal to feel desire towards someone else’s ability to express their gender, especially if you feel unable to do so yourself.

In other words, some people who feel gender dysphoria might also experience gender envy.  But just because you experience gender envy doesn’t mean you have gender dysphoria! Gender dysphoria is an encompassing, pervading, and oppressive feeling, while gender envy is usually experienced more as a momentary feeling of comparing yourself to another person. 

Gender envy might give you information about yourself, including how you feel about your gender expression or identity, but it is usually not as severe or crippling as gender dysphoria.

An androgynous person standing in front of a blue sky with a white shirt on.

Source: Unsplash

Frequently asked questions about gender envy

How do I know if it’s attraction or gender envy?

Another way that gender envy can manifest is through the age-old conundrum: “Do I want to be you, or do I want to fuck you?” Perhaps both! If you are a trans man, like me, perhaps you felt this feeling for the first time you shopped for anything in the men’s section on ASOS. 

Early in my transition, something about those endless pages of shirtless, tatted hot male models made me feel funny inside. I was only 2-3 months on testosterone HRT, and I couldn’t quite work out if what I was feeling was attraction towards these effortlessly sexy men or a desire to be just like them.

So how do you know if you are experiencing gender envy or sexual attraction toward someone, and what are the differences between the two? Gender envy is usually different from attraction in the same way that gender and sexuality are two different things. You can be gender envious of someone more masculine than you, more feminine than you, or more androgynous, and that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to sleep with them. 

However, you might also feel gender envious of someone to who you are sexually or romantically attracted. This feeling is also known as an invidious attraction. Sometimes it can be difficult to work out exactly where the feelings are coming from, especially if you are transgender or nonbinary and early in your gender journey. 

A meme featuring Pikachu with a shocked expression learning that gender envy and sexual attraction are different

Source: Instagram, Meme by Dan Koz

While gender and sexuality are separate things, for some people, they are somewhat connected. It’s normal for some transgender people to experience shifts in their sexual desire and attraction as they transition. For me, this looked like finally being able to be attracted to men now that I could relate to them as masculine people outside of a heteronormative context. I realized that I wanted to sleep with the ASOS male models and become them.

It’s okay if you’re unsure whether you are feeling gender envy or attraction toward someone! You don’t need to know everything right away. 

Give yourself time and space to figure out, experiment, and explore your emotions and desires. It can also be helpful to talk to friends, a therapist, or other people in the LGBTQ+ community about these feelings to help work out the root of your feelings. 

How do I know if I have gender envy?

Here is a list of questions to ask yourself if you think you might be feeling gender envy: 

  • Do you frequently see people (or a person) expressing their gender in a way you wish you could? 
  • Do you wish you could dress differently to express your gender in a way that would feel more authentic?
  • Do you find yourself wanting someone else’s physical attributes or voice due to their gender?
  • Do you fantasize about your life if you could have the body or lived experience of a different gender? 
  • Do you feel like people perceive your gender the way you see yourself or want to be seen?

Writing down these questions and your answers in a journal can be helpful. Sometimes writing our thoughts down on paper can help clear our heads of the noise and allow us to see things more clearly. You can also write down some of the fears or obstacles that are blocking you from expressing yourself or presenting in a way that would feel more natural to you.

An Iranian person in a colorful blouse posing with a cigarette in hand with a blue sky behind her.

Source: Unslpash

Can cis people experience gender envy?

Gender envy is not a trans-exclusive feeling. Despite what Urban Dictionary says, gender envy is definitely something that can be experienced by people of all genders, including cisgender people. It’s important to remember that gender identity and gender expression are different things. 

Cis people can experience gender envy for a variety of reasons. Some cisgender people want to express themselves in ways that are gender non-conforming (i.e. butch women or effeminate men) and may feel gender envy towards those of the opposite gender. 

Some cis women may want to present as more feminine, or some cis men as more masculine and may feel gender envy towards people of the same gender who seem to embody those traits more effortlessly. 

All types of people can have feelings of gender envy in childhood or adulthood depending on their lived experience, sexual orientation, gender expression, or personal experience. While transgender people may experience gender envy to a stronger or more acute degree, any process of changing or actualizing your gender expression, whether you are cis or trans, may come with feelings of gender envy.

Is gender envy a bad thing?

Gender envy doesn’t have to be a bad thing! Gender envy is a normal emotional response to seeing someone else express their gender freely, especially if you have received harmful or limited messages about how you should express your gender. You may have felt pressured to dress or act in a gendered way that feels inauthentic or forced. 

While gender envy is not inherently “a bad thing,” there can be negative emotions such as shame, guilt, and insecurity attached to the feeling. Sitting with envy or jealousy can be challenging, especially if it makes us feel bad about ourselves. If you find yourself with a lot of negative self-talk related to gender envy, try to offer yourself compassion and kindness in these moments. 

Alt text: A gender-fluid person with jewelry and makeup drawn on their face, while laying down.

A gender-fluid person with jewelry and makeup drawn on their face, while laying down.

Source: Unslpash

How do I deal with feelings of gender envy?

Gender envy is a natural expression of desire and admiration that can help you discover new ways to express yourself. However, comparing yourself to someone else and feeling lesser than or lacking in some regard can be a painful experience. You might also feel bad for experiencing gender envy in the first place, which can lead to feelings of self-doubt or self-hatred.

If you do find yourself experiencing painful emotions related to gender envy, you are not alone. There are lots of things that you can do to help cope with these feelings. You can experiment with makeup or different clothes to look more feminine, masculine, androgynous. Hairstyles can also be a great way to unlock gender euphoria.  

There are a ton of LGBTQ+ salons and barbers out there who can help you find the right look for you. 

You might want to experiment with different pronouns or ask your loved ones to use gender-neutral language or gendered words such as “handsome” or “pretty” when they compliment you. If you struggle with the sound of your voice, you might also consider voice therapy to learn how to speak in a way that is more affirming for your gender. 

If you find yourself experiencing similar feelings, it can be helpful to talk to friends about it and find community support. Consider finding a mental health professional, such as a therapist, to talk to if you are depressed, anxious, or stressed about your gender identity. 

Contact the local LGBTQ+ center in your area for support, or look online for an affirming therapist through mental health apps such as Pride Counseling or TalkSpace. Therapy can be a life-changing experience, especially if you are able to find an LGBTQ+ therapist who shares aspects of your identity. 

Early in my transition, I fixated on other people’s gender expressions quite often. I would find myself obsessively following other trans people on Instagram whom I admired, but pretty quickly, I would start feeling bad about myself. 

I had a lot of negative self-talk about how I looked compared to them. I felt like I was always coming up short (I’m 5’3”, so pun intended).  In these moments, I would focus instead on features I liked about myself (physically or personality-wise), even if I could only come up with one or two things. 

 Once I noticed this dynamic, it helped me a lot to unfollow or take a break from some of the people I was experiencing gender envy towards on social media. I also realized that I was comparing myself to other transgender people and making up stories about how easy their lives must be. Over the years, I’ve learned that we all struggle with different insecurities and body issues, and the internet does not always represent real life. 

If you are struggling and need further resources to help you explore your gender identity and connect with people, consider contacting The Trevor Project. They focus on preventing suicide in the LGBTQIA+ youth community and can help you find information, community, and counseling. 

You can reach a crisis counselor at The Trevor Project 24/7 via their online chat platform. You can also hear a live voice by calling 1-866-488-7386 or reach out via text by texting “START” to 678-678.

Source: The Trevor Project

If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety and having thoughts about self-harm or suicide, don’t hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or 911.

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Dusty Brandt Howard is a writer & a fighter. He is a trans masculine cultural narrator who builds worlds with words. You can follow his thirst traps on Instagram, his writing on Substack, or find him at your local queer bar in northeast LA.

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