Gender cues (also called gender markers) are generally understood to be signifiers of traditional gender expressions in order to either defy or reinforce a gender identity. While many markers of gender are not instantly recognizable, gender cues are tied to socialized assumptions of gender roles and expression. These cues change based on culture, an individual's age, religion, and many more extenuating and outside factors. Many gender cues are used so that other people will correctly assume the gender of a person without an explanation. Gender cues are tied to the transgender experience of passing.
Gender cues can be used by all genders, regardless of whether or not they are transgender. Common outward-facing gender cues are hair length, clothing, and makeup. Other gender cues include speech patterns, pronouns, names, jewelry, and accessories. Anything that has been socialized within gender expectations can be reasonably argued to be a gender cue.
Often transgender people will adapt their outward presentation to align with traditional gender expectations by using gender cues and gender markers. For example, some trans women will wear their hair long to conform or pass within the traditional expectations of femininity in order to underline their association with womanhood. Likewise, trans men will cut their hair short so that others (often cisgender or non-queer people) will identify them as male.
There are many ways to use gender cues to both conform to traditional gender expectations (such as a woman wearing a dress) or to defy them (such as a man wearing a dress). Using or creating an absence of gender cues as a way to imitate androgyny is often a way that nonbinary people present in the world. Many times traditionally masculine clothing will be used as a way to eliminate gender cues.
The issue with gender cues is that they are based on a gendered view of the world, and have many assumptions and indicators tied to them that are patriarchal, misogynistic, or homophobic. Using gender cues is often a matter of survival, as they can be used or ignored in order to amplify or reduce gender presentation. Gender cues are inherently political, as playing with them and subverting expectations is always a matter of intense scrutiny within the queer and trans communities. Passing is another way that gender cues and gendered expression are politicized.
- Hall, J. A., & Braunwald, K. G. (1981). Gender cues in conversations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40(1), 99–110. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.199 Archived on 17 July 2023
- Barnes, Sierra, "Effects of Confronting Implicit Gender Stereotypes" (2017). Undergraduate Honors Theses. 1284. https://scholar.colorado.edu/honr_theses/1284