Beauties Lab

What Does Asserting One’s Gender Mean?


Gender affirmation: What is it, who does it concern, and how can healthcare and other services be trans-affirmative?

This article is presented by Beauties Lab, a beauty space that simplifies the art of self-care. 

Gender affirmation is a term that seems a little too beige around the edges to refer to the processes through which a person experiences, expresses, and thrives within their gender.

Whether our gender differs from the sex we were assigned at birth or not, gender affirmation allows us to feel more comfortable with ourselves and to be recognized in society as our true selves. Unsurprisingly, it has a significant impact on a person’s psychological and emotional well-being, particularly if they are transitioning (Glynn et al., 2016).

Exploring yourself to better assert yourself

Gender affirmation is often a central aspect of trans and nonbinary people’s experiences, as it concerns the recognition and validation of their gender identity. This can manifest through more typically gendered activities, such as using makeup, exploring gendered clothing, experimenting with certain hairstyles, choosing one’s pronouns, or accessing medical care such as hormone therapy or surgery.

These actions, some of which may seem trivial or mundane, are in fact essential “sandboxes” that facilitate the (re)appropriation of one’s body and gender during transition.

It is through exploration and experimentation that we come to better understand our gender and position ourselves in relation to the concept of gender.

In fact, we notice that the trans and nonbinary individuals who assert and  reach a certain level of comfort with their gender tend to be more likely to grant themselves the freedom to explore norms or activities not typically associated with their gender (Bosom & Medico, 2021).

In other words, the more we feel grounded in and at ease with our gender, the more we feel we can be assertive about it, and the less scary it is to deviate from it at times. When we have the confidence to fully recognize our gender and it is recognized by others, we can allow ourselves to have fun with it. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?

The need for trans-affirmative healthcare and other services

Assertiveness comes from within, but it also depends on the people around us. Trans people can better assert their gender when they feel safe in their environment (Pullen Sansfaçon et al., 2021).

For example, if a person goes to a pharmacy to buy makeup, will a beauty advisor be available to answer their questions without judgment? Will they be able to shop without being stared at because they don’t correspond to the cultural image we have of a person who wears makeup?

When addressing trans-affirmative healthcare and other services, it’s not enough to simply put up a “Trans people welcome” sign.

Services need to be adapted to trans needs and experiences. Here, we are also referring to care and services that recognize an individual’s gender and right to self-determination, regardless of whether they correspond to preconceived notions of gender.

If we go back to the makeup example, trans-affirmative services could, for instance, offer products designed for the skin changes linked to hormone therapy or people who shave their facial hair. Such services could also include employing an advisor who knows the right products and techniques to sculpt a more prominent jawline and who knows how to support a trans or nonbinary person through their gender-affirming process.

Speaking of, Beauties Lab is very proud to offer free makeup consultations (online or onsite at their Montreal location) tailored to your face and needs. Also, if you need support and resources specialized for trans needs and issues, you can visit the Aide des Trans du Québec website.

Doesn’t that simply amount to increasing trans visibility in healthcare and other services?

Yes and no. Visibility is important for trans people to see themselves in our society’s collective imagination and to encourage others to recognize them, but it’s not enough.

For example, visibility can be detrimental if only one version of transness is represented or if a trans person cannot recognize themselves in the existing range of trans portrayals. Simply shining a spotlight on transness isn’t a solution if a whole group of people feels they need to squeeze into it to be considered valid.

We must therefore question the meaning of representation, who is made visible, and how other aspects of a person’s identity, such as their body, weight, assigned sex  at birth, or even ethnic background (real or perceived) contribute to creating the cultural image we have of a particular gender.

If you close your eyes and imagine a woman, what comes to mind?

Is gender affirmation only for trans people?

When it comes to transitioning, we talk a lot about gender affirmation when, in reality, trans people are not constantly asserting their gender in an active and intentional way. Most of the time, they simply live their lives without paying any more attention to their gender than a cisgender person. Conversely, without even realizing it, cisgender people are constantly doing things to assert their gender, feel more comfortable in it, and have it recognized by others. This includes wearing makeup, going to the gym, choosing gender-specific clothing, and even resorting to hormone therapy and surgical interventions (yep, you read that right!).

It’s just that when cisgender people are doing it, it goes rather unnoticed because they’re not required to affirm their gender for these gender expressions to be considered valid.

By making a more fluid gender experience visible, trans people broaden the range of gender expression possibilities for everyone, including cis people. If we can see a man wearing nail polish today without wondering if he is transitioning, it’s because the range of what it means to be a man is quite a bit wider than it used to be.

And that’s good for everyone!

  • Bosom, M., & Medico, D. (2021). My first year on testosterone: Analyzing the trans experience through YouTube channels. Sexologies, 30(2), e83-e85.

    Glynn, T. R., Gamarel, K. E., Kahler, C. W., Iwamoto, M., Operario, D. et Nemoto, T. (2016). The role of gender affirmation in psychological well-being among transgender women. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 3(3), 336–344. 

    Pullen Sansfaçon, A., Gelly, M. A. et Ens Manning, K. (2021). Affirmation and safety: An intersectional analysis of trans and nonbinary youths in Quebec. Social Work Research, 45(3), 207–219.