What is Gender Envy: A new look at Gender Identity

Gender can bring up so many emotions. Just look up #masculinity #Genderenvy #feminine, and you will see a wide range of emotions and feelings. Envy is one of the emotions you can feel. Envy towards someone else experience, the expectations of gender, or attributes you wish you had. 

Gender brings up a lot!

Understanding what Gender Envy is and where it stems from can give you deep insight into yourself and others. In the rest of this article, we will be looking at what Gender Envy is, how to recognize it, and how you can explore your identity through it. 

What is Gender Envy

Gender envy is having envy for someone or something’s expression of gender. E.g., wanting the physical features, voice, mannerisms, style, etc., of a specific gender. Gender Envy is often experienced by people expressing themselves outside society’s gender stereotypes. 

Gender Envy as a term has recently gained popularity in the Transgender community. It’s used to explain the desire and envy felt towards someone based on how masculine, androgynous, or feminine they naturally present. 

It’s a casual term to describe someone they wish they could look like. If someone says, “I have gender envy for Sam Smith,” it means they think he looks really cool, and it would be awesome to look like him. It doesn’t usually mean they are devastated that they aren’t that person.

I really enjoyed the youtube video by bixiewillow that discusses their experience of Gender Envy:

I feel Gender Envy not because I’m envious of someone’s gender, but because I’m envious of something about someone that I feel relates to how I would like others to perceive my gender.


How Gender Envy Manifests

Here is a list of things to look out for to recognize when you might be experiencing Gender Envy:

  • Seeing someone express a gender norm and wishing you could do that. 
  • Wanting the voice of physical attributes of someone else due to their gender expression.
  • Desiring a certain style to help you present as a certain gender.
  • Admiring the way someone acts their gender and how others react to it. 
  • Wishing you could experience the body or life of a different gender.

A rising TikTok and Tumblr trend

The term Gender Envy has been growing through TikTok and Tumblr. There is a meme “Gender envy but it makes less sense for cis people”. It’s usually a video that shows images of people the person has Gender Envy towards but gets more and more abstract as the video goes on. Ending with objects, landscapes, or animals.

The image is taken from TikTok

You can search #genderenvy in TikTok and Tumblr. This hashtag has given people space to express what they desire about a gender. Especially in the non-binary and transgender community.

In google trends, you can see how the term has taken off in January of 2021.

Who can experience Gender Envy?

It is common for people that are Transgender, Gender Fluid, and Non-Binary to experience Gender Envy. This is because they are exploring what gender and identity mean to them. However, Gender envy can also be experienced by someone that is cisgender. 

A good example of this would be males who identify as masculine but want to express what others might consider feminine. Or are envious of those that can freely express different gendered aspects of themselves.

As a Cis-man, I experienced Gender Envy as a kid. 

When I was a teen, I moved from New Hampshire to Idaho, which had a stronger conservative view of gender. I felt out of place a lot for being an emotionally sensitive person. 

I would see girls expressing themselves without ridicule, and I wished it was okay to express myself like that. 

I also saw that girls could express a broader range through bright-colored clothing, sexy dresses, dark-brooding colors, and more. While as a boy, I had jeans, tee-shirts, and flannel. Seeing that freedom of self-expression in their gender brought up feelings around my own expression.

I never viewed myself as non-binary because I strongly identify as a man, but I still feel I experienced Gender Envy. Exploring those feelings allowed me to better understand my identity as a man and take on attributes that might not be seen as the standard norm for masculinity at the time. 

I also recognize that I feel Gender Envy in a more subtle way than my transgender, gay, or non-binary friends do. This is because they have more oppressive social norms to overcome which could lead to a stronger sense of Gender Dysmorphia and Gender Envy. 

Is Gender Envy Bad?

Good or bad idea

Gender Envy isn’t something bad. It’s a natural experience of want, desire, and admiration one can feel towards an expression of someone else. It can also help you discover new ways you might want to express yourself. 

It’s not good or bad, but an emotional experience. 

We often associate the word envy as a greedy emotion. You know… the whole Christian Seven Deadly Sins thing. However, being inspired by someone else’s gender identity/expression should never feel like a guilty thing. The word envy in this case is less about coveting something, and more about recognizing a desire you have. 

If anything, I think Gender Envy should be celebrated as an opportunity to understand oneself and express. 

However, a “secondary emotion” that is triggered by gender envy can be bad.

What I mean by that is the reaction to your reaction.  

Feeling bad about having Gender Envy is unhelpful.

Attraction vs. Gender Envy

One thing that can come up with Gender Envy is trying to separate it from Attraction. 

There is a big difference between Attraction and Gender Envy. In general, Attraction is when you are sexually drawn to be with someone. While Gender Envy is when you like attributes that person has that express their gender. 

You are probably Attracted to the other person if you actually picture yourself dating or having sex with that person? If you think of them romantically or physically, you are probably attracted. 

If you desire what they can do or how they act, you are probably experiencing Gender Envy. 

It’s also important to remember that gender and sexuality are two completely different things. Who you find attractive and who you are do not cancel each other out in any way. You can be attracted to the same sex or Attracted to the opposite sex. You can be Envious of the same sex or Envious of the opposite sex, and so on. 

Gender Envy and a cultural shift in Psychology

I think it’s important to recognize an important shift in the conversation of psychology and biology around gender. In a lot of ways, Gender Envy is a term that evolved out of the theory of Penis Envy.

Sigmond Fraud coined the term “Penis Envy” in 1908 and was a cornerstone of his psychological theory. He believed that women needed to be envious of the opposite sex to find their true identity. 

To think that women have to envy a penis to become a woman is such an outdated idea and can easily be used to suppress other people’s sexuality. 

He also had the theory of the Oedipus complex (the opposite of Penis Envy). 

An article by Healthline summarizes this by saying:

He said that all children go through a “phallic stage” in which they become fixated on their penis or lack of it. According to Freud, AFAB folks have an innate attachment to their mothers but grow to resent them after blaming their mothers for their “castration.” They then become obsessed with possessing their father, unconsciously developing sexual feelings toward them.

A lot of this theory is based on ridged sex and gender roles. 

I beleive the term Gender Envy describes a different aspect of human psychology in such a way that is more inclusive to the diversity of gender expression.  It also helps expand the definition of what gender is and how we interact with it personally. 

In Conclusion:

Gender Envy is a natural and common experience. Over the years I have heard of many friends, clients, and communities members share their experience of admiring and envying other people for their ability to express their gender. 

I wrote this article because I think the phrase is really good at explaining the feelings one gets around their gender when they see how another person expresses their gender. 

Exploring Gender Envy can help you understand your identity and gender in new ways. By leaning into your reaction to other Gender Expressions, you can begin to see your shadows, archetypes, and aspects of your identity. 

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