What is a GNC lesbian? Everything you need to know about the term

Hannah Gadsby and Lea DeLaria dressed in suits

Gender non-conforming (GNC) lesbians have always existed in the LGBTQ+ community.

Gender non-conforming is an umbrella term for individuals who do not conform to society’s stereotypes for the gender assigned at birth. However, being GNC does not necessarily always equate to being non-binary.

It’s important to note there is a difference between gender and gender presentation; one’s sense of gendered self is different from how a person dresses, behaves, and presents themselves to others. 

So, in regards to GNC lesbians, what is their relationship to gendered terms and sexuality labels? 

What does GNC lesbian mean?

To be a gender non-conforming lesbian is, put simply, to not abide by traditional assumptions of womanhood. 

The term is part of a wide range of ever-evolving lesbian terminology and identifies an individual who exists outside of the gender binary.

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Many lesbians recount how, growing up, they feel separated from heterosexual womanhood and that experience in turn shapes their relationship with gender. 

Jules Rylan’s Medium article about non-binary lesbians investigates the identity in regards to lesbian culture.

Rylan details that the place of GNC lesbians in lesbian culture is “a subversion of womanhood either through masculinity, androgyny, or even femininity when it’s not done for men.”

Famous lesbians who are gender non-conforming include the likes of Lea DeLaria, the first openly gay comic to appear on American television. DeLaria regularly appears on red carpets in dapper suits with a masculine style. 

There’s also comedian Hannah Gadsby whose Netflix comedy special Nannette included a segment on how they present in a traditionally “masculine” way. 

In Hannah Gadsby‘s 2018 Netflix special Nanette (which, honestly, is a must-watch for literally everyone), she describes how, by presenting in a traditionally “masculine” way, she is considered by many to be “incorrectly female.”

Ultimately, though the specific term “GNC lesbian” may be used more today than in the past, the concept of queer gender non-conformity has existed for a very long time historically. 

Where does the term GNC lesbian come from?

It’s very important to remember that the labels of GNC and non-binary are not new terms. The concept of gender non-conformity has gone by a multitude of names throughout history. 

Gender fluidity has been identified as far back as Ancient Egypt with individuals who are said to have “gender-swapped” to be accepted into the afterlife. 

There are also the hijras of India (intersex or transgender people) as well as a third gender featured in 18th century Italian art.

Stormé DeLarverie
Stormé DeLarverie was a butch, mixed race lesbian. (Stormé DeLarverie)

The borders of gender are repeatedly being redefined, especially in the lesbian community. 

There are many additional identities a GNC lesbian may identify with. One of which is the butch lesbian, who sometimes embraces parts of masculine identity, which became a central identity in the 1940s and 1950s. 

Butch lesbians are defined against notions of femme identity, from which the butch and femme labels became so ingrained in lesbian culture. 

In the early inception of the butch lesbian label, gender non-conformity played a part as these lesbians would often “pass” as men with their behaviour, aesthetic, and use traditionally male names.

Jump forward to 1995 and trans person and activist Riki Anne Wilchens coined the term “genderqueer” to describe “anyone who is gender non-conforming.”

Furthermore, feminist writings from Sandy Stone and Judith Butler helped solidify and trace the development of the genderqueer community.

Gender non-conforming lesbians and trans identity do coincide in some cases, with individuals endeavouring to exist free of gendered expectations. 

At the end of the day, labels are just that – labels. They are elective, and can help people explain their identity to others. “GNC lesbian” is just one of thousands of important terms that have arisen that help LGBTQ+ people navigate the often hostile world around them.

GNC lesbians have always – and will always – exist within the LGBTQ+ community as terms evolve and identities change.

Want more guides to lesbian terminology? Here you go:

What is a ‘Hey Mamas Lesbian’ on TikTok?

What exactly is a ‘golden retriever lesbian’?

Everything you need to know about a ‘U-Haul Lesbian’

The fascinating history of the lesbian slang terms ‘stud’ and ‘stem’

Dom fems are big on lesbian TikTok: what does it mean?