What Is Gender Fluid?

A person who is gender fluid is flexible in regard to the gender with which they identify. This means that their gender identity or expression is not fixed and may change over time.

A person's gender identity refers to an individual's felt gender identification, while gender expression refers to how a person presents themselves. Gender expression refers to the ways that people present their gender identity. People may express their gender in masculine or feminine ways, but they may also present in ways that are both or neither. Gender is different from sex, which refers to the genitalia with which you are born.

"Being gender fluid means that you don’t have a set gender or set place on the gender spectrum," says Margaret Seide, MD, a Board-certified psychiatrist.

Margaret Seide, MD

The term is an acknowledgment that there is a spectrum and that gender is not binary. How you experience your gender can change over time or depending on the situation.

— Margaret Seide, MD

The History of Gender Fluidity

Gender fluidity is a fairly new term and, to that extent, concept. That doesn’t mean that gender fluid people didn’t exist until recently; in fact, there are many examples of people throughout history who fell outside of binary sexual identification. The difference is that the topic simply was not widely discussed. Even today, the term gender fluid is fairly uncommon in certain communities.

“There are socio-cultural norms, some of which have their basis in religion. Also, almost every society we know of has some sort of societally imposed gender-normative expectations, whether that is dress, relationship roles, or general behavior,” says Dr. Seide.

“As you experience the world, you are exposed to these social constructs that define masculinity and femininity and that shapes our expectations of our own behavior.” 

All that said, since about the mid-2000s, conversations about sexuality and gender identity have started to trickle into mainstream. Though gender is still quite rigid in our culture, we are now seeing increased sensitivity around the topic.

Gender Fluid vs. Non-Binary

The terms gender fluid and non-binary are sometimes confused. While related, there are some important distinctions. 

Non-binary is an umbrella term for people who do not fit into the traditional male/female gender binary. As an umbrella term, it includes individuals with a range of gender identities, including those who identify as gender fluid. Other identifications under the non-binary umbrella include:

  • Androgynous
  • Agender
  • Bigender
  • Demigender
  • Genderqueer
  • Pangender

People who are gender fluid are non-binary, but not all non-binary people are gender fluid.

Is Gender Identity Fixed?

Currently, we do not have a huge amount of data regarding how innate or fixed gender identity is because it is still such a relatively new topic and concept. However, you cannot argue with how a person feels. If someone does not personally identify with either the male or female gender, and/or if they do not wish to put themselves into a certain box according to societal expectations, that’s all there is to it. 

The bottom line is that whether or not someone personally accepts the concept of gender fluidity, it’s best practice to respect anyone’s gender identity. 

How to Determine If You’re Gender Fluid

“It is pretty difficult to tap into your true gender journey if it doesn’t match up to societal expectations because if you look in a clothing store, a television commercial, or even conventional romantic relationships, there are pretty clearly defined roles,” says Dr. Seide. “You know what is expected of you based on your genitals, and finding your voice in all that isn’t easy.”

Though complex, there are ways to navigate that confusion and external noise. One of your best options is to speak with a mental health professional—ideally someone well-versed in gender identity.

This person will know the right questions to ask to provide you with more clarity. For example, they may discuss your role in your own sexual fantasies, which Dr. Seide says is particularly helpful since you’re the writer and the script is often unedited.

A therapist might also ask you questions such as:

  • How do you feel about your assigned sex at birth and how it relates to your gender identity?
  • Do you feel like you identify more with one gender or another?
  • Do you feel like you don’t identify with either gender?
  • How do you feel when someone assumes you are one gender or another?

You can, of course, determine that you’re gender fluid without outside help. This often requires introspection, pushing away societal norms and expectations, and connecting with others navigating the same journey as you.

Many resources can help you along the way, including books, articles, online forums, and even groups that meet in the real world.

How to Discuss Your Gender Fluidity

We want to be clear that you are under no obligation to discuss your gender fluidity with others. However, there are instances when you might want to do so, including with close friends, romantic partners, and family members. This can be tricky since the topic is not that common, and because there are, unfortunately, some lingering stigmas and assumptions.

Though it might not be easy, society is coming along slowly but surely in regard to knowledge and acceptance of gender and sexuality issues. Expect for people to have questions about what gender identity even is, and what gender fluidity means to you. With romantic partners, you might want to discuss how (if at all) your gender fluidity might impact your relationship. 

Gender Fluidity vs. Sexual Fluidity

Though often conflated, gender fluidity and sexual fluidity are not the same. While gender fluidity implies flexibility regarding what gender you identify with, sexual fluidity refers to flexibility regarding who you’re attracted to. 

“Sexual fluidity encompasses terms such as pansexual, asexual, and bisexual—just a few examples—and is no longer seen as occurring in a fixed way with two or three categories,” says Dr. Seide.

She adds that scientific data has greatly contributed to today’s better understanding of sexuality in general and that it’s more of a continuum versus something rigid. Interestingly, with the help of science, we can now gather empirical data via technology that observes how the brain and sexual organs react to certain stimuli.

“For example, we can say this person is bisexual based on the fact that they experience the physical response associated with sexual attraction when shown pictures of both men and women. This has also been able to demonstrate that some people are more sexual than others,” explains Dr. Seide.

Pronouns

How should you refer to a person who is gender fluid? People who are gender fluid can use he/him, she/her, they/them, or whatever pronouns they wish. Just as a person's gender identity may change, pronouns may also change.

Correct pronoun use is respectful and identity-affirming. Misgendering a person by using the wrong pronouns or gender can be hurtful and detrimental to a person's mental well-being.

While some people may prefer gender-neutral pronouns (such as the singular they), you should not use they/them as a catch-all for people whose gender identity you do not know. Avoid making assumptions about a person's pronouns. If you are not sure, it can be helpful to share your pronouns before you ask for someone else's.

A Word From Verywell

A person who is gender fluid is flexible in regard to where they identify on the gender spectrum. Though a relatively new term to a lot of people, there’s a long history of people who fit within this description. Whether you are gender fluid or know someone who is, practicing acceptance and kindness is of utmost importance.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Katz-Wise SL. Sexual fluidity in young adult women and men: associations with sexual orientation and sexual identity development. Psychology & Sexuality. 2015;6(2):189-208. doi:10.1080/19419899.2013.876445

  2. Harris CA, Blencowe N, Telem DA. What is in a pronoun?: Why gender-fair language matters. Ann Surg. 2017;266(6):932–933. doi:10.1097/SLA.0000000000002505

By Wendy Rose Gould
Wendy Rose Gould is a lifestyle reporter with over a decade of experience covering health and wellness topics.