By Scott Barry Kaufman Ph.D., published on March 1, 2010 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016
Adam Lambert delighted (and shocked) millions of fans in season nine of American Idol when he sang earth-shattering high notes while wearing tight leather pants and glittery "guyliner." His debut album For Your Entertainment features a very androgynous looking Lambert on the cover and tracks in which he moves fluidly across the spectrum from the sexually commanding adrenaline rush of "Fever" to the tender and expressive "Whatya Want From Me."
For many glam rock fans and bohemian artists, androgyny is the sine qua non of creativity. Think Annie Lennox from the hit, '80s glam rock band the Eurythmics, or "Ziggy Stardust," David Bowie's androgynous alter ego, or Andy Warhol, who would often show up at parties dressed in drag and even commissioned an entire exhibit displaying his androgyny. Don't forget Prince, Michael Jackson, and even Marilyn Manson. But why is there such an intimate tie between androgyny and artistic expression? Does defying conventional gender norms confer benefits to the creative process?
There has been no shortage of speculation on the answer. Freud argued that creative people possess greater cross-sex identification than others, citing Leonardo da Vinci. In A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf muses that to be a successful writer, "Some collaboration has to take place in the mind between the woman and the man before the art of creation can be accomplished. Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated."
Research dating back to the 1960s supports the connection between psychological androgyny and divergent thought, a key component of creativity. Being androgynous requires a person to be "open to experience, flexible, accepting of apparent opposites, unconcerned about social norms, and self-reliant—exactly those traits identified with creative persons," argue researchers Jodi Weinstein and Philip Bobko.
That said, androgyny is probably not as helpful to sealing a business deal as it is for writing great works of literature. While androgyny overlaps with cognitive flexibility, it's associated with creative accomplishments only in literature, theater, and visual arts, according to a paper in the Journal of Creative Behavior by James Hittner and Jennifer Daniels. You'll notice that music is missing from that list. Maybe what sets Lambert et al. apart is the drama.
Seven upsides of androgyny