What is gender identity?

Have you ever wondered what really separates ‘sex’ from ‘gender’? While often used interchangeably, these terms stand for different concepts. ‘Sex’ relates to biological attributes such as chromosomes, hormones, and reproductive organs. It’s not just a simple split between ‘male’ and ‘female’; for example, some intersex individuals may have characteristics typically associated with both.

What is Gender?

On the other hand, ‘gender’ is about personal identity. It’s a social construct, which is developed through cultural beliefs and norms rather than biology. For instance, societal norms have historically dictated that pink is for girls and blue is for boys — but we know preferences and identities are far more diverse and personal! Gender identity can include a wide range of labels beyond ‘men’ and ‘women’, and it’s something that can evolve. You might identify strongly with a certain gender, shift your identification, or feel that none of the traditional labels fit you.

Check out this video, where professor Judith Butler explains sex and gender:

Beyond the Gender Binary

Traditionally, many societies have viewed gender in binary terms — that is, splitting it into ‘male’ and ‘female’. However, this binary doesn’t accommodate the full spectrum of human identity. Many people don’t see themselves as fitting neatly into these categories; some identify as non-binary or genderqueer, among other identities, which means they might see themselves as neither, both, or a combination of male and female identities.

Thinking of gender as a spectrum allows for a more inclusive understanding that respects and recognises the diverse ways people experience and express their gender. This perspective can help everyone feel validated and supported.

For more information on gender identity check out this article in Minus 18 or watch this Ted Talk presented from the perspective of a trans non-binary person and their parent. 

Key terms around gender identity 

AFAB/AMAB: These acronyms stand for ‘Assigned Female at Birth’ and ‘Assigned Male at Birth’ respectively. They describe the sex assigned to someone at birth, typically based on physical characteristics. This initial assignment may not necessarily align with a person’s true gender identity as they grow.

Brotherboy and Sistergirl: These are terms used within some First Nations communities to refer to transgender people. ‘Brotherboy’ generally refers to someone who is assigned female at birth but has a male spirit, and ‘Sistergirl’ refers to someone assigned male at birth but with a female spirit. Understanding these roles provides deeper insight into queer First Nations histories and identities.

Cisgender: This term describes someone whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, a cisgender person assigned female at birth continues to identify as a woman throughout her life.

Deadname: This term is used by some transgender people regarding the name they were given at birth but no longer use after transitioning. Using this name, known as ‘deadnaming’, can be hurtful and disrespectful, as it disregards the person’s affirmed gender.

Gender Dysphoria: Gender dysphoria is the distress or discomfort that occurs when there is a mismatch between a person’s gender identity and the sex assigned at birth. This condition can cause significant emotional and psychological discomfort.

Gender Diverse: An umbrella term that encompasses various identities where individuals’ gender does not strictly align with the sex they were assigned at birth. It includes those who are questioning, transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming, among others.

Gender Nonconforming: Refers to individuals who do not adhere to societal expectations about gender norms related to expression, behaviours, roles, and more. This can apply to people of any gender.

LGBTQIA+: This acronym represents a spectrum of sexual and gender identities: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual, with the ‘+’ accommodating additional identities such as two-spirit, brotherboys, and sistergirls.

Intersex: Describes individuals born with physical sex characteristics that don’t fit typical definitions for male or female bodies. This might include variations in chromosomes, hormones, or anatomy. Being intersex relates to biological traits and is separate from a person’s gender identity. For more information on what it means to be intersex, check out this video.

Non-Binary: A term for people who do not identify exclusively as male or female. Non-binary individuals may experience their gender as a blend of both, something fluid, or entirely outside the male/female binary. Check out this video to learn more about what it means to be non-binary. 

Pronouns: Words used in language to refer to someone without using their name, which reflects their gender identity. Common pronouns include ‘she/her’, ‘he/him’, and ‘they/them’. Understanding and respecting someone’s pronouns is crucial for affirming their gender identity. 

Transgender: Refers to individuals whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. For instance, someone assigned male at birth might identify and live as a woman. This term encompasses a wide range of gender experiences and identities. Check out this video to learn more about what it means to be transgender. 

Navigating Your Gender Identity

It’s completely normal to feel that you don’t quite fit the traditional categories of male or female or to find that your gender identity differs from the sex assigned to you at birth. Gender identity is deeply personal and should reflect who you truly are. Around the globe, many people embrace gender-diverse identities, finding solidarity and support within vibrant LGBTQIA+ communities.

Where can I get support?

If you’re experiencing feelings of gender dysphoria or are in the process of figuring out your gender identity, reaching out for support can be really helpful. Consider sharing your feelings with a trusted friend, family member, or a school counsellor who can offer you the understanding you need. You can also check out our full list of support services to access free and confidential mental health support.

Additional support for LGBTQIA+ folk is available through:

  • QLife provides anonymous and free LGBTQIA+ peer support and referral for people wanting to talk about a range of issues including sexuality, identity, gender, bodies, feelings, or relationships
  • Switchboard provides information, support, and referral services for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people of Victoria and Tasmania. 
  • Minus18 provides resources and insightful information on gender and sexuality to help you navigate your experience.

Remember, exploring your gender identity is a journey that is unique to you, and there is a whole community ready to support you every step of the way.

Need someone to talk to? Free, confidential support is available.

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