Gender and Sexuality

Exploring one’s gender identity is a deeply personal journey. Though the process may not always be simple or straightforward, each person deserves support and encouragement in discovering their authentic self.

What is Gender Identity?

Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of self and the gender with which they identify. It is not outwardly visible and is different from gender expression. There are many gender identities, all of which are valid. A person’s assigned sex at birth is determined by physical characteristics, but gender is a social construct that varies across cultures.

When a person’s assigned sex and gender identity do not align, they may identify as transgender – one of many possible gender identities. Other examples of gender identities include:

  • Male
  • Female
  • Non-binary – An identity that is not exclusively male or female.
  • Transgender – Does not identify with the sex assigned at birth.
  • Genderqueer, demigirl, demiboy – Partially male or female.
  • Agender – No gender identity.
  • Androgyne – Between male and female.
Racially and gender diverse young people looking down at the camera with a rainbow flag illustrating that there are many gender identities, all of which are valid.

What is Gender Expression?

Gender expression refers to how a person outwardly expresses their gender identity through clothing, pronouns, speech, and other forms of presentation and communication. A person’s gender expression may or may not match the gender they identify with internally.

Gender identity and expression are related but distinct. Here are some key differences:

  • Gender identity is internal while gender expression is outward.
  • Gender identity is self-determined while gender expression conforms to cultural norms and expectations.
  • A person can change their gender expression but not their gender identity.
  • Resources, safety, and acceptance can impact a person’s ability to express their gender identity openly.

A person’s gender identity may differ from the sex they were assigned at birth. Not all people are able to publicly express the gender they identify with, at least not immediately. But all people deserve to have their gender identity recognized and respected. Gender identity is complex, personal, and deeply rooted in how individuals perceive themselves.

Factors Affecting Gender Identity

  • Biological sex assigned at birth. When a person’s assigned sex and felt gender identity do not align, it can lead to distress and confusion.
  • Hormones and temperament. Fluctuations in hormones, especially during puberty, may impact the development of gender identity. Certain personality traits and temperaments are also suggested to correlate with non-binary or transgender identities.
  • ​Life experiences. Events that challenge traditional gender roles or expose someone to diverse gender identities at an early age could shape how they perceive their own identity.
Laughing Caucasian man wrapped in a rainbow flag, illustrating the concept that gender identity is complex, personal, and deeply rooted in how individuals perceive themselves.
  • Societal expectations. Strict gender stereotypes and norms can make it difficult for some to recognize or accept a gender identity that differs from the binary. Exposure to more progressive attitudes helps create space for self-discovery.
  • Interactions and relationships. How people are gendered and referred to by family, friends, teachers, medical professionals, and culture at large deeply influences the development of gender identity. Positive and accepting relationships provide crucial support.
  • Access to information and community. Exposure to resources on issues of gender diversity and identity helps give people the language and concepts they need to understand themselves better. Connecting with others with similar experiences reduces isolation.

Mental Health Concerns

When a person’s internal sense of self does not match the sex they were assigned at birth, it can lead to distress, anxiety, depression, and other issues. Discrimination and lack of acceptance in society and community also pose major risks to well-being. Members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, in particular, may face barriers to accessing healthcare.

A person’s gender identity is deeply personal and complex. It is shaped by many interconnected factors and is self-determined. The most important thing is that people are able to explore their identity freely and feel accepted and supported in doing so.