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Gender Identity (T+)

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What is Gender?

Your gender identity is the gender that you identify with, the gender that you know and feel yourself to be, and it is part of your internal sense of self. Our gender identity can be very important to who we are as a person.

Often confused, gender (or sex) assigned at birth and gender identity are two separate things. When we are born most of us are given, or assigned, a gender. Often, the first thing ever said about us is “it’s a boy!” or “it’s a girl!”. Gender is usually assigned by looking at our genitals. Of course, you can’t really tell the gender identity of a person just by looking at their genitals and not everyone’s gender identity ends up matching the gender they were assigned at birth.

Your gender is not determined by your body parts and you can’t tell another person’s gender identity just by looking at them. The only person who can really know your gender is you.


At What Age Do People Become Aware of Their Gender Identity?

From the moment we are born, most of us are told (and treated like) we are either a girl or a boy. This is called gender assignment. This can make things difficult for those who realise their gender identity doesn’t match the gender they were assigned at birth.

Most young people become aware of their own gender identity around the age of three or four, but because we live in a society where gender stereotypes are reinforced, some children learn to behave in the way that is most rewarded by society, generally fitting and following gender stereotypes despite it not fitting with their authentic gender identity. But as children age they may question and challenge these stereotypes and the expectations that are put upon them because of the gender they were assigned at birth.


How is Gender Identity Different to Gender Expression?

Gender identity and gender expression are related but different concepts. Your gender identity is how you feel and what you think about your own gender, your sense of self. Some people identify as women, some identify as men, some in another way and some feel they do not have a gender at all. Your gender expression is how you display your gender to others – this could be through the way you act, dress, interact with other people, etc. Some people are more feminine, others more masculine and some sit between the two.

Be aware, a person’s gender identity is not always indicative of their gender expression, and conversely, a person’s gender expression is not always indicative of their gender identity.

The Genderbread Person is a useful tool to help you explore these concepts and your own identity:


Describing a Person’s Gender Identity

There are many ways people describe their gender identity, and as people feel more able to explore their own identity the language continues to evolve. Young people should not be put under any pressure to assign themselves a “label”. However, over time, if the young person in your care feels safe and able to do so, they will share with you how they are feeling.

Although no one should be pressured to use this language to describe themselves, it is important that this language is shared with young people so they can use it to describe themselves, if they wish. Using inclusive language can also make young people aware that trans and non-binary identities exist, and that if there are any trans and/or non-binary young people in your care they know there is nothing wrong with how they are feeling and that there is a community of others who feel the same way they do.

Below are some of the more common and visible terms that can be used to describe gender identity that you may want to explore with your young people. Click on each of the boxes to reveal a definition.

Some of these definitions may be difficult for primary school aged young people to understand; books such as Alien Nation explore this terminology in an age-appropriate, accessible way.

To explore some of the other ways people describe their gender identity, you can explore the Gender Identity (T+) webpage designed for ages 14+ by clicking here.


How Can I Support a Young Person Who is Exploring their Gender Identity?

You can find out more about how to support a trans young person with transitioning here.

You can find out more about how to support LGBT+ young people in the section on LGBT+ Inclusion.

 


Myth Busting

There are many myths and misconceptions that surround the trans community and here we aim to unpick these myths.

As mentioned above, people become aware of their own gender around the age of three or four. With this they may begin to question their identity and their gender expression. Many children will experiment with their clothing, make-up, etc. This does not necessarily mean that young person is trans. However, if your child continuously describes feeling/being a different gender, or if they feel uncomfortable wearing clothing usually related to a particular gender, they may be trans. Young people should not be pressured into labelling how they are feeling and instead be supported in exploring what they are feeling. A person under the age of 18 cannot legally make any medical permanent changes to their body and any changes they do make before the age of 18, such as clothing, names or pronouns can easily be changed again, if they ever feel they need or want to.

Legally, trans people may choose to use the toilet or changing facilities that match their gender identity, i.e. trans women may choose to use the women’s toilets and changing rooms. Some critics argue that allowing access for trans people will mean others are put at greater risk of sexual assault. Legally, there is nothing to prevent trans people entering gendered spaces, and trans people have been doing so for as long as gendered spaces have existed. In all that time, no evidence has come to light to support the claim that trans people are a risk to others in these spaces.

Nothing will happen overnight! If a young person is trans they can be referred to a Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) by their GP. The wait time between a referral being sent by a GP and the young person having their first appointment at the clinic can be over two years. The multidisciplinary team at the GIC will carry out a detailed assessment over a period of several months. Over this time, the young person in your care may need your support to stay positive, as it is a slow and long process. Depending on the results of the assessment, various options will be offered, most of them being psychological rather than medical.

The only medical intervention that may be offered to people under the age of 18 is puberty blockers. This is a hormone-based treatment that, as the name suggests, puts puberty on pause. According to the NHS, the physical effects caused by puberty blockers are reversible by simply stopping taking them. To qualify for puberty blockers strict criteria must be met, and for those under the age of 16, permission must be sought by the GIC from the Courts.

From the age of 16, if a young person has been taking puberty blockers for a minimum of 12 months they may be offered gender-affirming hormones. These hormones can cause irreversible changes such as breast development or deepening of the voice. Throughout this process, these young people remain under the care of the psychological staff at the GIC.

Decisions with regards to offering hormones are made carefully by a team of specialists at a GIC – you can find more about it on the NHS website.

Surgery to permanently alter body parts associated with a transition is only available to adults. Not all trans people will seek hormone treatment or surgery, it is a personal choice.

(Content here was correct at the time of writing, February 2021.)

It is true that trans young people are disproportionately affected by mental health issues, but being trans is not a result of mental health issues, nor are mental health issues a result of being trans. More likely, these mental health issues come about due to the existence of transphobia. Having been a victim of transphobia, or fearing there is the potential to be the victim of transphobia, can severely negatively impact upon the wellbeing and mental health of a trans person.

Challenging transphobia, supporting trans people and positively teaching about trans identities are ways in which you can support trans young people.

Being trans is not a modern thing! Trans people have existed as long as time has, but due to the transphobic laws and attitudes that have also existed, many trans people have had to hide their identity. Laws today, such as the Equality Act (2010), make discrimination towards those with trans identities unlawful and this means many more trans people feel able to share their identity.

If we look to other cultures and societies, there are many communities where it has always been seen as usual for some people to find that their gender identity does not match their gender assigned at birth. You can learn more about some of these cultures in Session Two of the LGBT+ History Month education pack from 2018.

 

We encourage adults not just to talk about trans identities, but to talk about all gender identities. Talking about gender identity in an age-appropriate and accessible way, such as reading and exploring the book Alien Nation, will not cause confusion. Talking about gender empowers young people to explore how they feel as well as helping them to understand and celebrate the differences between us all.

Gender identity and sexual orientation are separate things, and so “becoming” trans is not a way that people can stop themselves from being gay. A person’s gender identity and their sexual orientation can exist in any combination, so you could be trans and gay, straight and cis, bisexual and non-binary…People of all different sexual orientations exist across the gender spectrum, and people of all genders exist across the sexual orientation spectrum!

 

If you’d like to find out more about sexuality and the words people use to describe their sexual orientation, click here.


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