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Gender identity

Understanding gender identity

It is common for people to confuse sex, gender, gender identity and sexual identity, but they are all very different things. 

When a child is born they are usually assigned to be either male or female based on the baby’s external genitals – whether they have a penis or a vulva.

This is referred to as their sex assigned at birth and is usually listed on the child’s birth certificate.

Some people call the sex assigned at birth ‘biological sex’ but this does not fully capture the natural variations that can occur in chromosomes, hormones and sexual organs. 

Gender identity is about personal identity and how a person feels inside. It is not how other people describe or label them.

Gender identity can be the same as a person’s sex assigned at birth (e.g. when a child identifies as a girl and their sex assigned at birth is female).

This is referred to as being cisgender.

For some people their gender identity is different to their sex assigned at birth (e.g. when a child identifies as a boy and their sex assigned at birth is female). This is often referred to as being transgender. 

Some people don’t feel like they identify with either gender and may identify as non-binary, gender diverse or agender. 

Some people’s gender identity changes over time and they may identify as gender-fluid. 

Some common terms

CisgenderA word used to describe people whose gender identity is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth.

TransgenderBeing transgender or gender diverse is when someone’s sense of being male or female is different from the sex they were assigned at birth.

It has been estimated that between 1.2% and 4% of young people in Australia are gender diverse or transgender.17,18

Non-binaryPeople who do not identify with traditional male and female genders may identify as non-binary.

QueerQueer can be used as an umbrella term for people who are same-sex attracted or gender diverse.

This term has previously been used to be insulting and hurtful so some people can find it offensive.

It is best to only use this term if someone has used it for themselves first (and they are happy for other people to use this term). 

Limiting stereotypes

Many cultures recognise and celebrate multiple genders and have a broader idea of gender beyond ‘male’ and ‘female’, and have done so for many centuries.

The way that people express their gender is unique to each person – what they wear, how they cut their hair, how they talk, walk and act. 

Quite often the way that the world sees someone’s gender is based on the stereotypes and expectations that society, media and culture have assigned to being ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’.

These stereotypes are limiting (and sometimes harmful) and do not accurately reflect real and normal human diversity and gender expression. 

Gender expression

Almost all children begin expressing their gender identity at 2 to 3 years of age through their preference for particular clothing, toys and interests.

If these expressions do not fit stereotypes and expectations, it can be worrying to parents.

It may be that your child is role playing (which is a normal part of healthy childhood play) or it may mean that your child is simply not conforming to rigid gender stereotypes (which is also perfectly normal).

It may mean that your child may be transgender or gender diverse.

Most children’s gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth, but for a small number, it does not.

This is part of the natural spectrum of human diversity.

Speech bubble Conversation starter:
Did you see that article about the student who is transgender and how the school support her in her transition?
How do you think your school would respond?