Gender identity

Gender identity refers to our sense of who we are and how we see and describe ourselves. Your gender identity is personal to you and is how you feel about yourself and how you view yourself.

Once we’re born, it is common for people to assume our gender based on our sex (which is determined by our genitals when we’re born). For example, if you’re born with a vagina, it is likely that people will automatically call you female and expect you to be ‘feminine’. Whereas if you’re born with a penis, it is likely that people will call you male and expect you to be ‘masculine’.

This suggests that gender is a social construct. A social construct means that it is a concept created by society.

Just because someone was born with a penis or vagina, that doesn’t mean they will behave in certain ways when they’re older. For example, someone could be born with a vagina but based on how they feel about themselves, they may identify as a male or they may not identify with a specific gender at all.

Also, some people are born with genitals that don’t easily fall into either category, which means that their gender cannot be assumed based on their sex.

Most people identify as "male" or "female". These are sometimes called "binary" identities.

Some people do not define themselves as having a "binary" identity. For them the concept of gender is not relevant to their identity.

They may use different terms, such as agender, gender diverse, gender non-conforming, to describe their identity. However, as a group, they are often called "non-binary".

Gender dysphoria is a term that describes a sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity.

This sense of unease or dissatisfaction may be so intense it can lead to depression and anxiety and have a harmful impact on daily life.

It is important to learn about gender identify because it’s very common for people to make assumptions about others’ genders. This can lead to misunderstandings and judgements if someone identifies as a different gender from the one that people expect them to be. 

Learning about gender identity can lead to people becoming more knowledgeable and understanding more about gender. It can also lead to people finding good information and support about gender if they need it.

Many people with gender dysphoria have a strong, lasting desire to live a life that "matches" or expresses their gender identity. They do this by changing the way they look and behave.

Some people with gender dysphoria, but not all, may want to use hormones and sometimes surgery to express their gender identity.

Gender dysphoria is not a mental illness, but some people may develop mental health problems because of gender dysphoria.

People with gender dysphoria may have changed their appearance, their behaviour or their interests.

They may also show signs of discomfort or distress, including:

  • low self-esteem
  • becoming withdrawn or socially isolated
  • depression or anxiety
  • taking unnecessary risks
  • neglecting themselves

Read more about the signs of gender dysphoria.

The exact cause of gender dysphoria is unclear.

Gender development is complex and there are still things that are not known or fully understood.

Gender dysphoria is not related to sexual orientation. People with gender dysphoria may identify as straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual.

Speaking to a trusted adult at school, such as your school nurse or a teacher is an option. Also, if you have a friend or family member that you feel comfortable going to for support then that could be another option for you.

See a GP if you think you may have gender dysphoria.

If the GP agrees, they can refer you to a gender dysphoria clinic (GDC) where you’ll be assessed by a specialist team.

Referrals for children and young people up to 18 years will be to the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) for children and adolescents.

Referrals for adults to one of the gender dysphoria clinics in England may be made from 17 years of age.

Find out how your GP and other organisations can support you while you wait to see a GDC.

If you would prefer not to speak to someone you know, then there are services available for you including the following websites, some of which also have helplines:

Mermaids UK 
Switchboard Switchboard helpline: 0300 330 0630
Support U
London friend
SupportLine Helpline: 01708 765200
Child line Helpline: 0800 1111