WHAT IS GENDER IDENTITY?
Sex and gender identity are two separate terms; sex refers to the biological features of a person such as their reproductive organs or hormones, whereas gender identity refers to how an individual identifies themselves with and expresses the social construct of gender.
There are several ways to express gender identity, for example, appearance, behaviour or the pronouns used to describe someone. If you are ever unsure of someone’s pronouns, it is okay to ask!
Here are some examples of pronouns:
TYPES OF GENDERS:
This is not a definitive list of all gender identities, just some of the most common. It is okay to fit into multiple categories or none at all, gender is a fluid construct and a personal expression of identity.
Cis/cisgender - someone who identifies with the gender associated to the sex they were born (male or female).
Male - associated with masculinity.
Female - associated with femininity.
Agender/gender-neutral - someone who does not identify with a specific gender.
Genderfluid/non-binary - someone who identifies with more than one gender, or none at all.
Transgender - someone who identifies as a gender different to their biological sex.
WHAT IS SEXUALITY?
Sexuality is about your sexual feelings, thoughts, attractions and behaviours towards other people. You can find other people physically, sexually or emotionally attractive, and all those things are a part of your sexuality. Sexuality is diverse and personal, and it is an important part of who you are.
Sexuality is not based on physical experiences, rather it is an understanding of the way someone feels attracted to another person. A person can know their sexual identity without having experienced a sexual or romantic relationship.
LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and more. Even though people refer to them together, gender identity isn’t the same as sexuality.
Sexuality is often used to describe sexual and romantic attraction. But these aren’t always the same:
Sexual attraction is how physically attracted to someone you are, and includes whether you would like to have sex with them.
Romantic attraction is how much you’re emotionally attracted to someone.
You might feel both romantic and sexual attraction to the same people or these might be different. It's natural to be confused about your sexuality or need time to work out who you are. Some people know who they’re attracted to from a really young age. For other people, it’s not so simple and can take a while to work out.
It is important to remember that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ sexuality; it is simply about how you personally identify and experience attraction.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF SEXUALITIES:
There are lots of different ways people may identify their sexuality, here are the most common:
Ace/asexual - someone who experiences little or no sexual attraction to others, or interest in sexual relationships or behaviour. Someone who is asexual may still experience romantic attraction to others.
Aro/aromantic - someone who experiences little or no romantic attraction to others, or interest in romantic behaviour. Someone who is aromantic may still experience sexual attraction to others.
Bisexual - someone who experiences sexual and/or romantic attraction towards more than one gender.
Gay - someone who is attracted to people of the same gender. Can be applied to both male and female gender identities.
Heterosexual/straight - someone who experiences sexual and/or romantic attraction towards people of a different gender.
Lesbian - someone who identifies as female and experiences sexual and/or romantic attraction to others who identify as female.
Pansexual/pan - someone who experiences sexual and/or romantic attraction for people of all gender identities.
Queer - an umbrella term used to describe the community as a whole. As an individual identity, it can mean any of the previously stated sexualities or genders (other than heterosexual or cisgender), multiple, or something non-specific. Often used when someone is unsure of or questioning their identity, or when they don’t want to be labelled at all.
Demisexual - someone who experiences little or no sexual attraction until romantic feelings develop.
This is not a definitive list of all sexualities, just some of the most common. Sexuality is fluid, it can change over time and it is okay if you want to change what you call yourself or not be labelled at all.
CAN GENDER IDENTITY OR SEXUALITY IMPACT MENTAL HEALTH?
Having any particular sexual orientation or gender identity does not mean you have a mental health problem. But the experiences you have because of your sexuality/gender identity can impact your mental health. Sometimes, people are bullied, treated differently or badly because of their sexuality/gender. You might be made to feel different from those around you, or might have friends or family who don’t understand or support your identification.
Society may treat you differently, not understand your sexuality/gender, or not accept it. There may be places where you don’t feel safe or comfortable. These are all experiences or feelings that can leave you feeling upset, worried or isolated.
You may not have experienced these things directly yourself, but have witnessed or heard of people being treated badly because of their sexuality/gender. Understandably, this might make you feel afraid of sharing this information with others, especially if it’s for the first time.
You might experience:
Feeling different from other people, like you don’t fit in
Being stereotyped or put in a certain ‘box’
Prejudice about your sexuality or gender
Bullying, or being treated differently by others
Not feeling safe to show affection to your partner in public
Feeling ‘invisible’ because you may not have role models or people around you who share similar feelings and experiences
Not having support from - or not being accepted by - those closest to you, like friends or family
People mislabelling your sexuality or gender
WHAT CAN HELP?
'Self-help' tips don't solve the issue. However, they can help you/others feel more in control when experiencing strong emotions.
If you find that 'self-help' isn't enough, consider reaching out to a counsellor or your GP for help managing overwhelming emotions.
Sexuality isn’t a choice. It takes different people different amounts of time to understand their sexuality
There are lots of different types of sexuality.
Sexuality can change over time - this is OK.
If you’re nervous about how someone might respond, you could try asking them for their thoughts on an LGBTQIA+ topic first. This might help you understand their thoughts better, and get a feeling for whether they’re likely to be supportive.
'Coming out' is different for everyone, but it can get easier as you start to tell more people. Before you have the conversation, consider what your boundaries are, e.g. how much you do and don’t want to share. Writing down what you are going to say first can also help if you are feeling nervous.
It is perfectly normal to feel confused at any point in your journey to discovering your sexual or gender identity, both concepts can be described as fluid and always changing. Be kind and give yourself time to process what is going on with you, you don’t have to understand it straight away.
Seek out reliable and safe spaces where you can learn more about sexuality/gender without judgement. This can be online or in person.
Speak to a GP, counsellor or therapist is you are feeling low or overwhelmed. Being queer or identifying as another gender is not a mental illness. However, feeling 'wrong', isolated, uncomfortable and disconnected can lead to depression, anxiety and sometimes sui*** feelings and self ****. Seek support or support a friend if you/they are experiencing extreme distress/discomfort.
A recent Stonewall study found:
half of LGBTIQ+ people had experienced depression and three in five had experienced anxiety.
one in eight LGBTIQ+ people aged 18 to 24 had attempted to end their life.
almost half of trans people had thought about taking their life.
If you have strong and continuing feelings of distress because of a mismatch between your sex assigned at birth and your gender identity, there are options available. These include talking therapy, hormone treatment and, after 18 years of age, surgery if appropriate. Your GP, other health professionals, school or a gender support group may refer you to the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. This NHS service specialises in helping young people up to the age of 18 with gender identity issues. It takes referrals from anywhere in England. Its main clinics are in London and Leeds.
Labels can often be personally comforting for some LGBTQIA+ folks; they can help normalize your identity by providing an anchor around which to organize your experiences. On the other hand, labels can also feel restrictive or minimizing, especially if you feel like your gender or sexual identity is very complex or variable. It makes sense to feel like none of the labels “fit” or really capture who you are. And it feels the worst to be mis-labelled by someone else. Use labels as far as they make you feel more comfortable, but don’t feel like you have to quantify your entire set of sexual and romantic preferences for others to understand. Your gender identity is private information. No one is entitled to know except you — unless, of course, you want to share it.
People who support LGBTQ+ communities are sometimes called ‘allies’. There are lots of ways you can support someone who’s struggling with their gender identity:
Accepting someone means including them and not questioning their identity. Don’t ask people things that would make them uncomfortable.
Respect how they identify
If someone changes their name or their pronouns (if they want to be referred to as ‘she’, ‘he’, ‘they’, etc) try to remember them. Remember that it’s okay to ask if you can’t remember them.
Challenge bullying and discrimination
Remember that you can tell an adult if someone is saying nasty or offensive things.
Listening to a friend can be a great way to show that you care; it can help someone cope and show that they’re not alone.
Help raise awareness
If it’s safe to, tell someone if they’re being offensive or discriminatory, and get involved with helping to raise awareness of the issues people are facing.
Having a friend transition can sometimes feel difficult. Remember that if you’re ever struggling with how you’re feeling you can get support too.
If you're questioning your sexual orientation, there are a number of simple and easy emotional exercises you can conduct to help reach yourself and your attraction on a deeper level. Start by asking yourself one or more of these questions:
What imagery resonates with you: when you see photos of couples or families, which ones tug at your heartstrings or your libido? Do you feel feelings of envy or hope when you see same-gender couples?
What's in your imagination: when you close your eyes and envision your perfect partner, are they a specific gender? If so, is their gender different than that of people you've partnered with up to this point?
Separate the dogma you've learned from your true self: as we go through life, we absorb a lot of ideologies about what's "right" or "good." If you focus on getting those out of the way, does your idea of who you're attracted to change?
WHAT IS A HATE CRIME?
Remember: It is illegal for people to treat you differently because of your sexuality. Find out more about your rights under the Equality Act 2010
A hate crime is any illegal act where the perpetrator is motivated by or demonstrates hostility towards an aspect of a person’s identity, specifically their race, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity or disability. When classed as a hate crime, the perpetrator may receive a tougher sentence under the Criminal Disorder Act 1998 or the Criminal Justice Act 2003, depending on which identity strand is targeted. The law does not currently recognise intersectionality in hate crime legislation.
Some people find it really empowering to speak about being in the LGBTQIA+ community, whereas others might not want to. Sometimes, you may feel pressure to ‘come out’, and feel that others have a right to know your sexuality/gender when you don’t want to share or you’re not ready. Or, it may not be safe for you to come out if you’re not sure about how someone will react.
Remember, it’s okay not to share these details if you don’t want to; you have no obligation to and it’s up to you who you talk to. Whether you’re inviting people to know about your sexuality/gender or not, everyone’s experience is different, and they are all valid.
As a rule, you should never “out” someone without their consent, you don’t always know the full extent of their safety in regards to the reactions of others. The fact that they trusted you with this knowledge is not to be taken as permission to share that information with someone else.