Gender Identity

For Starters:

  • Gender identity is a person’s own sense of identification as male, female, neither, both, or somewhere in between.
  • Sometimes people get confused about the difference between gender and sex. Gender refers to the gender that someone identifies with, while sex is usually refers to the sex someone is assigned at birth. It can be helpful to think of it as: sex is between your legs and gender is in your head/heart.
  • Your sex is usually determined by a variety of things including chromosomes, reproductive organs and secondary sex characteristics. Sex also works as a continuum, with male and female at either end, and in between is intersex. Intersex refers to the people who are are born along the continuum between male and female. Someone can be intersex due to chromosomes, hormones or reproductive organs. Its a lot more common than what a lot of people are aware of.
  • Gender refers to how you identify, someone can identify as male, female, in between, both, or neither. Gender identity can be influenced by culture, feelings, thoughts, clothing, people around us, and more. It can be helpful to think of gender as a continuum, with male and female at either end. Our ideas, and social constructs influence what male and female at either end of the spectrum look like, and you can identify anywhere in between.
  • Transgender is usually used to describe people who were assigned a sex at birth and identify with a different gender identity.
  • At RainbowYOUTH we use ‘gender diverse’ as an umbrella term for an extremely varied range of identities, including culturally specific ones. We use it acknowledging that it includes identities such as: whakawahine, tangata ira tane, FtM, MtF, transsexual, fa’afafine, transgender, whakawahine, trans men, trans women, akava’ine, leiti, genderqueer and gender-neutral people.

Some things to be aware of :

  • Pronouns
    When someone comes out and asks you to use different pronouns, it’s really important that you do your best to use them. It can be difficult, and everyone makes mistakes so just make sure you say sorry if you slip up. It means more than you can imagine!
  • Names
    Deciding what name to use can be tricky, and some people change their name more than once before finding something they feel they identify with, so it’s important to be respectful and do your best to use the name they ask you to.
  • Toilets
    A lot of people who don’t identify as cisgendered go through a mental battle every time they have to use public toilets. It might not sound like a big problem, but can be scary as hell! Public toilets are like gender guarded forts, with soldiers protecting them with their disconcerting looks and subtle comments. So if you see someone in the toilet , just assume they know which one they are in.
  • Sexuality
    If someone tells you they are transitioning, don’t ask whether that makes them “gay or straight”. Gender and sexuality are two completely different things, and people who come out as trans don’t do it so that “they can finally be straight”.
  • Questions
    Don’t ask questions about genitals, surgeries, or former names. They are very sensitive subjects and its important to be respectful.
  • Surgeries and Hormones
    Everyone takes a different transition path.Some people go on hormones, some people don’t. Some people have surgery some people don’t. Just because someone identifies a particular way doesn’t necessarily mean they want to take hormones, or have surgery. So be careful not to pressure people into following the transition path you think is right for them, they will find the right path for them.
  • Respect privacy
    If someone comes out to you reassure them that you will keep it private. And thank them, its a huge compliment to your trustworthiness.
  • Be a good friend
    Reassure them that you are there if they want to talk and tell them they aren’t alone.

RainbowYOUTH has a group specifically for people who aren’t cisgendered, or who are questioning their gender, called Star*, and there are also a number of other groups around NZ which are supportive. These can be a great safe way of meeting people who are going through or are going through what you are, and they can be a great source of support. For information, check out I’m Local.