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Gender Identity

Whether you’re boy, girl, masculine, feminine, or a bit of both, young people express their gender in different ways, and figuring out what it means to them is an important part of growing up. 

Gender identity is our own personal sense of which gender we are. That is, whether we identify ourselves as a boy, girl, masculine, feminine, neither, or a bit of both. Everyone has a gender identity. It's a part of who we are, and figuring out what it means for us is an important part of growing up.

Sometimes gender is the same as the sex people are assigned at birth. For example, someone who was born a girl might grow up and still know that they are, and want to be a woman. Sometimes, it doesn’t match up - some people feel as though they should be the opposite gender, or a mix of the two, and some don’t identify with either gender.

Transgender, trans*, genderqueer, and gender diverse are a few terms that describe when a person's gender doesn’t match up with their assigned sex. People use a range of other words to describe their own identity. Most cultures have terms for gender diverse people, such as whakawahine, tangata ira tane, and takatāpui in Māori, or fa’afaafine in Samoan.

Just as people might choose to express their gender through different clothes, music, hairstyles or social groups, someone who is gender diverse might also choose to use a different name and different pronouns (he/him/his, she/her/hers, their/them/theirs) to more accurately express who they are.

However a person chooses to express or define who they are, be respectful of this. Your acceptance, support, and encouragement will help them to be the best version of themselves that they can be.

Keeping an eye out

People who are gender diverse can and do live happy, fulfilling lives. This is made a lot easier when the people around them are encouraging, supportive, and loving.

A lack of support or acceptance from whānau and family, feeling afraid or being judged, bullied, and discriminated against can really hurt someone. When gender diverse young people are excluded or rejected, they can experience much higher rates of depression, anxiety and distress than their peers.

Discrimination against transgender people can come in many forms, and often goes unnoticed or ignored. Here are some things to look out for that can make being gender diverse much more difficult:

  • People not using the name or pronoun that the person has asked them to use
  • Not being allowed to participate with their own gender in school activities – such as playing for a particular sports team, class discussions between boys and girls, field trips or school camp activities
  • Not being allowed to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity
  • Not being allowed to wear the school uniform of the gender they identify with
  • Being called names, bullied, beaten up or harassed
  • People at school or in the community talking about gender diverse people in offensive or hurtful ways. This includes making jokes and laughing at people for how they express themselves
  • A lack of discussion of transgender role models in schools. Gender diverse people being depicted in a negative way, or not at all

If you notice these things happening in your school or community, you can talk to the people in charge. Explain how discrimination affects the wellbeing of gender diverse teens and ask for their support. Speak out, show your support and stand up for transgender communities.

A young person who is gender diverse might need your support if they:

  • Are being bullied or ridiculed at school, in the community or within the whānau for being different
  • Look sad or depressed or become quiet and withdrawn
  • Become fearful or anxious or seem less confident
  • Stop doing the things they used to love
  • Start using drugs or alcohol
  • Start cutting or self harming

Some people might choose to say nothing, and it might not be obvious they’re feeling bad. You might just sense something is wrong. Check in about it no matter what you think the issue might be. Make sure they know you won't judge them about anything, including issues about gender and identity.

Healthy conversations

When our friends and whānau are caring, respectful, and supportive it feels a lot easier to express ourselves and be comfortable with who we are. Having a supportive family and whānau is the most important factor in the wellbeing of transgender young people.

  • Telling someone about being transgender is a big step and takes a lot of courage. If a young person chooses to trust you with their gender identity, respond with warmth and acceptance - even if your immediate thoughts and feelings are different
  • They may not have told anyone else yet, and your response can have a big impact on their wellbeing. A negative reaction could affect their levels of fear, and how good they feel about themselves and their future. Be sure to show your affection and support
  • Ask if they have a preferred name, and which pronouns they would like you to use from now on (he, her, they) and use them. Correct yourself if you make a mistake
  • Check in with them: ask how they're doing and if there's anything else you can do to support them. Give them space if they need it, but let them know you’re available to talk
  • Let them decide who they want to tell and when. Don’t tell other people for them unless they want you to
  • It’s okay to ask questions about what being transgender means for them, but do it with care and respect. Before you ask, especially if it's a question about their body, consider if that would be a question you wouldn’t mind someone asking you
  • Consider how you talk about gender diverse people. Joking about people who are transgender shows a lack of understanding and sends a message to trans* young people that their identity is a joke

Taking action

If someone has told you they are transgender, be respectful of this. It may take you some to get used to the change, but they are still the same person you know and love and your aroha and acceptance will affect them the most.

Here are some ways you can help them to be the best version of themselves they can be:

  • If they have a preferred name, use it, along with the pronouns that they prefer, and try to correct yourself if you make a mistake
  • Support them to connect with trans* people and peer support groups in your area or online so that they don't feel isolated
  • Be welcoming to their transgender or gender diverse friends and include them in the things you do together
  • Keep doing the same things you used to do together, but be open to trying new things if they are starting to express their gender in a different way
  • Learn as much as you can about what it means to be transgender. The more informed you are, the more accepted the young person will feel and the more helpful you can be in teaching others
  • Get involved at school and make sure its policies don’t discriminate against transgender students. Find out what supports are in place for them
  • Educate yourself on your rights and the rights of others. If you notice bullying or discrimination at school or in the community, stand up and speak out against it. It’s never okay for someone to feel afraid or to be bullied because of their gender

For parents or caregivers:
 

It's been shown that family acceptance and support significantly reduces depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts that transgender youth experience. Your acceptance and encouragement of your child is vital to their health and wellbeing.

  • They are still the same person so show your child that you love them, even if it takes a while for you to adjust to the changes. Show your support for their identity, even if you feel uncomfortable at first
  • Your child may no longer conform to certain gender norms and this might mean your expectations of who they are will change. Talk to them, find out who they are and what they want to be then support them to achieve it
  • Some people who are trans* might want to change their name, legally recognised sex or, through hormones or surgeries, their body. Some might not. Don't make assumptions about what your child wants – talk to them and learn as much as you can about the processes involved
  • It’s okay to be feeling confused, upset, angry, or even a sense of loss at first. All your teen needs to know is that you still care about and love them. If this change feels too overwhelming, let them know you need time to process and get support for yourself

Resources

Rainbow Youth

RainbowYOUTH is a charitable organisation providing support, information, advocacy, and education for queer and trans* young people (aged between 13 and 28), their friends and whānau, and those who work with queer and trans* youth.

I'm Local

The I'm Local project aims to help queer & gender diverse youth all over Aotearoa to feel valued, recognised and supported in their local communities. It includes a region-by-region map of all the queer and gender diverse support groups for young people across the country. 

OUTLine

Confidential Helpline: 0800 688 5463 

OUTLine provides confidential and gay-affirming GLBT telephone support and face to face counselling.

Holding Our Own (support group)

Supporting parents and whānau through the difficulties that often arise in the “coming out” process. Navigating these difficulties together by creating awareness, acceptance, validation, support, safe homes, and developing stronger family bonds resulting in better supported and better equipped parents. 

The Village Collective - Rainbow Collective

The Village Collective aims to support Pasefika communities with sexual and reproductive health needs, and supports young Pasefika people to make great decisions for themselves through mentoring and education programmes. 

Takatāpui: Part of the Whānau

A print and video resource for takatāpui (Māori who are whakawāhine, tangata ira tāne, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer), their whānau and communities, sharing stories and information about identity, wellbeing and suicide prevention.

Gender Minorities Aotearoa

A transgender-led organisation in New Zealand.  The Gender Minorities Aotearoa website includes a national database of information and resources, to link gender diverse people with the services they need.

Mental Health Foundation - A-Z Gender dysphoria

Information about the diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and how to support someone who feels distress or discomfort because their gender identity (their personal sense of identification as male, female, neither, both, or somewhere in between) does not match their body, or the gender that others see them as.

Families like mine

Families like mine is a multimedia guide developed by Australian organisation Beyond Blue that offers practical advice to families of young gender diverse people, same-sex attracted and bisexual people, and those who are questioning their sexuality or gender identity.

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