Emotional Well-being: A to Z of Word Meanings

You can search for anything linked to emotional well‑being in our handy A-Z guide.



Gender and Gender Identity

The words ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ mean two different things.

Sex: When we talk about someone’s ‘sex’ we mean the label people are given at birth based on the body parts they have. So if someone has a vagina they are labelled girl or female and if they have a penis they are labelled boy or male. Someone who is born with both male and female body parts or hormones is often labelled as intersex.

Gender: When we talk about gender we talk about the roles our society makes up about what being a feminine ‘woman’ or a masculine ‘man’ is. We may be thinking of stereotypes like to be “masculine” is to be big and strong and to be “feminine” is to be caring and like fluffy kittens! More and more people are questioning and challenging the idea of what it is to be a ‘woman’ and what it is to be a ‘man’ in our society and saying these words and stereotypes based on very old science and ideas just don’t work for who they are.

Whatever gender a person feels is OK. Being transgender or questioning your gender is not a mental health issue.

Our gender identity is our own personal sense of who we are. For many of us, our identity will match our biological sex - e.g. those with a vagina will identify as women and those born with a penis will feel all manly! This isn’t always this case. Some people don’t always feel that their gender matches how they have been labelled and how they are expected to be. For example, someone may have looked male at birth but feel like (or identify as) a female or vice- versa.

Some people may feel they are both male and female and others don’t feel any of the labels work for them. Some of the words that people in this situation may use to describe who they are may be ‘transgender’, ‘non binary’. There is no right or wrong way to live in your body or to be a man, woman, boy, girl or person.

Questioning your gender does not mean you are questioning your sexuality: (that’s about who you do or do not fancy not who you are)

Because our culture can pressurise people into being the “boy” or “girl” they are expected to be, having these feelings can be confusing or stressful. It’s really useful for people who are “questioning” their gender identity to talk to someone.

You can find out more info at Childline, The Mix, the Beaumont Society and Gendered Intelligence.

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