When we start to think about who we are, some of us will question the gender assigned to us at birth.
Gender is most often assumed based on our sexual organs, but sometimes this assigned gender isn’t always the one that fits our internal experience of who we are. Gender identity can be a concern for some individuals, at times due to confusion, difficulties expressing gender or with seeking help, relating to one's own body or due to other people's reactions/transphobia and heteronormativity.
The Gender Unicorn is an important tool for understanding the concepts of gender identity, gender expression, sex, physical attraction, and romantic attraction.
- Our gender identity, governed by the brain, can be anything from female, male, or any other gender(s).
- Our gender expression is how we present our gender to the world and can be masculine, feminine or something else.
- The sex assigned to us at birth, based on the configuration of our reproductive organs, is a spectrum from female to male, with variations between (which may be labelled 'intersex' or 'other').
- Who we are attracted to physically, governed by the heart, can range from men, women, or any other gender.
- Who we are attracted to emotionally, again governed by the heart, can also range from men, women, or any other gender.
Below you will find three common blocks (barriers and misconceptions) that can make our gender journey difficult.
I don't know how to describe my experience of gender
This can take some time, and is particularly tricky for those of us who sit somewhere in between the socially accepted binaries of male and female which can create pressure to "pass" as a particular gender. There can also be problems seeking help and telling others, but it is important to find the right people to talk to in order to avoid becoming isolated which can increase mental health risks. Others that might be going through similar circumstances can point us in the direction of safe practitioners and good resources.
My family won't understand this
That can be true. Usually we have a reasonable grasp of where our family might sit with this information. Nevertheless, some of us will be surprised. Family, partners and friends can get a little overwhelmed and may not know what they can say without causing offence. Friends and family can also confuse gender expression and think your sexuality is changing, even though it may not change at all. Basically, there can be a lot of confusion and it can feel like the gender-diverse person has to take on an education role. It is important to look after yourself, because ultimately it is not your responsibility to educate others.
Good information for allies of gender diverse people include:
I can't get my appearance to be exactly how I want
If we become distressed by our appearance in a way that is affecting our functioning in life then this may be a sign of gender dysphoria. Working with an appropriate health professional can help to address our concerns and help us feel OK with the progress we are making to express our gender either socially, medically or both.
Below are three things you can do to boost success.
Connect with people who understand
Finding people who validate our gender and support us is very important. Consider contacting services online or use phone lines (e.g. Q Life), or even have counselling using a false name if that is a concern for you. It can also help to have some people you can go out with safely. Check out your local town/city and see if there are any groups supporting gender diverse people.
Acknowledge the journey
Think of the journey to express gender as something to savour rather than be fixated on an ideal image at the end. This way you can get some satisfaction from the steps you take.
Establish good relationships with health professionals
It makes the journey a lot easier if you have health professionals with appropriate knowledge and compassion for gender diverse issues. It is a good idea to hunt around until you find the right people for you. Online forums, recommendations from other people who might have experience with health professionals and the list of services at the bottom of this page can be a good place to start.
Need more info?
- Excellent material can be found at the Gender Wellbeing Service - remember to check out the useful links and resources section for even more information.
- Rainbow safety information.
- If you are coming out about your gender at uni/work, you might like to provide people with some understanding of how they should refer to you, that is what pronouns or names you use.
- Consider joining the Ally network and/or Pride club at AUU.
- For related information view our information on sexuality, sexual health and sex and more sex.
- Reporting harassment, bullying, or exclusion at the university.