understanding gender identity - for family and friends
The physical features that you were born with (your biological sex) do not necessarily define your gender.
About gender identity
Gender identity is generally developed very early in life. It's about how you experience or perceive your gender, how you show this to others, and how you want others to treat you.
The physical features that you were born with (your biological sex) do not necessarily define your gender. Although gender has traditionally been divided into ‘male’ and ‘female’, it is now widely recognised that gender is not that simple.
The gender spectrum includes numerous identities including male, female, a mixture of both, no gender, a fluid gender, or another gender. For a more complete list of terms, see AIFS’ Glossary of Common Terms.
Some people may not have a label for what they are experiencing and some might be questioning their gender identity. This can be a confusing and stressful time for some young people.
Whilst people who experience gender diversity identify with a range of different terms, ‘trans and gender diverse’ is often used as an umbrella term to describe people who identify with a gender that is different from the one assigned to them at birth.
Gender diversity does not cause mental health problems. Trans and gender diverse young people may be more likely to experience discrimination or stressful situations that contribute to an increased risk of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide. Some common experiences that can affect the wellbeing of trans and gender diverse young people include:
- feeling ‘different’ from other people around them
- not understanding their internal experiences if they are surrounded by gender-conforming people
- being subjected to or witnessing bullying about their gender identity, whether verbal, physical, or online
- being discriminated against about their gender identity (note, this is against the law in Australia)
- feeling pressure to label, deny or change their gender identity
- feeling worried that their gender identity won’t be accepted by family and friends, along with the possibility of being rejected or isolated
- feeling unsupported or misunderstood by family, friends, fellow students, or workers
- feeling stressed and anxious in response to the pressure to conform to their biological sex
- experiencing religious or cultural pressures or rejection about their gender diversity
- experiencing insensitivity when seeking support from medical and other support services
- feeling confused about what being gender diverse might mean for them and their future (e.g. do I have to transition?)x
These pressures can be very stressful, especially when combined with all the other issues associated with growing up, such as managing school or university, finding a job, forming relationships, and making sense of their identity and place in the world.
The role of family and friends
Families can have a major impact on the wellbeing of trans and gender-diverse young people. Young people that experience conflict with, or rejection by, their families and loved ones are at higher risk of developing depression and anxiety. They are also more at risk of homelessness, economic instability, self-harm, and suicide.
Trans and gender diverse young people who come from families that fully accept their gender identity have better overall physical and mental health, higher self-esteem, and are more likely to believe they will have a good life as gender diverse adults. Every bit of support from families (e.g. use of preferred name and pronouns) can make a difference to the young person's risk of suicide, self-harm, general and mental health, and substance use concerns.
Headspace Video clip – LBGQITA+ for family & friends
Looking after yourself
Supporting a young person who may be trans or gender diverse can be a positive and uplifting experience and it might also feel overwhelming. While some people may have a good idea about their young person’s gender identity, for some, learning about it may come as a shock. It can be difficult to process these emotions while trying to be supportive of your young person. You may need some time to understand your own emotions, discover more about gender identity, and get some support.
Remember, you are not alone, there are many families in Australia on this journey and there are many professional supports and resources available to you. Don't forget to look after your own needs too and reach out for extra support if you or other family members need it. Check out our tips on self-care for family and friends, talk to someone you trust, or seek professional help.
- Minus18: Have lots of resources about gender diversity for young people and their family and friends
- Raising Children Network: Has compiled a list of services, support groups, and resources for gender diverse young people and their family and friends
- The Genderbread Person - ❤ It's Pronounced Metrosexual
Director of Counselling