What Is Gender Identity?

Gender identity rally.

Getty / Drew Angerer

Gender is separate from sex. Although genetic factors usually define a person's biological sex, people determine their own gender identity.

This article explores what gender identity is, definitions of various gender identities, and where individuals can find support. 

What Is Gender Identity? 

Because a person's sex and gender identity are separate, it's essential to know the difference between them. 

Gender

Gender Identity

Gender is the way someone identifies internally and how they choose to express themselves externally. People can use their appearance, clothing style, and behaviors to express the gender they identify with

The World Health Organization (WHO) perceives gender as a social construct that people typically describe in femininity and masculinity.

In many Western cultures, people associate femininity with women and masculinity with men, but this social construct varies. 

Sex

A person’s sex is often based on biological factors, such as their reproductive organs, genes, and hormones. But similar to gender, sex isn’t binary.

Someone can have the genes that people associate with males and females, but their reproductive organs, genitals, or both can look different. This is known as differences in sex development. People may also refer to this as intersex.

Typically, people use the terms “male,” “female,” or “intersex” regarding a person’s sex. 

List of Gender Identities

There are many different gender identities. The following list includes a few of them:

  • Agender: Someone who doesn't identify with one particular gender or doesn't have a gender at all. 
  • Androgyne: Someone whose gender is either both feminine and masculine or in between feminine and masculine. 
  • Bigender: Someone that identifies as bigender has two genders. They often display culturally feminine and masculine roles. 
  • Butch: Women, particularly lesbians, tend to use this term to describe how they express masculinity or what society defines as masculinity. However, the LGBTQIA Resource Center notes that "butch" can also be used as a gender identity in itself.
  • Cisgender: Someone who is cisgender identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth. For example, a cisgender man identifies with being a male, the sex assigned at birth. 
  • Gender expansive: The LGBTQIA Resource Center defines this as an umbrella term used for those who expand their culture's commonly held interpretations of gender. This includes expectations for the way gender is expressed, identities, roles, and perceived gender norms.Gender-expansive people include those who are trans and people whose gender broadens society's notion of what gender is. 
  • Genderfluid: Someone who identifies as gender-fluid has a presentation and gender identity that shifts in between, or outside of, society's expectations of gender. 
  • Gender outlaw: Someone who refuses to allow society's definition of "female" or "male" to define what they are. 
  • Genderqueer: Somebody who identifies as genderqueer has a gender identity or expression that isn't the same as society's expectations for the sex they were assigned at birth or assumed gender. This term can also refer to someone who identifies with a combination of genders. 
  • Masculine of center: This term is typically used by lesbians and trans people, who lean more towards masculine expressions and experiences of gender. 
  • Nonbinary: Someone who is nonbinary doesn't experience gender within the gender binary. They may also experience overlap with a variety of gender expressions, such as being gender non-conforming. 
  • Omnigender: Someone who experiences and possesses all genders. 
  • Polygender and pangender: Someone who experiences and displays aspects of multiple genders. 
  • Transgender: An umbrella term encompassing everyone who experiences and identifies with a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth. The word also encompasses those who identify as a gender other than man or woman, including nonbinary and genderfluid. 
  • Trans: This term is more inclusive because it includes those who identify as nonbinary and genderless, according to the LGBTQIA Resource Center. 
  • Two-Spirit: An umbrella term that encompasses a variety of sexualities and genders in Indigenous Native American communities. There are various definitions of Two-Spirit, and Indigenous Native American people may or may not use it to describe their experiences and feelings of masculinity and femininity. It's a cultural term that's reserved for those who identify as Indigenous Native Americans. 

History

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and associated identities have been present in various ways throughout history. All cultures have included, with different degrees of acceptance, those who practice same-sex relations and those whose gender, gender identity, and gender expression test current norms. 

And more recently, issues of sexuality and gender have been politicized. The last fifty years witnessed a rise in political activism surrounding the concept of sex and gender identity. 

Society's Perception of Various Genders

People who are gender diverse or those who don't identify with the gender they were assigned at birth may have a variety of stressful experiences that contribute to an increased risk of mental health issues, such as: 

However, it’s essential to note that gender diversity, on its own, does not cause mental health problems. 

Some everyday experiences that can increase someone's vulnerability to developing mental health difficulties are: 

  • Feeling "different" or separate from people around you
  • Being bullied because of your gender identity
  • Feeling pressured to dismiss your feelings concerning your gender identity
  • Fear or worry about your gender identity being accepted by your loved ones, alongside the chance of being rejected or isolated
  • Feeling unsupported or misunderstood by loved ones
  • Feeling stressed and concerned about the pressure to conform to your biological sex.

These pressures can be very stressful, especially when combined with other issues in your life, such as managing school, finding a job, forming relationships, and making sense of who you are and your place in the world.

Resources and Support

If you're struggling to come to terms with your gender identity or are being bullied or feeling isolated or depressed, there are many resources available that can provide the support and care that you deserve:

A Word From Verywell

Not everyone accepts people with diverse gender identities, which can harm a person's mental health. However, there are multiple organizations that people can turn to for support. No matter your gender, you are deserving of love, support, and care.

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3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. World Health Organization. Gender.

  2. LGBTQIA Resource Center. LGBTQIA Resource Center Glossary.

  3. American Psychological Association. History of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Social Movements.