Sex describes biological differences between the female and male genitalia. A child's sex is usually assigned at birth.
Gender describes a person's internal sense of their identity. For example, someone might identify as a woman or girl, non-binary, transgender, a man or boy, gender fluid, or something different.
These are some words people use when talking about gender identity:
- Cisgender/cis: This refers to someone who identifies as the same gender they were assigned at birth.
- Transgender: This is someone whose gender is different from their sex at birth.
- Non-binary/genderqueer/gender fluid: These are gender identities that sit within, outside of, across or between ‘male’ and ‘female'
- Intersex: This refers to a person who is born with biology that is not solely male or female. For example, chromosomes, hormone levels or reproductive organs that have female and male characteristics. These variations may not always be seen on the outside and so sometimes they are not diagnosed.
- Pronouns: These are the terms we use to refer to someone, e.g. ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’.
Your child may use different words to describe their gender. For more information about the different terms and gender identities, visit Stonewall.
Questions around gender identity can emerge at any time, and there is a wide range of reported experiences. Some individuals know from childhood that they feel mis-gendered, while others might not recognise this until adulthood. Parents may be aware that their child is questioning their gender identity from an early age, or they may not. Some people may also feel that their gender identity, and the words they use to describe it, changes or develops at different times.
If your child is questioning their gender and they are being supported by professionals, you may hear doctors using terms such as gender dysphoria, gender identity disorder (GID), gender incongruence or transgenderism.
Gender identity is a deep-rooted sense of self. Having a sense of identity in this way is really important for our mental health, wellbeing and sense of resilience.
If your child doesn't feel certain about their gender, life can be very stressful, and there may be times when they feel that they don’t fit in anywhere. Young people going through gender identity issues can experience stigma, bullying, isolation and even violence from others.
Remember that there are things you can do to help your child and to make sure they have the right support around them.
External Support and Advice
Supports and provides information for transgender and gender-diverse young people (up to and including the age of 19) and their families.
Free webchat service available.
9am - 9pm, Monday - Friday
85258 - Mermaids to 85258 (free, 24/7 crisis support)
An emotional and mental health support helpline for anyone identifying as transgender, non-binary, genderfluid (or their family members, friends, colleagues and carers).
Information about call costs available here.
8pm - Midnight, Mondays & Fridays
Works with the transgender community, with an emphasis on supporting young trans people aged 8-25.
Has free resources for trans and gender-questioning young people and their families.
Offers confidential support and advice to members of the LGBT+ community.
Free webchat service also available.
10am - 10pm, 365 days a year
Provides information and support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people. Information on confidentiality here.
Specialised information for young people available here.
9:30am - 4:30pm, Monday - Friday
A dedicated LGBT+ anti-violence charity.
Gives advice and support to people who have experienced biphobia, homophobia, transphobia, sexual violence or domestic abuse.
10am - 5pm, Monday - Friday (Open until 8pm on Wednesdays and Thursdays)
The Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) is England’s only NHS service for children and young people experiencing difficulties in the development of their gender identity. The service has main clinics in London and Leeds, as well as satellite clinics elsewhere across England in places like Exeter.
GIDS has a staged approach to supporting young people. Every young person is different and will be treated as an individual. If your child is referred to GIDS, first they will have a full psychosocial assessment, which is usually three to six appointments with two experts. They will work with your child, and family, to explore your child’s understanding of their gender identity, and to talk about how their feelings may have changed over time, and how they might change in future.