Gender identity and sexuality

Gender identity and sexuality are integral to the process of forming a self-concept. This is a core task for young people making an adolescent transition. A young person’s self-concept includes their own ideas about themselves and their understanding of how they are perceived by others.

Gender identity refers to the way an individual identifies with a gender category; for example, as being either a man or a woman, or in some cases being neither. Gender identity can be distinct from biological sex. The experience of gender dissonance and transitioning from one gender identity to another is increasingly common. It generally involves substantial emotional and behaviour turmoil and vulnerability. At the same time, committing to a process of gender transition usually demands and further builds a highly impressive stock of resilience.

A young person’s sexuality is based primarily on their sexual orientation; that is, their attraction towards the opposite sex, same sex, both or neither. There is also a vast diversity of forms in which sexuality can be expressed, and these forms of expression often assume importance at the level of identity. For young people, there is often a great deal of experimentation and changeability before a particular form of sexual identity is adopted (if ever).

In this way, a young person’s sexuality, sexual identity and gender identity will have a profound influence develop to explain their social world and their place within it. When a young person feels comfortable and secure with their gender identity and sexuality, they are more likely to be motivated to participate with others in constructive activity and feel hopeful about their future prospects.