Check out our collection of your most commonly asked questions, and if you have other questions for us, ask us anytime on the @gender_spectrum Instagram!
This is a great question! We like to break gender down into three parts. These three parts are IDENTITY, BODY, and SOCIAL gender. We find that thinking about these three parts can make gender a little less confusing and easier to navigate. Each of these categories is a spectrum and you can fall anywhere within these or not at all!
What word(s) best describe how you feel, like “I feel like a girl,” or “I am non binary”? Identity is about words that best capture YOUR gender experience (not what others think). These can include but are not limited to identities like: transgender, cisgender, non-binary, agender, genderqueer and many more! Your gender identity can shift and change over time or stay the same. For many of us it can take some time to find the right word that best describes our gender. Finding just the right word can feel really powerful, so if you haven’t found yours yet, keep exploring!
What are all the ways you present your gender to others and to yourself? Our social gender can range in things from: hairstyles, makeup, clothing, how we walk or talk. Basically all the ways others can see how you express your gender. Your social gender can be anything you want it to be. It can also be helpful to remember you can have any gender identity and any social gender! For example: you can identify as non-binary and have long hair OR short hair and you are still non-binary. The same goes for any other identity you choose.
Often our social gender is one we have the most control over to be able to communicate to others what feels good to us! It can be a process to find what clothes make you feel good, what hairstyle you might like etc. Try things on and see what feels best!
The third part of gender is our body. This includes how we feel about our body and well as how others gender us based on our body. If you are exploring your gender it can be helpful to think about what parts of your body do you like, and are there any parts that you don’t like or feel uncomfortable with? A lot of people think gender is only about our bodies (especially a person’s physical sex), but that is only one part of the picture.
Gender and sexuality are not the same thing. If you are confused about this you are not alone. They frequently get lumped together and it can make things really confusing! We like to say that gender is personal --it’s about who you are, and sexual orientation is interpersonal, it’s about who you like. Gender is unique to each of us and at the core is about who we are as individuals. Gender includes our identity, body, and social gender. Sexual orientation is about who we are romantically, emotionally or physically attracted to.
Dysphoria is described as “a state of feeling very unhappy, uneasy or dissatisfied.” In the simplest explanation gender dysphoria is when someone feels these things about their gender. Gender dysphoria can range from things that feel mildly irritating to extremely overwhelming. It can make it so you don’t feel like going to school, taking a shower, seeing other people, or talking to your family or friends. Many feel gender dysphoria in different ways connected to the three dimensions of gender mentioned above.
The best way to address gender dysphoria is to think about the opposite, what we call gender congruence or harmony. How do the three parts of gender --your identity, the social part and your body--fit together so you feel more complete or whole? How do I find ways to feel closer to gender euphoria and an alignment in my gender that feels good to me?
One of the ways to address gender dysphoria is to notice when it is happening to you. Here are some guiding questions to think about:
- What does it feel like in your body?
- What started the feeling?
- Was it someone using the word “lady” for you?
- Was it having to wear a certain type of clothing that fits your body in a way you do not feel comfortable?
- Did you take a shower or do something where you felt extra uncomfortable with your body?
- Did someone use the wrong name for you or address you in a way that did not feel good to you?
- Do you feel worse with certain people, in specific places, or certain times of the day?
- What do you notice about your reaction? Do you feel anxious? Angry? Shut down? Overwhelmed? Hyper?
One of the hardest things about gender dysphoria is that it can be really hard to explain and describe to other people! It can also feel really different from person to person and vary each day.
We like this article from BuzzFeed that includes illustrations of what gender dysphoria feels like to some people. Also, here are just a few examples of how people described their gender dysphoria (from this article in The Daily Dot):
- Ty: “Imagine you park next to someone who had the same car as you at the grocery store, you come out with your groceries, load them all up, and get in the car. Then you look around and realize you don’t recognize any of the stuff that’s in the car. There are different air fresheners, a water bottle in the cup holder that’s definitely not yours. Oh, snap! You’re in the wrong car. You’d probably get out as fast as possible, feeling confused, and a little embarrassed. And you can’t get out of the car because it’s going like 80 mph. And you’re not driving. Also, the car doesn’t have doors. You’re stuck in the car forever until you die. That’s what dysphoria is like.”
- Oisín: Oisín can relate to what those kids are going through, as they also still deal with gender dysphoria. “It depends on what it is that day,” they tell Daily Dot. “Sometimes it’s my voice, other times it’s my body itself. It’s the feeling of being trapped and imprisoned in something you didn’t choose and did nothing to deserve. It’s reinforced every time I get misgendered.”
- Megan: “Before I hit puberty, everything was fine. I could dress more masculine and people would accept that and say, ‘Oh, she’s just a tomboy.’ I knew back then I was different. I was beginning to grow breasts, I hated them. They were always in the way of the type of clothes I liked to wear.”
Sharing with your family or anyone close to you about your gender can bring up a lot of emotions. For many it can feel terrifying and stressful. How do I communicate about this in the right way? What will they say? Will they support me? Will I wish I hadn’t said anything? Is it safe for me to say something?
If you feel it is safe for you to share with family or someone close to you it can be really helpful! Though maybe scary in the moment, having someone in your corner who wants to support you can be so unbelievably helpful.
A few things to keep in mind:
- Prepare ahead of time and build in support for yourself. Is there a friend you can check-in with throughout this process or an online group you can tap into for support so you have support in place already. Is there someone you would like to have with you when you share this information?
- When talking to family about your gender think about who you might want to talk to and in what way would feel best for you. What are the most important things you want to say?
- For some writing a letter is helpful and allows for you to say everything that’s on your mind. For others a conversation face to face might be easier.
- Explain how you want the conversation to go. Do you want to simply say what you want to say and have the people you’re telling just listen? Maybe you’d like to have them watch a video or read something before they respond. You can set the terms for this conversation!
- Remember that while you might have been thinking about your gender for a long time, for your family or loved one this might be the first time they are hearing about any of these topics. As hard as it may be, being patient and giving it some time is often super important. They will most likely need some time to get educated!
- Share what’s most important to you and then provide resources for your loved one to do some research and learn on their own. Suggesting Gender Spectrum’s website and our online groups for parents can be a great start.
- Above all else remember that you are valid, you don’t have to articulate everything perfectly or have everything figured out to communicate what’s important to you, and lastly for many family members learning often takes time.
Yes! Definitely. So much of how we experience our gender and how others interact with us around gender is based on all of our intersecting identities. Things like our ethnicity, family dynamics, religion, race, language(s) we speak, and so much more play a huge role in how we experience our gender and what support might look like from the people around us. Two people of difference racial or ethnic identities could each identify as non-binary but have very different experiences because of their race and family culture.
Often conversations about gender come from a very white dominant perspective. We don’t always get to see stories and perspectives around gender that capture how diverse the world is. Having limited perspectives often from a white lens doesn’t always take into consideration the complexity of identities many of us hold.
For example, if you live in a Latinx family who mostly speak Spanish, it can be really challenging to use gender neutral pronouns when the language is very gendered. Culture also greatly impacts our family dynamics! How one family might show love and support around your gender might be really different from another family, and that’s ok! As much as you can try and find resources and stories that speak to your experience and what your intersecting identities are. All of your identities are important and greatly impact your experience of the world and yourself.
Being kind to yourself and taking care of your mental health is so important. Mental health is defined as “our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act.” Figuring out and exploring your gender can often be a scary and overwhelming process! With the many great moments can come some difficult ones. These difficult ones can often challenge our mental health and bring up feelings like anxiety, depression, and sometimes self-harm. Telling people what pronouns you use, anticipating if someone will be supportive of your gender, gender dysphoria and all the other things that go through our head related to gender can be really exhausting. It makes sense that we need to give our mental health some extra attention.
It’s important to remember that everyone has to think about their mental health, no matter what their gender identity is. What can be helpful is to start noticing in your body and mind how you are feeling throughout the day. Keep some notes in a journal or your phone of how you feel.
Some questions to ask yourself might be:
- Am I able to fall asleep at night? Are my thoughts racing before I go to bed?
- Do I have low or high energy throughout the day?
- In what spaces do I feel most relaxed? In what spaces do I feel more nervous?
- Do I ever feel extremely overwhelmed or unable to do things?
- Do I ever feel hopeless like, “Things will never get better for me.”
All of us have to take care of our mental health! Just like physical health there is a spectrum to not feeling well and we might have some better days than others, waves of feeling fine or just a particularly difficult week. It’s important to reach out for support just like you would if you physically weren’t feeling well. Share with a parent, friend, teacher or counselor if you think you might need some extra guidance on your mental health.
We highly recommend The Trevor Project! They have a 24/7 hotline by text, phone or chat where you can go at any time to get additional support. No matter how you are feeling they are available at all hours of the day for you!
It is totally up to you the degree to which you share about your gender with other people. Everyone is different and privacy means something different to each person. Some people are more open with their family, school and community. They might want everyone to know so they can move freely throughout the spaces they are in. An example of that might be sending a letter home to parents or setting aside time during a class period to share more about your gender.
Some people just want to share with a select group of people, maybe a few close friends and a teacher to feel safe at school. And some might not want to share at all. And that’s ok too! What’s most important is thinking about what feels best for you. What feels safe? What feels most supportive?
There’s really no one correct answer. Keep checking in with yourself and acknowledge that your needs might change over time. Depending on who is in your life, where you spend your time and how you feel safe.
If you are thinking about these questions and want some support it can be super helpful to talk through your feelings with other youth navigating gender. Who just get it. It’s a very common topic that comes up in Gender Spectrum’s Online Groups! We have groups for pre-teens and teens, learn more on our Groups Page.
Yes! That is completely ok and something many people experience. Gender is really complex and for many of us, it can take time to have the space to explore our gender and figure out what feels right. There is often a pressure from society to “hurry up and figure it out already” or “what do you mean you aren’t sure? How can I believe you if you aren’t sure?”
Don’t feel pressured to discuss any next steps (like changing your name or using hormones) just because someone else wants to know “what this means.” If possible try to surround yourself with people who will allow you to have the space to explore, try things on and see what feels best. In life we rarely know what we like or don’t like until we try it, give it time and decide for ourselves.
Gender is no different. While for some you might know strongly how you feel about your gender for others it can take some time and that is completely 100% ok!
Additional Support and Resources
Here are a few things we recommend:
Check out The Trevor Project if you ever need someone right away to talk to. They offer 24/7 chat and call support!
Join our FREE online video/audio/chat groups! Building community, having a space to ask questions and explore in a low pressure space can be really helpful! Learn more and find links to sign up on our Groups Page.
Follow us on Instagram @Gender_Spectrum for all things gender related!
Share our Parents and Family page with your family if you need support. Remember, you don’t have to do all the explaining! Lean on us to help educate and support those in your life that you would like to learn more about gender.