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Overview of gender identity

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Gender identity is someone's personal sense of their own gender. Everyone has a gender identity.

A person’s concept of themselves may be as a woman, a man, both, neither or another gender identity. Their gender identity can be the same as or different to the sex they're assigned at birth.

People use different terms to describe their gender identity. Terms can change their meaning over time or fall out of use.

Gender expression is how people present their gender identity through their appearance, clothing, style, actions and interactions. It's often influenced by culture and society. Each person’s gender expression is unique.

Sex or sex assigned at birth refers to people's sex characteristics. This includes chromosomes, reproductive organs and secondary sex characteristics (such as wide hips or an Adam's apple). We used to think of sex as a binary, but we now know it's more of a spectrum.

Intersex refers to the people who are born along this spectrum between male and female. Someone can be intersex due to chromosomes, hormones or reproductive organs. There are many different types of intersex variations, and they are more common than many people realise.

Sexuality or sexual orientation is the sexual and physical attraction we may feel for others. Your gender identity doesn't determine who you’ll be attracted to.

Sometimes, people can confuse gender identity with sex or sexuality. It can be helpful to think about gender identity, gender expression, sex assigned at birth and sexuality as aspects of our identity that are connected. But they're independent of each other and may occur across a spectrum.

For definitions of more terms, see Gender identity terminology.

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Written by Ko Awatea gender-affirming care co-design group. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed March 2023.


Page reference: 615595

Review key: HISOG-53214