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Overview of gender identity

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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 clothing, style, behaviour and preferences. 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). Sex also works as a continuum, with male and female at either end.

Intersex refers to the people who are born along the continuum between male and female. Someone can be intersex due to chromosomes, hormones or reproductive organs. It’s 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. Page created May 2019.


Many of the terms on this page were adapted from Guidelines for gender affirming healthcare for gender diverse and transgender children, young people and adults in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Transgender Health Research Lab, University of Waikato, 2018.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

Page reference: 615595

Review key: HISOG-53214