Gender and Sexual Identity

Gender and Sexual Identity

Read on for information, advice, and support for if you are unsure of your gender identity and/or sexuality.

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Gender and Sexual Identity
I’m not sure about my gender or sexual identity

I’m not sure about my gender or sexual identity

Many of us find ourselves questioning our identity at one time or another, and some of us may struggle with this if it happens frequently.

Our identity is what makes us who we are; we may spend some of our life believing we identify in a certain way, but then realise that this doesn’t feel right later in life. It can be difficult and confusing to think about how we identify, and some of us feel we have to hide our true selves for one reason or another.

All human beings are unique; even if we share the same culture or are the same age as another person, we are all different to one another. No matter your age, relationship status, or culture, it’s OK to question who you are and to explore how you truly identify.

How can I identify?

You may have come across the term LGBT, which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, and there are many other ways that we can identify. The term LGBTIQ+ includes Intersex and Queer, and the plus sign refers to several other identities such as Non-Binary and Questioning.

There is a wide range of ways that a person can identify, and even if we refer to ourselves using a particular label such as gay or bisexual, we are all different to one another.

Your identity is comprised of many different factors, from your race or cultural background, to the food you like to eat. How you identify and who you choose to love is another part of what makes you, you. 

You may feel uncertain or overwhelmed about how you identify, and it’s OK to feel this way. Scroll down for more information about different identities and how they can be defined or experienced.

How can I identify?
Gender Identity

Gender Identity

How we identify with ourselves is about how we personally experience our gender. At birth, a decision is made – usually by a doctor – about whether we are male or female, based on our genetalia and genetics. This is referred to as a person’s ‘biological sex’ and this is different to gender identity.

Gender can be expressed and experienced in many different ways, and isn’t limited to just ‘male’ or ‘female’. Some definitions of gender identities are described below.

Some ways we can identify:

Cisgender or cis – a person who identifies with the gender assigned by their biological sex

Transgender or trans – a person who does not identify with their biological sex. A transgender man is someone who was assigned as female at birth, but identifies as male. A transgender woman is someone who was assigned male at birth, but identifies as female.

Non-binary or gender fluid – a person who does not identify with either male or female, or identifies with both in different ways at different times. Some non-binary people identify as trans, while others reject the concept of identity as binary and do not abide by societal gender norms (e.g. identifying as female and wearing clothing that society associates with women).

Intersex -  a person who is born with both male and female genetalia, so a decision is made by the parents and clinicians about the person’s biological sex. Surgery may be involved to enforce this decision.

If you’d like to learn more about the many forms of gender identity, including the ones listed above, you can look here.

Gender Expression

Gender identity is formed by your personal sense of self; it is about who you feel you are inside, regardless of how you may physically appear.

The way that we portray our gender identity (referred to as gender expression) can vary depending on what we feel comfortable with and the world around us. Some cultures consider certain identities as unlawful, and because of this it may be difficult or dangerous for people to express their identity freely.

There are many misconceptions about gender identity, but feeling comfortable in your own skin is important for your mental wellbeing. If you are struggling with this, or feel unable to explore your gender identity due to certain factors in your life, you can scroll down for tips and advice or access further support here.

Sexuality or sexual orientation

Our sexuality (or sexual orientation) relates to who we feel sexually or romantically attracted to. This could be someone of the same gender identity, someone who identifies differently, or when someone does not feel sexual attraction at all. It can also be when someone does not consider gender as an aspect of their sexual preferences, instead being attracted to individuals in other ways.    

You may find it helpful to identify with a label to describe your sexuality, or you may prefer not to label how you are feeling. You know yourself best, so it’s your choice.

Scroll down for some of the ways that we could identify sexuality.

Sexuality or sexual orientation

Some ways we can identify our sexuality:

  • Gay: a person who is attracted to people of the same gender identity as themselves (e.g. you identify as male and are attracted to those who identify as male).
  • Lesbian: a person who identifies as female who is atracted to others who identify as female. Some people prefer to refer to themselves as ‘gay’.
  • Bisexual or bi: a person who is attracted to more than one gender identity.
  • Pansexual or pan: a person who feels sexual attraction to a person’s personality, regardless of their gender identity.
  • Asexual or ace – a person who experiences little or no sexual attraction. They may seek emotionally intimate relationships, but do not consider sex as a vital part of experiencing attraction to a person.
  • Heterosexual or straight: a person who identifies as male or female and is only attracted to the opposite gender (e.g. you identify as female and are attracted to those who identify as male). This includes trans men and women.

The list above refers to just a few of the more commonly used labels - there are many other ways that you can define your sexuality, or not if you prefer. Sexuality is different for everyone, so it’s OK if none of these labels feel right for you or you find your sexuality changes over time.

You can find more information about sexuality and ways to identify here.

Is it ‘normal’ to feel this way?

Hear from others about their experiences with exploring gender identity and sexuality, and find where to find support.

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Is it ‘normal’ to feel this way?
Am I ‘normal’?

Am I ‘normal’?

Some of us may feel it’s important to be ‘normal’ or accepted within our society or community. However, the concept of ‘normal’ has constantly changed throughout history; societal ‘norms’ have adapted as our world has developed, so there is no fixed definition of how to be ‘normal’.

Questioning your identity allows you to explore who you are, what makes you happy, and how you can be authentically you. We all experience gender identity and sexuality in different ways, and there’s no right or wrong way to do this.

Gender identity and sexuality is on a spectrum; some will identify with labels such as ‘lesbian’ or ‘transgender’, while others will have a more fluid relationship with their identity and prefer not to use specific terms. No matter how you identify, you deserve love, acceptance, and happiness in your life.

Scroll down to hear from other people about their experiences around gender identity and sexuality.

You are not alone...

Hear from other people about their experience of exploring their gender identity or sexuality, and what helped them with this.

Where to find support

It can be difficult to talk about gender identity and sexuality; some of us may not feel comfortable discussing this with family members or other prominent people in our lives, for a number of reasons.

If you’re not sure who to talk to, there is a wide range of services that offer support such as counselling, support groups, and legal advice if you have experienced discrimination.

Here is a list of some services that may be helpful:

MindOut – LGBTQ+ information, advice, and support for people in Brighton & Hove

LGBT Switchboard - providing LGBTQ information, community, and support, as well as where to find other relevant services in Brighton & Hove and beyond.

The Clare Project – Transgender support and social groups

Terrence Higgins Trust – Sexual Health support, information, and advice in Brighton & Hove

LGBT Foundation – Hate Crime Reporting and Support

Citizens Advice – Types of discrimination explained

True Vision – Report if you have experienced or witnessed a sexual orientation or transgender hate crime

You can search for other services in your local area here.

How can I look after my mental health?

We have put together a few useful resources on how to look after your mental health when questioning your identity.

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How can I look after my mental health?
Talk to someone you trust

Talk to someone you trust

Keeping your identity hidden can feel isolating, and this could lead to a loss in confidence or feeling low.

Speaking to someone we trust can help to feel more connected with others and allows us to explore our identity more freely. You may feel more comfortable speaking to someone over the phone or online rather than face-to-face, or you could try writing a letter if this feels safer for you.

However, you do not have to share your identity if you are not ready. The process of ‘coming out’ refers to when a person discloses about their gender identity or sexuality, and this experience is different for everyone. There is no right or wrong time, age, or way to come out; it’s your decision based on what feels best for you.

Some of us may not feel comfortable disclosing to the people around us, and that’s OK. If you’d like to speak to someone outside of your personal life, there are many services that can provide you with the support you need. For more information, click here.

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Find your community

Being unsure about your identity, or knowing your identity but not feeling accepted, can feel lonely or even frightening at times. However, many people feel this way; finding a community where you feel understood and accepted can help you to get support and build self-confidence.

There are many forms of online support, including Facebook groups, online chat rooms and forums where you can connect with others with similar experiences. If you’d prefer to find support in person, you could look into accessing a local safe space for people who are questioning their identity, joining local support groups, or perhaps an LGBTQ+ staff network at your workplace.

Some people may prefer to speak to someone they don’t know, and who they won’t face in their usual day-to-day life. This can be a way of ensuring information doesn’t reach people you know before you are ready, and there are many services offering confidential support. You can search for services in Sussex here or use the Stonewall ‘What’s In My Area’ search tool to find nationwide services.

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Find your community
Know your rights

Know your rights

Discrimination based on our actual or perceived gender or sexual identity can occur in any aspect of day-to-day life, including from strangers, at home, at our place of work, or even when accessing healthcare.

This kind of discrimination can be described as bullying, homophobia, or transphobia, and can have a significant impact on our mental wellbeing.

Bullying and discriminatory behaviours can include:

  • A person continuously excluding or isolating you
  • A person threatening you or referring to you in offensive ways (e.g. using homophobia or transphobic slurs)
  • A person physically hurting you
  • A person denying you opportunities at work
  • Someone withholding access to services you may require

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Know your rights (continued)

It is illegal for organisations to discriminate based on a person’s gender or sexual identity, and you can find further information about taking steps against this here.

When a person is targeted in a crime or incident because of their actual or perceived gender or sexual identity, this is a hate crime. Hate crimes are illegal and it’s important to report a hate crime if you experience or witness this. Find more information on the True Vision website.

If you or someone in your household (e.g. your child) is experiencing discrimination from someone you are related to or in a relationship with, this is domestic abuse. You can find further support and advice here.

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Prioritise self-care

At times it may feel like we are alone and unloved, but we are ALL deserving of love and care, no matter how we identify.

Being kind to yourself may be difficult at first, but practising self-care every day will make this easier over time and can help to build your self-esteem. Self-care doesn’t have to be something elaborate; it can be as simple as saying, “I am worthy of love” or, “it’s OK to question who I am” to yourself.

Other ways that you can practise self-care could be:

  • Spending quality time with people you feel comfortable with
  • Listening to your favourite music or podcast
  • Trying a new recipe or cooking your favourite dish
  • Getting some fresh air and spending time outdoors
  • Practising meditation or mindfulness techniques
  • Reading a book or doing something creative
  • Reaching out for help and speaking to someone about your feelings

Remember: it’s OK to feel how you’re feeling. Be kind to yourself and go at your own pace.

Prioritise self-care
Get Help

Get Help

Struggling with your identity, is not a mental health condition in itself, but can affect your mental health. It can be confusing, frightening, and isolating.

It’s important to speak to your GP if you are feeling very low or anxious, particularly if you feel this way all the time.

Alongside support from a service, it can be really helpful to speak to someone you trust to ensure you have support in your day-to-day life.

If you’d like to find a service offering support around your gender or sexual identity, MindOut is a good place to start. You can find more mental health services in your local area here.

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