What to do if you’re questioning your gender identity
Questioning Gender Identity
Written by Jen Bell
| Reviewed by Mason Dunn
Many people go through life without ever thinking about their gender, but some of us do think about it, a lot! If you’re questioning whether you’re a boy, girl, a bit of each, or another gender entirely, you’ve come to the right place.
While some of us have strong feelings about our gender from a young age, many of us don’t fully understand this part of ourselves until later in life. It’s OK not to know, or to be questioning your gender identity. No matter what, your feelings and your identity are valid.
It’s important to know that you don’t have to figure this all out by yourself. There are many people who have been there before and will be happy to support you on your gender journey.
If you are questioning your gender identity, read our guide below to help you find your way.
Questions to ask yourself about your gender
Gaining awareness of how you feel in your body and mind is a powerful step in this journey! Try journaling or spending some quiet time alone to reflect on these questions.
Do you feel like a girl, or boy, or someone else?
How do you feel about how society categorizes you based on the sex you were assigned at birth?
If you see someone on the street whose gender is unclear to you, what do you think?
Who do you want to be? How do you want people to see you?
Do you feel uncomfortable when people use a certain pronoun (he/she/they) to describe you?
Do you feel discomfort about changes in your body during puberty, such as breasts, facial hair, etc?
If you woke up one morning and discovered you were a different gender, what would you do?
Your answers might give you some clues about your gender identity, but there’s no need to make any decisions yet. First, let’s learn a bit more from others who’ve been through this already.
Annie Elainey is an empowering, Latinx, Youtuber and a neurodivergent member of the LGBTQ+ community.
Websites like GenderSpectrum, Twainbow and ProjectLets provide specific support, guidance, and resources for neurodivergent individuals, including those with specific learning, physical, and mental health needs.
Tune into the TransWaves podcast to hear interviews with trans youth, allies, activists, family, and more.
Rhys Ernst’s series We’ve Been Around can help you learn more about transgender people throughout history.
HBO’s The Trans List will introduce you to some strong transgender advocates, while This is Me explores the real-life, everyday issues of trans and gender nonconforming people.
Disclosure is a film on Netflix which surveys the history of trans representation in TV and film, including interviews with 30 trans advocates and artists working in the entertainment industry. This documentary can help you understand how TV and film have shaped trans and cis people’s ideas about what it means to be trans.
Gender and Sexuality in Autism is an article that explains the prevalence of gender and sexuality diversity among autistic people and how to affirm and support this community.
Learning about your gender identity can be a wild ride.
You might feel confused about your gender and unsure whether you are trans.
You might feel happy or excited when you present yourself as the gender you feel you are.
You might feel discomfort or distress about certain parts of your body.
You might feel euphoric when other people see you as you see yourself.
You might feel anxious or afraid of being rejected by your family, friends, or community.
You might feel ambivalent or angry about others’ reactions to you.
If you believe that there is only one “right” way to be, you might feel ashamed if you think that who you are is somehow “wrong.”
Remember, if you are cisgender or transgender, these are totally OK and normal ways to be.
It’s estimated that 4.5% of people in the U.S. are LGBTQ+. That’s more than 14 million people!
Neurodivergent individuals are 3-6 times more likely to also be LGBTQ+. Research currently shows that neurodivergent people, particularly those on the autism spectrum, are more likely to be gender diverse and have a lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or asexual sexual orientation, compared to neurotypical people. While research can not yet tell us definitively why, it may be because people who are neurodivergent may feel less pressure to fit into social pressures and expectations. Others may report even more fear of disclosing due to concerns around potential discrimination.
Gender dysphoria & gender euphoria
When your identity, body, how you present yourself, and how others see you all fit together, this is called gender congruence, gender harmony, or gender euphoria. All of us need to feel gender congruence, and any lack of it can be distressing.
When someone feels very unhappy, uneasy, or dissatisfied about their gender, this is called gender dysphoria. These feelings can range from mildly annoying, to completely overwhelming, and can make you feel like skipping school, avoiding showers, and not wanting to see or talk to your family and friends.
What can I do if I’m experiencing gender dysphoria?
One of the ways to address gender dysphoria is to notice when it is happening to you. Start to think about:
What does dysphoria feel like in your body?
What started the feeling? Was it something someone said? Was it because you had to wear a certain type of clothing?
Did you do an activity that made you feel uncomfortable in 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, numb, or hyper?
“Transitioning” is a term commonly used to refer to the steps a transgender, agender, or nonbinary person takes in order to find congruence in their gender. This term can be misleading, because it suggests that the person’s gender identity is changing. Most often the thing that changes is other people’s understanding and how they see that person’s gender.
The journey towards gender euphoria may involve:
Changes to clothing, hairstyle, gender identity, name, and/or pronouns
Changes to identification documents such as a birth certificate, driver’s license, or passport
The use of medical approaches such as hormone “blockers” or hormone therapy
Surgery to add, remove, or modify gender-related physical traits
More permanent changes to your body should be taken into careful consideration and discussed with a trusted adult and health professional. It’s important to recognize that not all transgender people transition, and those who do, do it in many different ways. Some change their legal name, pronouns, and clothing, but don’t use hormonal treatments or have gender-affirming surgeries. Transition might be a long, ongoing process, or it might happen over a short period of time.
Trans people’s genders are real, regardless of the decisions they make about transitioning. Someone who chooses to transition is no more “trans” than other trans people who don’t transition. Finding gender harmony is an ongoing process that continues throughout our lives as we grow and gain insight into ourselves. Most often, we find it through exploration. For some of us, finding gender congruence is fairly simple, while for others, it is a much more complex process.
Telling people about your gender journey or “coming out” as trans can range from scary and difficult to exciting and liberating. It’s a very personal decision and different for everyone. Coming out is not a one time thing; for most people it’s a series of decisions that they encounter in every new setting they enter.
The first step involves understanding yourself and your gender identity. Talking with your friends, family, or other people about your identity is something to do when and only if you feel you want to do it.
Coming out as transgender might mean that you ask people to call you by a new name, use your preferred pronouns (he, she, they, etc.), and think of you as the gender identity that you’re comfortable with.
Many people are “out” in some spaces and “in” in others. They might be out (or not) to their family, friends, classmates, coworkers, or their religious community.
You might choose to come out to different people at different times, or to not come out to some people at all. Some people choose to come out before they transition and some choose to come out during the process or afterwards. All of this is OK. Deciding when and where to come out involves questions of safety, comfort, trust, and readiness. Only you can decide what’s right for you!
Remember that all aspects of your identity are important and as far as possible, try to find resources, community, and stories that speak to your experience. Here are some people who might be able to help:
#1 – Find a Trusted & Supportive Adult
Are there any adults you know who are transgender or trans-friendly? This could be a family member, doctor, teacher, school counselor, coach, therapist, religious or spiritual mentor, or one of your friend’s parents.
To find a therapist who can understand what you are going through, look to see if you live in a city that has a LGBTQIA+Q+ health center nearby. You can contact them to see if they have a therapist on staff, or to see if they have a therapist they can refer you to. If there is a community center for LGBTQIA+Q+ youth in your area, they may also have a list of LGBTQIA+Q+ friendly therapists, support groups, or counselors. The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association maintains a list of LGBTQIA+Q+ friendly providers as well. They2ze is a mobile app designed to help trans and questioning youth to find informed and inclusive doctors and therapists.
#2 - Support Groups
Written by Jen Bell
| Reviewed by Mason Dunn
Support groups can offer a friendly space to connect and share experiences with other young people.
Gender Spectrumoffers groups for trans, nonbinary, and gender expansive teens (ages 13-19), teens of Color, and pre-teens (ages 10-12), as well as for their parents, caregivers, and other family members (in English and in Spanish).
Stand with Trans hosts weekly online groups for trans youth (ages 9-22) and their parents.
Trans Youth Equality hosts online youth support groups which are open to all trans and non binary youth aged 12-16.
#3 - Online & Telephone Counselors & Hotlines for Trans Youth
Written by Jen Bell
| Reviewed by Mason Dunn
Need to talk anonymously with someone caring and respectful? Call one of these hotlines. You can talk about anything, including your gender identity, romantic or sexual orientation, relationship issues, bullying, problems at work, HIV/AIDS, STDs/STIs, anxiety, safer sex information, suicide, and much more.
Translifeline.org is staffed by trans and nonbinary counselors, and provides live, one-on-one phone support for transgender and gender-questioning individuals — whether you’re going through a crisis or just need someone to talk to.
Local LGBTQ+ centers can be a great place to get information and resources, find a community, and meet people who have already experienced what you’re going through. Visit CenterLink or GLBT near me to see if there’s one near you. The Gender Spectrum Lounge is an online space where transgender and questioning teens and their family members can find community and form their own chat groups.
Playing with your gender expression can help you find what feels right. You might want to:
Experiment with clothing, hairstyles, accessories, etc. If you know yourself to be a girl, but you don’t want to wear pink dresses, that doesn’t make you any less of a girl, no matter whether you are cisgender or transgender! Maybe you want to try shaving your face or legs, coloring your hair, or wearing nail polish. Find what makes you feel good.
Try out a different name and/or pronoun (he, she, or a gender neutral pronoun like they or ze) — video games, social media, and online platforms can be a safe place to experiment. It might help to write in your journal using different names and pronouns to see what feels like a good match. You could order a coffee at a coffee shop with the name that makes you feel comfortable, or create an anonymous social media account that you can test out names and pronouns on. If there’s a supportive person in your life, ask if they would like to be your pen pal, using your chosen name and pronouns.
Give your gender a name or label, but only if YOU want to! Some people use the label “questioning” while they are unsure about their gender, still exploring, or if they are concerned about applying a label to themselves.
It’s perfectly OK to have whatever gender identity, name, and pronoun that you feel comfortable with — and only you can decide what that is. No matter how you identify, your gender is only one part of who you are, it is not the only thing that defines you.
Whether you are transgender, cisgender, nonbinary, or not sure yet, these are all totally OK and normal ways to be. If someone calls you names, threatens you, or is physically violent because of your gender presentation or identity, it’s their problem, not yours; and they should not get away with it. This is called transphobic bullying.
If you’re being bullied, feeling lonely, depressed, anxious, isolated, or just want to talk to someone, it’s always a good idea to reach out and ask for help. Check out these incredible resources and organizations below where you can talk about anything, including your gender identity, romantic or sexual orientation, relationship issues, bullying, problems at work, HIV/AIDS, STDs/STIs, anxiety, safer sex information, suicide, and much more.
If you’re thinking about telling someone you are transgender, make sure it’s a person you trust. Figure out who in your life you think will be the most supportive and come out to them first. You can often get a sense of how friendly someone is to transgender people by watching how they react when the topic comes up in conversation.
Get prepared ahead of time.
Is there someone you would like to have with you? Who can you talk to before and after? This is a good time to reach out to your LGBTQ+ youth group, a trusted queer-friendly adult, or call a helpline.
Think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. What would feel best for you? Some people prefer talking face to face, while for others writing a letter or email is easier.
Possible conversation starter: “I have something private I want to talk to you about. I am choosing you because I trust you and I know you care about me.”
Let them know how you want the conversation to go.
Do you just want to say what you have 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.
Share what’s most important to you.
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. If you want the person to use a new name and/or pronouns for you, let them know. While you might have been thinking about this for a long time, it could come as a surprise to the person you tell. Give them time to digest and accept the new information. No matter how they react at first, remember this is just the start of the conversation.
Sometimes it takes people a while to get comfortable with your new pronouns or name, and they may make mistakes when referring to you, even if they don’t mean to. You can provide resources for your loved one to do some research and learn on their own. Try to be patient as they learn too. We’ve created guides for your friends, and your caregivers to learn how to best support you.
Do something nice for yourself afterwards.
Maybe you want to check in with a friend or support group, listen to music that makes you feel good, call a helpline, take a rest, go for a walk, or journal about what you’re going through. Give yourself a pat on the back, you’re awesome!
Looking for more guidance on how to come out as trans? We recommend this Human Rights Campaign Guide.
It’s OK if you’re not 100% sure
Remember that you’re not the first person to ask these questions about your gender identity and you’re not alone. 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 pressure from society to “hurry up and figure it out already,” but don’t rush to take any steps in your gender journey just because someone else wants you to.
Try to surround yourself with people who will give you space to explore, try things on, and see what feels best. Often we don’t know what we like or don’t like until we try it, give it time, and decide for ourselves. Some people know strongly how they feel about their gender, but for others it can take some time and that is 100% OK!
The only person who gets to decide your gender is you.
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