If you feel confused about your gender identity, you’re not alone.
In the past few years there has been a huge increase in the number of teenagers questioning their gender, whether they feel female, male, non-binary or any of the other diverse terms used on the gender spectrum.
Some experts believe this is because society has become more accepting of differences in gender identity. Others believe young people in particular are rejecting male and female genders as the only identities.
Although most people don’t question their gender, for some young people their gender identity is more complex.
You may question your gender if your interests and social life don’t fit with society’s expectations of the gender you were assigned at birth.
You may be uncertain about your gender identity and feel that you can’t identify with being either male or female.
You may feel that you are both male and female or that you have no gender, which can be referred to as non-binary or agender.
You may have a strong sense of being the opposite gender to the one you were assigned at birth and may feel that you have been in the “wrong body” since early childhood.
For young people who feel distressed about their gender, puberty can be a very difficult and stressful time.
This is the stage where your assigned gender at birth is physically marked by body changes, such as the growth of breasts or facial hair.
Does it make me gay, lesbian or bisexual?
Gender identity isn’t related to sexual orientation in a direct way.
Young people who are questioning their gender may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, polysexual, pansexual or asexual.
Some people describe their sexuality and gender identity as being fluid – that is, they change over time.
How does gender discomfort affect you?
If you experience discomfort with your gender identity, you may feel unhappy, lonely or isolated from other teenagers.
You may even feel as though you have a mental illness, but it’s important to remember that gender identity issues on their own are not a mental health disorder or disease.
You may feel social pressure from your friends, classmates or family to behave in a certain way, or you may face bullying and harassment for being different. This may be affecting your self-esteem and performance at school.
All these difficulties can affect your emotional and psychological wellbeing. In some cases the distress can be considerable. Depression is very common among young people with gender discomfort.
Steps To Take To Discern Your Identity
If you’re questioning your sexual orientation, there are a number of simple and easy emotional exercises you can conduct to help reach yourself and your attraction on a deeper level. Start by asking yourself one or more of these questions:
- What imagery resonates with you: when you see photos of couples or families, which ones tug at your heartstrings or your libido? Do you feel feelings of envy or hope when you see same-gender couples?
- What’s in your imagination: when you close your eyes and envision your perfect partner, are they a specific gender? If so, is their gender different than that of people you’ve partnered with up to this point?
- Separate the dogma you’ve learned from your true self: as we go through life, we absorb a lot of ideologies about what’s “right” or “good.” If you focus on getting those out of the way, does your idea of who you’re attracted to change?
Who can help me?
No matter what you’re experiencing in relation to your sexuality, there is no need to go through it alone. Questioning your sexuality is a perfectly healthy activity, and talking about it with other people can help you work through it more effectively.
If you’re comfortable discussing the issue with a loved one, bring up the subject with them. Choose a friend or family member you know you can trust, who doesn’t have any homophobic tendencies and will have your best interest in mind.
Share your feelings with them, letting them know that you’re unsure about your orientation. Don’t feel pressured to walk away from the conversation with a label—you have all the time you want to figure that out, if you ever even need to.
If speaking with a loved one isn’t enough, consider speaking with a professional. If you’re twenty three or younger, the LGBT Youth Hotline offers confidential, free support by phone; if you’re older, the LGBT National Help Center has a hotline as well. Additionally, you can speak to a therapist, and most major cities have LGBTQ Centers, many of which have free support groups.