What is gender identity?

Sex describes biological differences between the female and male genitalia. A child’s sex is usually assigned at birth. 

Gender describes a person’s internal sense of their identity. For example, someone might identify as a woman or girl, non-binary, transgender, a man or boy, gender fluid, or something different. 

These are some words people use when talking about gender identity:

  • Cisgender/cis: Someone who is the same gender they were assigned at birth
  • Transgender: Someone whose gender is different from their sex at birth
  • Non-binary/genderqueer/gender fluid: These are gender identities that sit within, outside of, across or between ‘male’ and ‘female.
  • Intersex: A person who is born with biology that is not solely male or female. For example, chromosomes, hormone levels or reproductive organs that have female and male characteristics. These variations may not always be seen on the outside and so sometimes they are not diagnosed.
  • Pronouns: the terms we use to refer to someone, e.g. ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’.

Your child may use different words to describe their gender. For more information about the different terms and gender identities, visit Stonewall.

Questions around gender identity can emerge at any time, and there is a wide range of reported experiences. Some individuals know from childhood that they feel mis-gendered, while others might not recognise this until adulthood. Parents may be aware that their child is questioning their gender identity from an early age, or they may not. Some people may also feel that their gender identity, and the words they use to describe it, change or develop at different times.

If your child is questioning their gender and they are being supported by professionals, you may hear doctors using terms such as gender dysphoria, gender identity disorder (GID), gender incongruence or transgenderism.

Gender identity is a deep-rooted sense of self. Having a sense of identity in this way is really important for our mental health, wellbeing and sense of resilience.

How can I help my child?

If your child doesn’t feel certain about their gender, life can be very stressful, and there may be times when they feel that they don’t fit in anywhere. Young people going through gender identity issues can experience stigma, bullying, isolation and even violence from others. They might also struggle with difficult feelings and use coping mechanisms like self-harm.

Remember that there are things you can do to help your child and to make sure they have the right support around them.

  • Show your child explicitly that you accept them and want to support them if they are feeling confused about, or coming to terms with, their gender-identity. Fear of negative judgement and rejection can be huge obstacles to seeking support and talking to you.
  • Be patient if they don’t want to talk about it, and focus on listening and finding out what it’s like for them when they are ready. 
  • Go at your child’s pace. If your child is questioning their gender, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are trans, but they may be. Remember that it’s a journey of discovery and expression.
  • Find out as much as you can about what your child is going through, including looking at what support is available at your child’s school or from local services. You may need to be their advocate in talking to school, college or health professionals, if and when the time is right.
  • Communication is everything, and being open-minded is the best approach. Whatever happens, they are still your child.
  • Ask your child how they want to be addressed – whether it’s ‘he’/’him’ or ‘she’/’her’ or something else. If you make a mistake, correct yourself or allow yourself to be corrected, and continue to try. This will show your child that you are making an effort, showing them respect, and doing your best to adapt to their preferences.
  • You don’t need to learn all the terms and language – your child will steer you, and it’s a good opportunity to show your support in being receptive to what they say.
  • Respect your child’s boundaries. It may feel uncomfortable for them to be asked very personal, intimate or intrusive questions – so ask if it’s okay to ask, and respect the answer. Think about how you might feel if your own parent asked you something deeply personal about yourself. 
  • Finding a supportive group for your child can really help. Being part of a group may help to reduce your child’s sense of isolation – allowing them to meet people with similar experiences and a shared understanding of what they’re going through. Groups can offer a safe space and a sense of community, whether in person or online. A good place to start is seeing if there are any LGBTQIA+ youth groups in your local area or at your child’s school.
  • It’s understandable if you are feeling upset, anxious or scared about what your child is going through. Being honest about this with other adults you trust is really important, and it might help to share your experiences with other families in the same situation. There are organisations listed below who can help you with this.
  • Be alert for signs that your child is struggling with their mental health – including withdrawing, seeming low or depressedself-harming or expressing suicidal thoughts. If you are concerned, seek professional support and advice from your GP.

Gender Identity Development Service

The Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) is England’s only NHS service for children and young people experiencing difficulties in the development of their gender identity. The service has main clinics in London and Leeds, as well as satellite clinics elsewhere across England in places like Exeter.

GIDS has a staged approach to supporting young people. Every young person is different and will be treated as an individual. If your child is referred to GIDS, first they will have a full psychosocial assessment, which is usually three to six appointments with two experts. They will work with your child, and family, to explore your child’s understanding of their gender identity, and to talk about how their feelings may have changed over time, and how they might change in future.



Finding more support

Sex, Sexuality and Gender

Who not What

Who not What is a group of young people who have come together to represent the voice of the young lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and questioning community of Hertfordshire.

They are looking at services available throughout the county and will be working towards improving these services for young LGBTQ people aged 13-24 who live, work or are educated in the county.

They conduct regular consultations to hear the views and opinions of young LGBTQ people aged 13-24 who live, work or are educated in the county.


YC Hertfordshire (part of Herts County Council)

Provides a range of educational programmes for teens as well as targeted services for young people including care leavers, young parents and LGBTQ teens.

YC Hertfordshire provides youth work projects and programmes, information, advice, guidance, work related learning, outdoor education and support for young people aged 13-19 (to 24 for young people with learning disabilities). For young people leaving care, support is provided to the age of 21.

We now deliver youth work projects and programmes, information, advice, guidance, work related learning, outdoor education and other services under the new name of YC Hertfordshire.

The new name reflects national developments and the diversity of projects and programmes delivered to children, young people and adults – in schools, colleges, Children’s Services settings and the community.

Our websites and materials will be updated over the coming weeks and months to reflect this change of name.

You can contact us at, continue to follow us on Twitter at @ychertfordshire




Mermaids supports gender-diverse children and young people until their 20th birthday, as well as their families and professionals involved in their care.

Transgender and gender-variant children and teens need support and understanding, as well as the freedom to explore their gender identity. Whatever the outcome, Mermaids is committed to helping families navigate the challenges they may face.

Talk to us on
0808 801 0400

Helpline Open Monday to Friday, 9am to 9pm





Young Pride in Herts

The YC Hertfordshire Who Not What Project supports young LGBTQ people aged between 13 and 24, providing them with safe and confidential places to meet, socialise and talk about issues of interest and relevance to them as young LGBTQ people, with the support and guidance of trained YC Hertfordshire youth workers.


Young Stonewall

We’re here to let all young lesbian, gay, bi and trans people – as well as those who are questioning – here and abroad, know they’re not alone. We want to empower all young people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, to campaign for equality and fair treatment for LGBTQ people, and against discrimination.

We believe we’re stronger when we work together, so we partner with organisations that help us create real change for the better. We’re here to support those who can’t yet be themselves.

But our work is not yet finished. Not until everyone feels free to be who they are, wherever they are.



Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS)

The Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) is a highly specialised clinic for young people presenting with difficulties with their gender identity. Our service was established in 1989.

We are commissioned by NHS England who set the service specifications for how we work.

Some people feel uncomfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth whilst others are unhappy with the gender role that society requires. We help our clients to explore their feelings and choose the path that best suits their ideals.

We spend a lot of time engaging with clients to understand their thought processes and to help them manage any uncertainties they may have and be understood.

For adults presenting with difficulties with their gender identity, the Tavistock and Portman NHS foundation Trust are the providers of the Gender Identity Clinic (GIC). 

 020 8938 2030/1