What is the difference between gender, sex and identity?

People are more complicated than the two traditional gender categories of male and female suggest. There are lots of ways to think about sex, gender and identity that go beyond our physical bodies. Many now think about identity as being a combination of the four elements below:

  • Gender expression – how a person shows their gender such as the clothes they wear, how they act, how they speak and where they socialise
  • Gender identity – a person’s sense of their own gender and who they are, which may be different to the sex they were given at birth
  • Sex – a person’s categorisation as male or female depending on their genitals and reproductive functions
  • Sexual orientation – a person’s emotional, romantic and/or sexual attraction to another person

What is gender dysphoria?

Gender dysphoria is a term people use to describe the discomfort that many trans people feel about their bodies because their gender does not “match” their body. This dysphoria can be about any part of their body, not just the genitals and chest area.

There are many different identity descriptors and we’ve given a description of some of the most common below. In the useful resources and links, you’ll find there are many more.

  • Transgender – someone who is assigned one gender at birth but who identify and live as another
  • Transexual – someone who has transitioned to live as a different gender to the one they were given at birth through using hormones and/or surgery. This is an older term and many trans people now prefer the word transgender
  • Trans Man – someone who was assigned female at birth but identifies and lives as a man. Some may also use FTM (female-to-male)
  • Trans Woman – someone who was assigned male at birth but identifies and lives as a woman. Some may also use MTF (male-to-female)
  • Non-binary – someone whose gender identity does not fit into the two gender options of male or female. For example, they might consider themselves to be neither male nor female, both male and female, or sometimes male and sometimes female. This is sometimes known as Gender Queer
  • Transvestite – someone who occasionally dresses as the opposite gender for gender expression and not for entertainment purposes. The term cross-dresser is also used

It’s also worth mentioning that Intersex is another separate identity. Intersex people have an anatomy or physiology that is different to the commonly held assumptions about what makes someone male or female. Intersex UK and the UK Intersex Association do lots of great work campaigning on a range of issues including gaining legal equality in the UK and abroad.

Finally, you may have come across the term cisgender. This refers to someone whose gender identity is the same as the sex assigned to them at birth and this is also known as non-trans.

Trans and sexual health

If you’re a trans person, it can be really hard to find information on your sexual health, particularly if you’re young. Trans people often have different sexual health needs, and often different bodies to cisgender (non-trans) people. LGBT Foundation worked with SAIL to write a sexual health guide for trans and non-binary young people in Northern Ireland, which might help you. Download a copy of the sexual health guide for trans and non-binary young people (published 2016).

This doesn’t replace other sexual health guides so if you want the low-down on contraceptives, safe sex and relationship support, have a look at the information on this site and the useful links at the bottom of this page. This guide covers what others don’t though – how being a young trans person affects your sexual health.

Trans stories

Sometimes it just helps to read and hear about stories of other people like you. You can read about these on the LGBT Foundation pages as well as see videos on the NHS Choices Livewell site. Watch Ruth’s story. Ruth was born in a male body but felt that she was female.

Trans resources

There are lots of good resources out there for Trans people but sometimes this can be overwhelming.  We’ve a few of the most popular resource for Trans people to get you started and included lots more resources in the Useful links section at the end of this page.

  • Transmen – trans health matters and Transwomen – Trans Health Matters both by Terrance Higgins Trust, published in 2012
  • Your Body, Your Health – Health choices made easy for trans men, trans masculine and non-binary people by the Men’s Health Forum published in 2015. This guide was written and developed by trans men to help explain the various aspects of transition healthcare in an easy-to-read, non-technical way
  • TransMission monthly eBulletin for trans people by trans voices. To subscribe register your details here and tick the Trans Bulletin box
  • Living my life information for people who currently identify as trans or who are beginning to explore their gender identity by the Centre for HIV and Sexual Health in partnership with TransBareAll as part of the Pacesetters programme to reduce health inequalities
  • Transgender issues in later life factsheet by AgeUK, published in 2015
  • NHS Interim Protocol Guide by Action for Trans Health published 2014. This guide explains what you should expect when seeking out transition related treatment on the NHS

Useful links

  • The LGBT Foundation is a charity delivering a wide range of services to lesbian, gay and bisexual and trans (LGBT) communities. Their helpline 0345 3303030 is open from 10am to 10pm every day. You can also email helpline@lgbt.foundation or visit their website with trans resources and register for their weekly e-bulletin which is packed with the latest news and events
  • TranzWiki aims to be a comprehensive directory of the groups campaigning for, supporting or assisting trans and gender nonconforming individuals (including those who are non-binary and non-gender) and their families across the UK
  • Gendered intelligence specialises in supporting young trans people
  • All About Trans which encourages better understanding of Trans people in the media
  • Transformation is a network of trans professionals who aim to raise trans visibility and equality at work
  • Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES) produces resources and training to improve the lives of gender non-conforming people
  • Mermaids provides support for families and children with gender identity issues
  • NHS Livewell has a section online on Transgender Health including video resources
  • Brook has lots of useful information on sexual health and wellbeing, including gender, designed for young people
  • UK Intersex Association is an education, advocacy, campaigning and support organisation which works on behalf of Intersex people
  • Intersex UK is a human rights organisation working to achieve equality for, and the protection of Intersex bodied people

With special thanks to the LGBT Foundation for their helping us to pull together this page.

Back to top