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Gender Identity in Adolescents

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 3, 2022.

What is gender identity?

Gender identity is a term used to describe feeling like a boy or like a girl. Your sex refers to being born as a boy or as a girl. Gender refers to how society expects boys and girls to act and appear. For example, girls may be expected to wear dresses and play with dolls. Boys may be expected to play more roughly, or with toy trucks. You may be born as one sex but feel more like the other sex.

What terms are used to describe gender identity?

You may identify with more than one of the following terms. You may feel that none of the terms apply. Even if the terms do not apply to you, they can help you understand your exploration of gender identity. The terms can also help you talk with your parents, friends, classmates, and teachers.

  • Gender variant , or gender nonconforming, means not acting the way society dictates for a gender role.
  • Gender expression refers to the way you dress and appear to others. You can enjoy dressing like the opposite gender and still be comfortable with your birth sex.
  • Genderqueer means having a gender identity that is not male or female, or is a combination of both.
  • Transgender means identifying with the opposite gender. The term can also be used to describe a person who does not feel completely male or female.
  • Social transition means expressing gender identity on a regular basis. You may start by wearing certain pieces of clothing, or only wearing them at home. You may then start to wear the clothing in public. This may be temporary, or it may be the first step toward permanently identifying with the opposite gender.
  • Transsexual means permanently identifying with the opposite gender and showing outward signs. The term can also refer to a person who has had a medical or surgical procedure to change body parts into the opposite sex.
  • Gender affirmation means making a decision to be the opposite gender and making changes in expression in public. For example, you may change your name.
  • MTF or FTM are terms used to describe the change in gender identity. MTF means male to female and is used to describe a person born with the male sex but who has a female gender identity. FTM means female to male and is used to describe a person born with the female sex but who has a male gender identity.
  • Gender dysphoria means not liking to be the sex you were assigned at birth. You may feel distress at having to appear in a way that is expected for your birth sex. You may feel anxious or depressed when puberty starts to change your breasts or sex organs, deepen your voice, or cause facial hair to grow.
  • Sexual orientation refers to being straight, gay, or bisexual. Sexual orientation is not caused by gender identity.

What treatment is available?

The goal of treatment is to help you understand and feel comfortable with your gender identity. Treatment is not meant to change you or force you to act the way society expects for your birth sex.

  • Counseling with an experienced healthcare provider may help you safely explore gender identity. Counseling may also help all members of your family accept your decisions. Support groups with other transgender people may also be helpful. Ask your healthcare provider for more information.
  • Puberty suppression medicine can help delay the start of puberty but does not stop it completely. The medicine can give you more time to explore gender identity and decide.
  • Medical alteration can help change your body to match your gender identity. Medical alteration means you receive hormones of the opposite sex. A child born male receives the female hormone estrogen. A child born female receives the male hormone testosterone. This is not a decision you can make quickly. You will need to have counseling, and express your affirmed gender in public.
  • Surgical alteration means using surgery to make physical changes permanent. You must be at least 18 years old to have surgery. The surgery used to be called gender reassignment. It is currently called gender affirmation.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

What can I do to help others know how to support me?

  • Teach and use appropriate terms. Use the gender identity terms you feel apply to you. Teach the terms to others. Use the pronouns you prefer. For example, if you were born female but identify as male, you may want to be referred to with pronouns such as he, him, and his.
  • Be patient. It may take friends, family members, classmates, and teachers time to adjust to changes you are making. They may say something that hurts or offends you. Try to stay calm and explain what you are feeling. This may help them know what is appropriate and comfortable for you.
  • Help your family members make you feel safe at home. Your parents can help your family members be supportive. Do not allow them to make fun of you or make you feel like something is wrong with you. Name calling and bullying are never acceptable.
  • Be confident in public. You may receive unwanted attention in public. People may stare, point, or laugh. This can be embarrassing. Be confident in public. Gender identity is yours to choose to express. It may help to talk to a parent or someone you trust if something happens in public.
  • Talk to teachers and officials at your school. Do not stay silent if someone is bullying you. School officials need to make sure that you can attend school safely. Your parents can help by talking to teachers and school officials if you are not comfortable doing this.

What are the risks of gender identity problems?

You may become depressed or anxious if you do not feel accepted in exploring gender identity. You may be bullied for dressing or acting a certain way. You may feel left out or discriminated against. This may cause you to become withdrawn. Gender identity problems increase your risk for suicide or self-harm.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You try to harm yourself, or you have thoughts of harming yourself.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

  • You feel depressed, withdrawn, or anxious.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.