Gender Identity and Expression

Gender identity is how we see ourselves—male, female, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum. Gender expression is how we act, dress, and talk to show others who we are. Sometimes body parts match gender identity and gender expression, and sometimes they don’t.

When body parts don’t match a person’s gender identity or gender expression, they may call themselves transgender. For example, a person has male body parts but sees herself as female; or a person has female body parts but sees himself as male. A transgender person feels they were born with the “wrong body”.

Gender Bread

For transgender people, the feeling that something is different may begin early in life. Children form their gender identity early. Transgender teens that live in a supportive environment can come out to family, friends, and others when they are comfortable. Unfortunately, many teens and adults stay in the closet or deny their true gender identity because they feel/know that their family, friends, and community will not respect and accept them.

Gender roles are the social norms of what people expect and see as “masculine” or “feminine”. From birth, people see and understand gender roles through their family, media, and other parts of society. Gender roles are rooted in culture, so ‘traditional’ gender roles for Inuit and non-Inuit vary in many ways. Gender roles also evolve over time, influenced by changes in technology, attitudes and values, culture and language, and other factors.

During the teen years, young people start to question and choose various gender roles. They may choose to challenge the more ‘traditional’ roles. For example, teen boys may find they enjoy cooking, sewing, or playing with small children; teen girls may excel in science, sports, or hunting.

When teens feel pressure to conform to certain roles, they are more likely to suffer from depression. It is important for teens to pursue activities and interests that fulfill them as a person. Adopting “masculine” or “feminine” gender roles has no relationship to a person’s sexual orientation.

You may see some combination of the letters LGBTTQA. They stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit, questioning, and ally.

Lesbian Sexual orientation where a female is attracted to other females
Gay Sexual orientation where a male is attracted to other males
Bisexual Sexual orientation where a person is attracted to both sexes—male to female or male; female to male or female
Transgender or transsexual A person born with a female body feels like a male; a person born with a male body feels like a female. This is about gender identity and gender expression, rather than sexual orientation. A female in a male body may be attracted to males or other females; a male in a female body may be attracted to females or other males.
Two-spirit First Nations people who may be lesbian, gay, transgendered, or other gendered.
Questioning A person who is unsure of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Ally A non-LGBTTQ person who supports and stands up for the rights of LGBTTQ people.

In our society, LGBTTQ people may feel pressure to be straight. They often deny or hide their sexual orientation and gender identity because of cultural taboos and social attitudes. In some families and communities people disrespect, bully, or are violent towards LGBTTQ people.

LGBTTQ teens may think they must pretend to feel things they don’t really feel, or to be something they are not. In other words, they may feel like they have to live a lie; that they have to hide their true self, even from family and friends.

At the same time, our society is learning to respect and be more open to different sexual orientation and gender identity. Coming out is when LGBTTQ people talk about their sexual orientation and gender identity. They may tell only family and close friends, or they may be very public about it.

Support of family, friends, and community is essential. LGBTTQ teens who lack support are more at risk of things such as dropping out of school, using drugs and alcohol, depression, and suicide.

We must learn to respect and support all people, no matter their sexual orientation and gender identity.