Gender Identity – for professionals
Gender identity is a way to describe how someone feels about their gender. For example, some people may identify as a boy or a girl, while others may find neither of these terms feel right for them, and identify as neither or somewhere in the middle. Although people often confuse them, gender identity is different from someone’s biological sex or assigned gender at birth and from sexuality or who someone’s attracted to.
Children and Young People who are struggling with their gender identity may be confused and unhappy and require the support of services.
Gender dysphoria is when someone experiences discomfort or distress because their gender identity is different from their biological sex. It can start from a very young age. This could include things like not wanting to wear masculine or feminine clothing for example. Older children may feel anxious or uncomfortable about the changes that happen during puberty, such as starting periods or things like voice deepening.
In 2018/19 Childline had 996 counselling sessions about gender dysphoria. Common themes for children contacting Childline with questions about their gender identity are anxiety about their feelings, the fear of not being accepted, the lack of available support and the time that it takes for them to access services.
Government relationships and sex education (RSE) and health education guidance
The Government published updated guidance for schools in September 2020 (available here). In relation to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) relationships the guidance states:
- All pupils should receive teaching on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) relationships during their school years
- We (the government) are aware that topics involving gender and biological sex can be complex and sensitive matters to navigate. You should not reinforce harmful stereotypes, for instance by suggesting that children might be a different gender based on their personality and interests or the clothes they prefer to wear
- Materials which suggest that non-conformity to gender stereotypes should be seen as synonymous with having a different gender identity should not be used and you should not work with external agencies or organisations that produce such material
- While teachers should not suggest to a child that their non-compliance with gender stereotypes means that either their personality or their body is wrong and in need of changing, teachers should always seek to treat individual students with sympathy and support
- You should work together with parents on any decisions regarding your school’s treatment of their child, in line with the school’s safeguarding policy and the statutory guidance on working together to safeguard children
Supporting Children and Young People – Useful Links and Resources
The following websites may be useful to you as sources of information if you are working with a child or young person questioning their gender identity.
The Government has published guidance (September 2020) for schools about how to plan their relationships, sex and health curriculum, including discussing gender identity issues. The guidance can be accessed here.
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