What is gender identity?
Gender identity is different from one’s birth sex, gender expression, and sexual orientation. Gender identity is a person’s sense of being male, female, both, or even neither. Being born male or female (having the physical characteristics of either sex) does not necessarily mean that the child will identify as such. In the same way, identifying as a particular gender doesn’t necessarily mean that the way they express their gender and their sexual orientation will align with that of their identity.
How do children develop their gender identity?
Gender identity progresses in stages. At two years of age, children will usually become aware of the physical differences between boys and girls. Just before they turn three, most children will be able to assign themselves as boy or girl. By the time they are four years old, most children have usually firmed up their gender identity.
According to experts, exploring gender identity is a healthy part of a child’s development. While most children’s gender identity will align with their birth sex, some children find that their gender expectations do not suit them. Early on they will also be familiarized with gender roles and the behaviors attached to them. Simply put, these are “things that girls/boys do.”
Research indicates that over time, children will acquire a clearer sense of their gender identity through cross-gender play. Those who adopt a gender-diverse identity do so early on. They know their gender as well as their peers and they benefit from the same level of support and acceptance from their community. A child’s gender identity should never be viewed as a form of rebellion or phase.