Understanding Gender Identity

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It is important to remember that gender and sexuality are not the same.

Sex refers to the biological and physiological indicators of males and females, such as hormones, reproductive organs, chromosomes, while gender points to accepted social characteristics between men and women and non-binary people.

In 2016, the Williams Institute found that 0.3% to 0.8% of the population in any state identified as transgender, suggesting that 0.6% of U.S. adults identify as transgender. Today there are approximately 1.4 million adults who identify as transgender, and that number is expected to increase as science understands the nuances of gender and sex.

When Does Gender Identity Develop?

No one has questioned that gender is determined by anatomy in the past. When a baby was born, the gender on the birth certificate was based on the genitals of the newborn. Today, determining gender is based on how the brain is hard-wired at birth and not the genitals. Although genes play a role, medical professionals believe that children can typically recognize and label gender groups between the ages of 18 to 24 months. A factor that affects gender.

In most cases, gender identity is developed from the child’s cues. By the time they are 5 or 6 years old, they have a rigid sense of gender identity — but gender cues/norms and socialization can be modeled to a child. Typically, gender identity becomes fixed in childhood, not in puberty or adulthood, though gender expression and roles may evolve. Often, transgender/nonbinary individuals struggle through puberty, as this is often the first time it’s clear that they identify as such.

Secondary sex characteristics develop during puberty, making it clear to trans people that their gender identity doesn’t match their physical characteristics. This factor causes body dysphoria as the vision of a person’s gender identity can conflict with their assigned sex. Body Dysphoria or body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition where people see their current body as flawed. One way to address this is preferred pronouns over gender identity. The use of pronouns such as he/she/they allow. An example of this involves using non-binary pronouns such as they and them.

Modern Perception of Transgender/LGBTQ

However, other obstacles can cause distress, including the lack of healthcare resources. Additionally, these individuals have to deal with the possibility of physical violence. Most have friends/family members that accept them.

One survey of transgender individuals who had come out indicated the following:

  • 60% reported that their family were supportive of their lifestyle
  • 68% reported that their co-workers were supportive of their lifestyle
  • 56% reported that their classmates were supportive of their lifestyle

Unfortunately, the general public is not so supportive, and they still receive dirty looks and threats when they go out.

Mental Health Challenges for LGBTQ Individuals

There are several mental health challenges for LGBTQ individuals, including the following:


Research shows that around 30 to 60% of LGBTQ individuals experience depression at some point because they don’t feel they can live their true identity. Since they feel they must isolate themselves, they are more likely to consider suicide. LGBTQ youth are three times more likely to consider suicide than heterosexual youth because of bigotry and discrimination.

Mild to Extreme Anxiety

Many people believe that coming out is a one-and-done thing – but this isn’t true. LGBTQ individuals come out repeatedly when they meet new people, and there’s always a risk that they will encounter someone that doesn’t accept their identity. This feeling causes anxiety that affects their quality of life.

Substance Use/Misuse

One survey revealed that individuals in the LGBTQ community are more likely to turn to substance use/misuse than heterosexual individuals. Anxiety, depression, isolation, and fear can lead to substance use/misuse. Often, medical care is more difficult to access, which means LGBTQ individuals are less likely to seek help in overcoming these addictions.

Eating Disorders

In many cases, this crisis of identity results in an eating disorder. According to one survey, 54% of LGBTQ teens were diagnosed with an eating disorder at some point in their lives, and 21% believe they have one. It’s often difficult to obtain a diagnosis because it is difficult to find a healthcare professional or therapist that will work with them.

Obtaining Health Insurance

Even if LGBTQ individuals can find unbiased healthcare, they don’t always have insurance to cover the care they need. Currently, in 27 states and four U.S. territories, no laws provide LGBTQ inclusive insurance protections. These figures mean that over half of America does not have access to compassionate mental and physical healthcare that is unbiased.

Looking to the Future

Addressing the existing disparities/barriers within healthcare resources for LGBTQ individuals requires care, attention, and clarity. An increase in education, legal protection, and representation will provide more experts to offer inclusive healthcare. If you or your loved one is experiencing mental health issues due to gender identity, you must seek help from qualified professionals. Contact us today to get that help.


US Transgender Survey – Transequality Website

UCLA Williams Institute – Website Reference

Rtor.org – Article Reference – LGBTQ+ Mental Health Resources:  Barriers and Disparities in LGBTQ Mental Health and Healthcare

James Thomas