Gender identity refers to the cultural concepts of masculinity and femininity. It is how a person identifies with one gender or another. This is distinct from physical sex and sexuality.
Cultures define a range of roles and socially acceptable behavior for expressing gender. These become the culture’s gender stereotypes. During the process of developing gender identity, teens take on different masculine and feminine traits as they learn to express themselves.
Most would expect boys to take on masculine traits and girls to take on feminine traits, but it is not so simple. We all adopt both masculine and feminine traits to varying degrees. For most of us, we will express our gender identity in ways that blend in with the range of social norms and gender stereotypes.
Some people find that the gender identification that feels true to them doesn’t fit within their culture’s expectations for male and female. They may behave in ways or take on traits that society considers “too” feminine or “too” masculine for their physical sex.
A person usually becomes aware of this conflict between his sense of self and gender stereotypes in the teen years. As a teen makes choices about expressing his gender identity, he may experience rejection, bullying, and fear; he may also suppress his gender identity and experience shame, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
Raising a child who does not show gender-typical behavior can be hard in terms of family expectations and reactions from others. Parents may feel distressed when their child exhibits behavior that they feel is “too” masculine or feminine for their physical sex.
The best way to help your child as she explores her gender identity is to educate yourself on gender stereotypes and identity formation, and provide a safe, supportive environment for your child to discover her own identity.