Gender Identity – Some definitions

Have you ever felt like you didn’t fit in your own body? Have you ever felt like you should be a boy and not a girl? Or a girl and not a boy? Maybe you don’t feel like you’re either sex or another sex altogether? Thinking about sex and gender and feeling different can be confusing, and you may feel that you don’t understand yourself, or that people don’t understand you. You might feel social pressure to fit in, but not feel ‘right’.

If you’re questioning your gender, you’re not alone, and it’s ok to feel this way. There are many people who feel this way and question who they are. Some may find they are happy as the gender they are, or they might decide to try looking a little different to feel comfortable inside. Others may decide that feel they should be living as the other sex, and change how they live to fit that.

Difference between Sex and Gender.

Sex is used to refer to a person’s biological sex based on their anatomy- genitalia, sex chromosomes and reproductive system.

Gender Identity is used to describe a person’s innate, strongly felt sense of what gender they are. This may or may not correspond with their sex.

Gender Expression  is the outward behaviours and appearances like hair, makeup, clothing, voice, body language that people use to express their gender identity.

Genders are constructed by the society we live in by attributing traits, behaviours and roles in society to biological differences

We have compiled a list of useful words below about sex, gender, gender identity. Some of these words might be words you use to describe yourself and some of them might not be. Learning more is always a good thing!


A term for people whose gender identity fits with their biological sex.


Intersex is a broad term used to refer to a variety of conditions in which a person is born with reproductive anatomy, sex chromosomes or sexual characteristics that do not fit typical definitions of male or female. Intersexed people have a variety of gender identities and sexualities.

FtM  An acronym standing for “Female to Male” used by some trans* people who were female assigned at birth but identify as male.

Fa’ afa’ fine

Fa’afafine, Fakaleiti, Akava’ine, Mahu, Vaka sa lewa lewa, Rae rae, Fa’afafine: Terms from a range of Pasifika cultures for a traditional third gender role in their societies. People who live in these gender roles have traditionally been accepted in Pacific society.

Gender identity is different to sexual orientation as anyone of any gender identity may identify as any sexual orientation.

MtF An acronym standing for “Male to Female” used by some trans* people who were male assigned at birth but identify as female


The term used for people who dress and identify as their prefered gender but do not tell anyone that their trans*.


A Maori term that traditionally meant intimate companion of the same sex. This is used today to refer to Maori gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans* people.

Tangata ira tane

A Maori term to describe those who were assigned female at birth but who identify as male.

Trans*, Transgender, Transexual and Genderqueer.

Trans* is an umbrella term for gender diversity that includes transgender, transexual and genderqueer. It encompasses individuals who were born in a physical body that is different to the feelings, emotions, mental and spiritual state that they are. Some individuals use the terms MtF (male-to-female) and FtM (female-to-male) to describe this. They may go through a transition, deciding to change their physical body to match their inner beings. Trans* also encompases those whose gender identity sits outside of either male or female. Some people who have a non binary gender identity may use the word genderqueer to describe their gender identity.

Transexual  Some choose to change their body with hormones and surgery so they can live in society as their preferred gender. Some people who choose to do this use the word transexual to describe themselves.

Transition – Medical (hormones, surgery) and non medical (pronouns, clothes)

Transition is the name given to the process of changing your body and your gender presentation to match your gender identity. Also every person’s transition is varied. Transitioning may include dressing as prefered identity (part or full time), using prefered pronouns, taking hormone blockers eg GnRH blockers, taking hormones eg. Testosterone, binding (wearing a binder to achieve a flatter chest FtM), filling (using a silicone insert more commonly referred to as a chicken fillet to give the impression of a fuller bust MtF), packing (creating a male feeling and looking bulge in one’s crotch).


A Maori term to describe those who were assigned male at birth but who identify as female.

Need to talk to someone?

Working out gender identity issues can be hard, but you don’t have to do this by yourself. It’s a really good idea to get help and support from someone you can trust. If you can find a trusted friend or relative to talk to, just having someone listen can help a lot. You might want to call a helpline like Outline or Youthline to get information and support. It can also help to find someone else who feels the way you do. Support and social groups can provide a safe environment for you to meet other trans* people and people questioning their gender identity. You’ll be able to talk about your experiences with people who understand and can provide you with good advice.

Check out the map of NZ to the right to find a group in your area.