Understanding gender and sexuality

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, gender is not the same as sex.

Gender consists of two components – our internal sense of gender (our gender identity), and how we express our gender or present ourselves to the world (our gender expression/presentation).

Sexuality or sexual orientation is about who we’re sexually and romantically attracted to – whether that’s people of the opposite gender identity as us (heterosexual), the same (gay or lesbian) or to people of more than one gender identity (bisexual), or no sexual attraction at all, asexuality

Gender diversity

On this website we use gender diverse or transgender to mean that a person’s inner sense of gender identity and the sex they feel they belong to is different from their biological sex assigned at birth. For example, someone born male may identify as female. They may have a strong sense of this throughout early childhood or become aware during adolescence or later.

There are many different ways that people describe themselves. People who identify as having no specific gender may use terms such as ‘gender queer’, ‘gender neutral’, ‘gender fluid’ or ‘gender diverse’ to indicate they feel they don’t fit into traditional gender categories of male or female. Some communities such as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people may use culturally-specific terms such as sistergirl or brotherboy.1

Gender diverse people may be gay, lesbian, bisexual or heterosexual, may choose to identify as queer or describe their sexual identity in other terms.

What about Q and A?

You might have seen different variations of the acronym ‘LGBTI’ that includes a Q and wondered what it means. Some people use the Q to describe themselves as ‘queer’, which is increasingly being used as a more fluid way of describing and identifying their sexual and gender identity, and avoiding restrictive labels. ‘Queer’ used to be a pejorative term, but has been reclaimed by the community in recent years.

Q can also stand for ‘questioning’, meaning someone is exploring their gender, sexual identity, sexual orientation, or all three, but may not yet have found a way to describe themselves that feels right to them.

You may also have seen the acronym including A. Some people may use A to include asexual and aromantic people, which is used to describe people who experience no sexual or romantic attraction.

  • Families like mine is an online resource that offers practical advice to families of young gender diverse people, same-sex attracted and bisexual people, and those who are questioning their sexuality or gender identity.

Intersex young people

‘Intersex’ is a broad term used to describe a set of variations where someone is born with reproductive organs or sex chromosomes that don’t fit typical definitions of ‘male’ or ‘female’. Intersex differences affect a wide range of people with varied life experiences. For example, some intersex people have experienced medical interventions to conform to the ideals of male or female, while others may not even know they are intersex until later in life. There can be physical and emotional effects of surgery, and related shame and secrecy, which young people may need support to process.

For some intersex people, their identities may sometimes not match their appearance, meaning they may fall outside of expected sex and gender norms and require additional supports. Being intersex is not the same as sexuality and gender diversity, and every intersex person is different.

1 Hyde Z, Doherty M, Tilley PJM, McCaul KA, Rooney R, Jancey J (2014) The First Australian National Trans Mental Health Study: Summary of Results. School of Public Health, Curtin University, Perth, Australia.

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