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Estimated reading: 13 minutes
  • Person’s gender is a complex interrelationship between three dimensions: body, identity, and social expression.
  • Our gender system has been non-binary since the beginning of time.
  • Transgender children can know in early childhood that the gender assigned by birth does not match their gender identity.
  • A teacher can contribute to the creation of a safe and inclusive school environment if, for example, they talk about the diversity of gender identities in their lessons.


Exploring and finding your identity, including your gender identity, can be a difficult journey that may include one’s low self-esteem, questioning, searching, fears, and losses, but also joy, discovering themselves and a sense of belonging. Part of a person’s identity is the desire to belong to other people, but this desire can be an obstacle from painlessly defining, accepting, and disclosing their gender identity. Therefore, it is important that when educating and bringing up young people, we also need to focus on issues of gender diversity.

Sharing science-based information is one way to support young people on their journey. In addition, addressing this subject gives a clear signal to young people that different gender identities and gender expressions are part of the normal diversity of society, which allows the young person to grow into a safe and happy adult. In today’s world, where, for example, sex education and LGBTQ+ issues have often turned into a politicized topics, it is especially important to talk to young people about these issues openly, boldly and using a science-based approach. In addition, numerous information about gender identities is available in social media and in different progressive series, so the younger generation can sometimes be informed about gender even more diversely than their parents or educators.


Although a person’s biological sex includes anatomy (breasts, vagina, penis, testicles), physiology (functioning of the hormonal system, menstrual cycle, sperm production) and genetics (chromosome types) (WHO, n.d.), at birth a new-born’s sex is assigned as either male or female (some countries offer a third option) mostly based on the baby’s genitals. And we presume the child’s gender identity based on that (Gender Spectrum, 2019).

But a person’s gender is a complex interrelationship between three dimensions: body, identity, and expression (Gender Spectrum, 2019), so therefore, often the sex assigned at birth may match a person’s gender identity, but other times it may not. Assigned sex

Assigned sex is a term that typically concerns legal sex category derived from medical examination of a new-born child following the birth. Assignment is usually based on the appearance of external genitalia of the child. Yet, sex is a more complex characteristic consisting not only of external genitalia, but also of internal genitalia, chromosomes, and hormonal functioning. When the sex characteristics as stated above are ambiguous, the child can be considered intersex (Pitoňák & Macháčková,2022).

Intersex (DSD = differences in sexual development) is a term that describes a combination of sex characteristics which do not fit typical binary categories such as male or female (see Figure 1). There are many different ways to be intersex. Intersex people can have different hormone levels than the average man/woman, they can have unusual combination of chromosomes and genitalia (for example XY chromosomes and a vulva) or other combination of sex characteristics (chromosomes, genitalia, hormones) (Cools et al., 2018). Babies who are born intersex are often subject of “corrective” aesthetic surgeries in order to more fit one of the binary sex categories. It is recommended that any surgeries which are purely aesthetic should not be performed until the intersex person is able to consent to it (Barker, 2017).

Un dibujo de una pareja Descripción generada automáticamente con confianza media

Figure 1. Combination of sex characteristics
Source: attachment of the lesson “Sexuality Myths and Sex Lessons for Education on Respectful Relationships” (originally in Czech: “Mýty o pohlavních orgánech a sexu Lekce sexuální nauky pro vzdělávání o respektujících vztazích”. Dagmar Krišová, Johana Nejedlová, Konsent, z.s., 2021 Gender identity

Gender identity refers to a person’s internal and individual experience of gender, which may or may not match their physiology or the gender assigned at birth (WHO, n.d.). Since gender identity is a personal experience, it cannot be determined or regulated by anyone else. Gender identity can be man, woman, nonbinary, fluid, etc. Development of Gender Identity

At the beginning the first years of a child’s life, they become a part of a gender-typical way of behaviour, which demonstrates itself as the attribution of the corresponding social gender. Even if children aren’t yet able to speak and don’t establish connections with objects and actions of the surrounding world, behaviours corresponding to their gender are assigned to them. For example, parents express excitement when a child has done something that matches their gender and react in the opposite way when a child has behaved in a way that is appropriate for a child of the opposite sex. Such negative and positive reactions are creating connections and will settle in the future. That may lead to that girls start paying more attention to their female role models and boys to the male role models, even though they don’t yet have any knowledge or experience how to identify themselves or others on the basis of gender. From the time children begin to understand speech, they also begin to understand that there is a lot of gender labelling around. During their growth, as a result of social-cognitive processing, children begin to define themselves as boys or girls, which is the impetus for acquiring gender-appropriate behaviour and gender-related characteristics (Marecek et al., 2004). The Identity of a Trans Child

The preceding paragraph describes a situation that might be applied to most children but is not applicable to those whose gender assigned at birth and gender identity don’t match. Various research findings indicate that a lot of trans people’s questions and conflicts regarding their gender identity have emerged in early childhood (Patterson & D’Augelli, 2013). Since Kessler and McKenna (1978) concluded during their research that gender identity begins to be understood at the age of three or four, and within a few years it is understood that it is permanent, it can be determined that contradictions regarding children’s gender perception arise at the same time as the surrounding world begins to attribute their social gender to the corresponding biological gender. When the social gender happens to be different from the biological sex, it causes confusion in children (Patterson & D’Augelli, 2013). Similar findings can also be noted in the studies of Gagne et al. (1997), Devor (2004) and Budge et al. (2013) – respondents of all studies already felt in early childhood that the gender assigned at birth caused them discomfort and they felt that they didn’t fit in with others.

University of Washington study, largest of its kind published findings showing that no matter how long a trans child has been considered and treated as cis child, their gender identity is as strong as it is in cisgender children. Researchers found this similarity surprising, because trans children in the research were treated as cis children and cis children weren’t treated as trans children (Eckart, 2019). Understanding these findings could help adults better support children during their development, gender identity and social transitions. Binary and non-binary gender systems

According to the binary gender system, people are divided into two – male and female, and this is due to the sex assigned to them at birth. According to the non-binary gender system, person’s gender is a complex interrelationship between three dimensions: body, identity, and expression (Gender Spectrum, 2019) all of which are separate and at times may not coincide. Adding to that the spectrum of gender identity is considered wider than just a man – woman.

Although in today’s western culture, we still tend to see gender as a binary system, when in fact the gender system has always been non-binary. Various anthropological and historical studies show this, and even today in many ancient cultures, the non-binary gender system continues to be a functioning appearance (United Nations Free and Equal, 2014). For example, Native Americans have always had two-spirit people, India has Hijras (the hijra community in India prefer to call themselves “kinnar”); or Māhū, from Hawaii or Tahiti.

The non-binary approach to the gender system allows transgender and intersex people to express themselves according to their identity and is inclusive and respectful towards them. Diversity Gender Identities

  • Cisgender: A person whose gender identity is aligned with the sex they were assigned at birth, describes people who are not transgender. “Cis-” is a Latin prefix meaning “on the same side as” and is therefore an antonym of “trans-“. Commonly used by younger people and transgender people (GLAAD, n.d.).
  • Transgender person (trans person): A person whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. A person who is trans may also use other terms, in addition to trans, to describe their gender more specifically. Being trans does not depend upon physical appearance or medical procedures – a person can call themself trans the moment they realize that their gender identity is different than the sex they were assigned at birth (GLAAD, n.d.).
  • Non-binary Gender Identity: Some people don’t fit into the categories of “man” or “woman,” or “male” or “female.” For example, some people identify with more than one gender, or a gender that is neither male nor female. Some people don’t identify with any gender. Some people have a fluctuating gender identity. Non-binary identities fall under the transgender umbrella (GLAAD, n.d.). Other terms besides non-binary can be genderqueer, agender, bigender, and more. None of these terms mean exactly the same thing – but common understanding is that it’s the experience of gender that is not explicitly male or female (National Centre for Transgender Equality, 2018).

Different gender labels can mean different things to people, that means if a person discloses their gender identity to you, you could ask them to explain what that means to them. In that case, it will be easier for you to be supportive as a teacher or parent.


A transgender boy asks the school staff to use his chosen name and the pronouns he/his in the future.

Most teachers try to use the young person’s requested name and pronoun, but there is still one teacher in the school who continues to disregard the child’s self-determination and uses his old name (deadnaming) and calls him a girl (misgendering) when addressing him. The child repeatedly draws the teacher’s attention to the use of the wrong name and gender, but the teacher continues his activity.

This situation is discriminatory, inaccurate, and misleading towards the student and depending on the laws adopted can be in violation of the child’s rights of privacy and self-determination and expression. In such a situation, it is recommended that parents contact the school management for assistance. It is important to explain to the management that using the child’s preferred name and gender is a life-saving approach for trans children.

In case of discrimination, the parents/school must always ask the child what kind of support they would need in order to feel safe after such a situation.

If the child cannot say for themself what would help them feel safe and included, it is recommended to ask for advice from an LGBTQ+ organization with experience in the field of education. They can give advice or refer you to the necessary expert.


Teachers can provide children with a safe and inclusive environment using small and simple activities.

  • Create an inclusive curriculum where gender diversity topics are included. It is recommended that gender topics are not being handled separately from the main topics but are naturally integrated into the curriculum.
  • Make yourself visible to children by wearing the LGBTQ+ symbols or keeping it in your class. In this way, a student can be sure who is the supportive adult at their school. Students need to know who the safe staff at school is, whom they can turn to if needed. This is necessary so that if the child has a previous negative experience with a specialist, or if they do not have a supportive family, etc., then they will find a safe adult to talk to at school and they will not be left alone with their questions and concerns.
  • Propose to the school management that, next to gender-specific rooms, there should also be unisex rooms – toilets, locker-room, etc.
  • Propose to the school management to celebrate different LGBTQ+ themed days at the school, such as IDAHOBIT, to create a support group for LGBTQ+ students and LGBTQ+ teachers, to add LGBTQ+ topics to school documents, for example, that bullying on the basis of LGBTQ+ is not tolerated in the school.

Visibility is one of the most important things students need – LGBTQ+ issues are mentioned in important school documents, LGBTQ+ friendly school staff are visible, etc.

Studies have shown that the more inclusive and safer a school is for LGBTQ+ students, the less likely they are to skip classes, have higher self-esteem, lower stress levels, better academic results, etc. In addition, other students are more open to LGBTQ+ topics.


APA (2015). Guidelines for psychological practice with transgender and gender nonconforming people. American psychologist, 70(9), 832-864.

Budge, S. L., Katz-Wise, S. L., Tebbe, E. N., Howard, K. A. S., Schneider, C. L., & Rodriguez, A. (2013). Transgender Emotional and Coping Processes: Facilitative and Avoidant Coping Throughout Gender Transitioning. The Counseling Psychologist, 41(4), 601–647. https://doi.org/10.1177/0011000011432753

Devor, A. H. (2004). Witnessing and mirroring: A fourteen stage model of transsexual identity formation. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Psychotherapy, 8, 41–67.

Eckart, K. (2019, November 18). Among transgender children, gender identity as strong as in cisgender children, study shows. University of Washington News. https://www.washington.edu/news/2019/11/18/among-transgender-children-gender-identity-as-strong-as-in-cisgender-children-study-shows/

Gagné, P., Tewksbury, R., & McGaughey, D. (1997). Coming Out and Crossing Over: Identity Formation and Proclamation in a Transgender Community. Gender & Society, 11(4), 478–508. https://doi.org/10.1177/089124397011004006

Gender Spectrum (2019). Understanding Gender. Retrieved 29 September 2022, from https://genderspectrum.org/articles/understanding-gender

Glaad. (n.d.). GLAAD Media Reference Guide—Transgender Terms. GLAAD. Retrieved 26 September 2022, from https://www.glaad.org/reference/trans-terms

Kessler, S. J., & McKenna, W. (1978). Gender: An ethnomethodological approach. (pp. xv, 233). University of Chicago Press.

Marecek, J., Crawford, M., & Popp, D. (2004). The Construction of Gender, Sex and Sexualities. In A. H. Eagly, A. E. Beall, & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), The Psychology of Gender, Second Edition (Second edition, pp. 192–216). The Guilford Press.

National Centre for Transgender Equality. (2018, October 5). Understanding Non-Binary People: How to Be Respectful and Supportive. https://transequality.org/issues/resources/understanding-non-binary-people-how-to-be-respectful-and-supportive

Patterson, C. J., & D’Augelli, A. R. (Eds.). (2013). Handbook of Psychology and Sexual Orientation (1st edition). Oxford University Press.

United Nations Free and Equal. (2014). Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Throughout History. https://www.unfe.org/system/unfe-74-SEXUAL_ORIENTATION_AND_GENDER_IDENTITY_ARE_NOTHING_NEW_PDF.pdf

WHO (n.d.). Gender and health. Retrieved 29 September 2022, from https://www.who.int/health-topics/gender2.1

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