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Gender identity

Our gender identity is about our sense of being man or woman or something else. It may not be the same as the sex we were assigned at birth.

For example, someone who was born with a penis and testicles would be assigned male on their birth certificate. However, they may feel, identify and live as a woman.

Gender identity terms

Agender – not having a gender or gender expressions

Bi-gender – someone who identifies as having two genders

Cisgender – someone whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth, e.g. someone assigned male at birth who lives as a man

Fa’fafine – a Samoan term for someone assigned male at birth but now has a feminine gender expression, this is culturally specific term

Gender fluid – no fixed gender identity

Genderqueer – an umbrella term for people who reject the gender binary of man/woman, genderqueer is also an identity term

Non-binary – an umbrella term for people who reject the gender binary of man/woman, non-binary is also an identity term

Takatāpui – a traditional Māori word that includes gender, sexual orientation, cultural identity and ideas about belonging

Tangata ira tane – a Māori term for someone assigned female at birth who lives as a man

Trans-feminine – identifying on the feminine end of the gender spectrum, often assigned male at birth

Trans-masculine – identifying on the masculine end of the gender spectrum, often assigned female at birth

Whakawahine – a Māori term for some assigned male at birth but who lives as a woman

Gender binary

Sometimes people talk about the gender binary – this is when people think or behave as if there are only two genders – men and women.

One of the dangers of the gender binary is that it puts expectations on the way people should behave based on their gender. Society expects that men and women will behave in a particular way, look a particular way or have particular roles. This is especially limiting for women – and negative for society in general.  

Different cultures understand gender in different ways. In Pakeha culture we often talk about the gender binary, though that is changing.

In Māori culture there is the concept of takatapui, a traditional Māori word that includes gender, sexual orientation, cultural identity and ideas about belonging.

In the Pacific, there are a number of ways of thinking about gender outside the idea of the gender binary. Terms used in some places in the Pacific for gender identities are:

  • Fa’afafine (Samoan)
  • Fakaleiti (Tongan)
  • Akava’ine (Cook Islands Māori)
  • Vaka sa lewa lewa (Fijian)
  • Fiafifine (Niuean)
  • Mahu vahine (Tahitian)
  • Mahu wahine (Hawaiian)

When someone talks to you about their gender identity, there are some things you can do to be supportive. One of the most important is to use the pronoun they choose to describe their identity.

Pronouns that people may use:

She

Her

Hers

Herself

Gender typically woman

He

Him

His

Himself

Gender typically man

They

Them

Their

Theirs

Gender neutral

Zie

Zir

Zir

Zirs

Gender neutral

 Being respectful of someone’s gender identity is very important to them and is a powerful way for you to show that you are an ally.  You can be respectful by: 

  1. Hanging out and getting to know them. Finding out about common interests.
  2. Checking in about the best way to address someone – “My name is Cindy and I use she/her pronouns, what about you?” or “What pronouns do you use?” Apologising if you do accidently use the wrong pronoun. We all make mistakes from time to time.
  3. Using the name and pronoun someone has asked you to use. The more you use the name and pronoun, the more of a habit it will become.
  4. Responding positively about someone’s appearance – but only if you’re asked. If you’re not asked – there’s no need to say anything. There’s no need to ask about genitals or the transition/affirmation process or surgery either.
  5. Always remembering this is someone’s identity and someone’s life. Be respectful and affirming. 

Family Planning has clinics located throughout New Zealand. Use the clinic finder to find your nearest clinic.