Let’s talk Gender: Identity, Roles and Expression

What is Gender?

Understanding gender may seem simple but it can be pretty complicated. Gender is the term that society uses to describe whether we are male or female. Beliefs about gender can vary from one culture to another.

Feel good about who you are and don’t let other people tell you how to express yourself!

Express yourself!

Have you thought about what it means to be either male or female? Gender roles are what people believe about how males and females are supposed to dress and act. Examples of these might be dressing boys in blue and girls in pink, or thinking that only men can work as mechanics and only women can work as nurses.

As young people go through puberty, they may feel more pressure to act in ways that are more “male” or “female.” There are lots of things that can make you feel this way; what we see or hear around us on TV, in music or on the internet, or what our family and friends think. There are lots of ways to express yourself including the style and colour of clothes you wear, the activities or sports you like or the way you style your hair.

This is called our gender expression. For example, you might be a guy who likes pink and loves to sew and cook. Or you might be a girl who thinks blue is the best and you love cars or climbing trees. Awesome!

Whether we are born a boy or a girl, we all have our own feelings inside about being male, female or maybe something else. This is called our gender identity.

For most people, the way we feel on the inside (our gender identity) matches how we look outside (our male or female body). For some people, however, this isn’t the case. A person may even feel that they are in the wrong body. That means that you may have the body of a girl but you feel like you’re a boy. Or you have the body of a boy, but you feel like you’re a girl. If you feel this way, you may be transgender.

Being transgender isn’t always an easy thing to deal with and you may find that puberty is a very difficult time. This may be because your body is changing in ways you are not comfortable with. The important thing to know is that you are not alone. There are lots of transgender people in society and people who can help you make sense of things.

Did you know...

Your brain is working hard! During puberty, your brain is in one of the most active stages of growth and change. These changes affect your thoughts and feelings but also make this a time when learning and creativity is better than ever!

Your body needs healthy food and plenty of water every day to keep it running smoothly. Check out Canada’s Food Guide to learn about the kinds of food you should choose and how much you should eat.

Getting regular exercise should keep you at a healthy weight and can help you feel good! When you are active, the ups and downs of puberty can seem a lot easier to handle. For some great fitness tips, search online for Canada’s Get Active Tip Sheets. Kids and youth ages 5-17 should get 60 minutes (or more!) of physical activity every day.

Sleep is important! You’ll need about nine hours of sleep every night. This should keep you alert during the day and give your body some growing time.

Smoking, using alcohol and other drugs are behaviours that can affect your health in a negative way. Some kids feel pressure from friends (peer pressure) to use substances and do stuff they are not comfortable with. If this happens to you, talk to an adult you trust about how to handle it.

Growing up means making decisions for yourself. Making good decisions takes practice. You will probably make some mistakes along the way.

Other Stuff...

Sexual Feelings

Male and female bodies respond to sexual thoughts, feelings and touches – this is called arousal or feeling sexually excited. When you have these feelings, you might feel changes in your body like being suddenly hot (flushed) and maybe even a nervous, tingly feeling. Feelings of sexual arousal can be confusing, but they are normal and healthy.


Touching and rubbing your own genitals can feel good. This is called masturbation. People of any age, male and female may choose to masturbate or not to masturbate. Both choices are safe and ok. Masturbation should be done in a private place where there won’t be any interruptions.

How are babies made?

It takes a sperm cell and an egg cell to join together to make an embryo which can be the beginning of a baby. When a man and woman have sex (sexual intercourse), the penis fits into the vagina. Sperm cells leave the man’s penis, travel through the vagina into the uterus and into the fallopian tubes. A woman’s egg cell moves from an ovary into a tube once a month or so. This is where the two cells may meet and join into one tiny cell (embryo) that is ready to move to the uterus to grow. This is a pregnancy.


The information contained in this section of the site is from the booklet Growing Up Okay! 
Reprinted with permission from Healthy Child Manitoba Office, 2013.