Supporting Your Child Through Gender Identification Issues
One of the first things we teach children is if they are a girl or a boy. For most children it is a simple question. Their gender was assigned at birth, and they are comfortable with it. Things can become more difficult for transgender children. What is the best way to react as a parent to a child who is having gender identification issues?
I believe that the best thing a parent can do for most issues is support their child. That means supporting the person who that child is, not the person who the parent imagined that they would be.
I have a friend who came out as transgender last year. I'm not going to lie. I already knew. I knew since we were in grade school and some mean boys asked if he was a boy or a girl. He said, "Boy." I knew in that instant that it was true, even though I was seven and didn't have a word for what that meant. The way he said it was an absolute statement of fact, the same way I would have confirmed that I was female if someone were rude enough to ask.
When he came out to his mother she was surprised. It threw her world for a loop, but she also loved her child enough to accept that she needed to let go of her vision of her baby girl, and acknowledge that it was never a title that worked for her actual child. They are doing fine now, and with the help of modern medicine my friend's wife just had a baby.
So, what should you do if your child tells you that they are not the gender of the body they were born with? I think the answer is pretty simple. You should love them. Allow them to try to figure out who they are. You should support them. You should be their parent. You should recognize that while you are entitled to the feelings that their revelation awoke in you, the way you respond may change your relationship with them forever.
Does that mean you should let your four-year-old boy wear a dress to the grocery store? Maybe. In all probability he's probably drawn to the dress for the same reason a little girl would be, because it's pretty. A little girl who likes digging for worms, or a little boy who likes to play dolls probably aren't having gender identification issues. Those are our issues about what we believe gender roles should be, not issues of their sexuality.
However, if you have a child who is insistent that they are not a girl forcing them to wear a dress to school may alter your relationship with them in a negative way. Instead of an ally you become the enemy. Instead of the one that they can hide behind when the world gets too tough, you become the one they are hiding from.
Children love to imagine. It's how they grow. They play firefighters, or movie stars. The play knights and princesses. They take on different roles and see what fits. There is no reason that gender should be any different. If your little girl insists she's the prince or your little boy wants to be a mermaid, let them. Who they are is for them to figure out, not for you to choose.
When it comes down to it supporting your child through gender identification issues is the same as supporting them through anything else. All you need to do is make sure that they understand that you love them, whoever they are.