Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Kids and Gender Part Two: When Your Child is Trans or Gender-Variant.

I feel honoured to welcome a colleague and friend of mine, Emily Sors, to write a two part guest blog series on Trans 101 and Gender Variant Children. This is part two in a two part guest blog series on kids and gender. If you haven't already, please read part one (Kids and Gender Part One: Trans 101) to ensure you have the context and background knowledge for this second entry. Please remember to read carefully and with an open mind. I also encourage people to feel comfortable respectfully asking any questions you may have in the comments. I understand this topic may be far out of your frame of reference. Finally, I recognize you may have different opinions on the steps to take if you have a trans or gender-variant child. Once again, I strongly encourage comments, but please remember our commenting policy. 

I've added some additional links at the end of this article. 

When Your Child is Trans or Gender-Variant

It is well understood that children typically gravitate toward certain behaviours common for their gender. The classic example of this is boys who play with trucks or blocks, and girls who play with dolls. But what should you do when Johnny wants to play with his sister’s Barbie, or Katie keeps taking her brother’s big red fire truck? While most children naturally exhibit gender-variant behaviour at one point or another, many parents don’t know what to do if gender-variant behaviour persists. In many cases this will just be a phase they go through. If this persists longer than a year however, the likelihood is that this is not a phase, but rather a natural expression of your child’s gender identity.

Most parents initially fear gender-variant behaviour in their children. We are constantly given the message that such behaviour is “wrong” or even “harmful” to their development. The reality is, children develop a concrete sense of their gender identity by age 2 or 3. That gender identity will remain with them for the rest of their lives, and it is not something that can be externally manipulated, much the same as someone’s personality. Again you should note that gender variance is a natural occurrence, not anything disordered. A child who is transgendered will grow up to be transgendered regardless of what you do to influence them. Some well-meaning parents try to discourage their child from gender-variant behaviour through punishment, and conversely, by encouragement of gender-“appropriate” behaviour. This will do more harm than anything, as the child will receive the message that their behaviour, which is perfectly natural to them, is “bad” and can lead to the loss of self-esteem and significantly increase the risk of depression and other mental health issues.

Many people argue that children are not self-aware enough to decide whether to transition or not. However, nobody knows your child’s gender identity better than they know it themselves. The best way to help your child develop naturally is to allow your child to take the lead on their gender identity, and allow them to experiment and express their gender identity freely. This experimentation is crucial to your child gaining a clear understanding of their gender identity. As your gender-variant child’s parent, you are in the ideal position to be an advocate for your child. Unfortunately there are some safety issues associated with allowing gender-variant behaviour to be expressed publicly, such as attracting bullying. This is where you must be available to protect your gender-variant child! Having a strong family support system that can speak up for your child’s right to express their gender is key to preserving your child’s mental health. You can also be available to protect your child’s privacy.

The TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation
Depending on your child’s age, you do not need to push your child into any permanent changes, or away from any either. Until puberty, children can easily express their gender identity through gendered behaviour and dress. Once children reach their ‘tween years, they can be given medication to delay puberty, to give them more time to discover their gender identity. This has the advantage of preventing distress from the “wrong” puberty occurring, while doing no harm to their physical development, as puberty will occur naturally once the child is taken off medication. If your child ultimately realizes that they are transgendered and must physically transition, they can be given the hormones appropriate for their gender identity in order to induce the “correct” puberty.

As parents, we all want the best thing for our children. Ultimately the best thing for your gender-variant child is to grant them the freedom to express their identity freely, and to help them to discover their gender identity naturally. Stand by their side, and you will be able to watch your child grow up to be a strong, confident individual as an adult.

For more information about raising a transgender or gender-variant child, I highly recommend picking up The Transgender Child by Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper(paperback | ebook).
Emily Sors has been active in the trans community ever since she began her transition at 20. Since then she's been the Vice President of the Vancouver Pride Society, and today she is starting her own company, where she does web development and social media marketing for small businesses. In her spare time she volunteers to educate people about transgender issues and plays board games with her partner.  Check Emily out at www.handyhedgehog.com or www.emilysors.com
Additional Links of Interest

Ma Vie En Rose, an amazing film about a transgendered child (in french with subtitles).

No Bikini, a fun short 8 minute film (you can view it on youtube) detailing a little girl's summer where she wore a boy bathing suit to swim class.

AC360 Report Preview: Anderson Cooper provides a sneak peek at AC360's three-part series "The Sissy Boy Experiment."

Vote for us on Top Baby Blogs!
Vote for us on Picket Fence Blogs!


  1. Thank you for this Emily and Monika!

    When I was growing up, I was peppered with my fair share of pink dresses, and Barbie dolls, but my parents also made sure that I had trains, trucks, dinosaurs, and (my personal favourite) Transformers. I also spent a lot of time with my dad (a football coach) and developed an extensive love of football and other sports-- not a traditionally "female" gender role.

    Today, I identify as a cis female, but I am entirely grateful to my parents for allowing me the space I needed to create my own gender identity, and to push the boundaries of gender when and how I needed to.

  2. This post speaks to my feminist heart so much! Thank you SO much for posting this. Hii! I'm your newest follower from the blog hop! Please swing by & visit my blog when/if you have a chance. If you have a Twitter, I'd love to be friends there as well. xoxo! www.shelbylately.com & @shelbylatelycom

  3. Have you read the book "Maybe Baby"? It is all about a couple raising their baby this way. Very interesting subject.


I've adopted the same commenting policy as seen here at Off Beat Mama (http://offbeatmama.com/about/comments). I won't post comments if they strike me as attacking, judgmental, rude, or unproductive. In general if you are willing to put your name to something, I'll post it, but remember to keep your words sweet, because someday you may have to eat them.