The Gendering Of Children, And Raising Trans Kids


There are a couple interesting things going on on twitter lately. There’s the hashtag #ididnotreport, where women (and men, and members of other genders) describe circumstances of rape or sexual assault that they did not report to police or authorities, and why. It’s a very, very chilling look at the intense social pressures that enable rape and sexual assault, and burden its victims with guilt and shame, and pressure them into silence.

Then there’s @NiceGuyBrianG, an apologist for rape and general non-consensual sexual acts, who has mocked and derided the #ididnotreport trend.

But beneath this, there’s been seething a subtler little trend that speaks volumes about where we still are as a culture in regards to homophobia and attitudes towards sexual variance, and the degree of violent (and frankly incomprehensible) hatred that is still openly stated towards homosexuality.

Recently, another hashtag, #ToMyUnbornChild has been trending, where people speak messages to their future children. And an alarmingly large number of these messages are along the lines of “If you’re gay, I’ll beat the shit out of you / kill you / disown you / etc.”

Yes. People are taking the opportunity to make their feelings towards their future children not as a chance to talk about offering them a better world, or treating them with love, or trying to suggest some scrap of wisdom they’ve managed to eke out of our confusing and strange world, but instead as a chance to iterate that they are so frightened, disgusted or hateful of homosexuality that they’ll threaten a child who does not yet exist, their child, with rejection, violence or death if they should end up happening to be gay.

And sadly, it should go without saying that this is not only a hypothetical put forward by some hateful twitter-users who have no idea what love for a child actually means. It is a staggeringly, heart-breakingly common story for queer people to have to choose between their families and their integrity, being able to be open about who they are. Those awful feelings of love for a child being conditional on their conformity to arbitrary cultural standards of sexuality and gender do not always go away when they finally look that child in the eyes or hold them in their arms. Far too often, they still hold that child and while thinking “I love you so much…” are still holding, somewhere in the back of their minds, “…as long as you’re straight, cis and meet my expectations.”

What this horrible little twitter trend has got me thinking about, though, is the number of e-mails (and sometimes comments) I’ve gotten with parents or would-be parents asking me for advice on how to go about dealing with the possibility (either concrete and suggested by present circumstances, or simply an abstract, as it always is) that their children may be gay or transgender. How do you assign a gender? Should you? How do you make sure your child receives the message that it’s okay to explore their gender (or later, sexual orientation)? How do you do this while not having them be bullied or alienated by other kids? How do you protect them from the gender-normative messages of society as a whole? And if they do begin presenting as transgender, how do we deal with that? What is the best strategy to take, and what will give them the best shot at happiness? How do we deal with all the people around us who will see any act of support for gender non-normativity in a child as “abuse”? Etc.

These parents, unlike the would-be practitioners of homophobic infanticide of #ToMyUnbornChild, are already getting it right. They’ve already accomplished the most important thing: putting the child’s happiness first, and thinking through and asking about how to ensure that happiness, and not letting these possibilities (or realities) compromise their love and support for their children.

I am not a parent. In all likelihood, I never will be. And to be honest, I’m not even all that fond of small children, and I haven’t spent much time with them. I’m the absolute farthest thing from an expert on parenting you could ever possibly find. So this post should be interpreted in light of that. However, I know what it’s like to grow up faking your gender, and I know how much pain can come from that. I’ve experienced what it’s like when parents get it wrong (the look of disappointment and mild disgust on my father’s face when I initially tried coming out at 14) and I’ve experienced what it’s like when parents get it right (the support and acceptance I I received from my mother and my father when I came out again at 26, while finally transitioning). And I’ve heard hundreds of stories from other trans people about all the horrible ways a child can be treated by a parent over something that should matter so little to their love.

So this is going to be my awkward, fumbling, probably totally stupid in several ways attempt at trying to answer those questions parents may have, about how to accommodate the possibility of a transgender / gender variant child, and how to go about the whole “gender assignment” thing.

Transgenderism id very, very rare. In the extreme majority of cases, assigning a gender based on external sexual characteristics will work out just fine. It’s on this basis that I don’t think we need to outright do away with the entire system of gender assignment. However, there’s absolutely no way to be certain, and in the case that a gender assignment is incongruent with gender identity, the consequences can be pretty rough, and increase in accordance with how strongly that gender assignment is enforced.

But it is entirely possible to mitigate those consequences, and permit your child, whatever their gender identity, to end up feeling happy, secure and confident in themselves, despite you having to (initially) put an M or F on their birth certificate.

One of the most important things you can do is make sure that M or F isn’t written in stone, and give your child the space to explore. While it’s okay to refer to them by gendered pronouns or terms, take the time every now and then to talk to them about it. Make sure they know they don’t HAVE to play with dolls or HAVE to play with trucks. Encourage them to consider other types of play, or clothing, or playmates. Ask them if they’d enjoy trying something else. Ask them what they WANT to wear, if they could choose from any part of the store. And don’t just do this once, and forget about it. Make this part of how you raise them, always letting them know it’s okay to think about this stuff, and consider their options.

Also, when you talk to them about what gender is, and about things like the differences between boys and girls, or where babies come from, or whatever, don’t over-essentialize and force heteronormative and cisnormative narratives. Don’t imply that sex is only something that ever happens between mommies and daddies who are married. Don’t imply that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina. Don’t imply that gender is something determined by fate over which we have no control. Don’t imply it’s binary. Make sure they’re aware that this is something they can define for themselves.

When they start getting a bit older, and a bit more capable of exploring identity for themselves, say 5 or 6-ish, you can begin having conversations with them about gender. You can ask them things like whether they want to be a boy or a girl or if they maybe don’t want to be either. You can ask them how they feel about their assigned sex, and their playmates, and the kinds of toys and clothes they’ve been assigned. You can talk to them about whether they might enjoy being a girl instead, or a boy instead, or even make little games of it, like asking if they’d like to “be a girl for a day” or “be a boy today”. Talk to them about what kind of name they might like instead of the one they were given. Let them try different names on and see how they fit. You can also use make-believe games as a way to encourage exploration of gender, and thinking about what gender means, like encouraging your son to play as the princess or your daughter to play as the knight. Even if your children end up cisgender and straight, these kinds of games can end up providing them a very valuable education into gender roles and what those mean, and a stronger sense of empathy for other genders.

And again, an important element of this is to keep it up. Don’t just do it once and expect that answers everything. Our understanding of our gender has to develop over time, and gradually be put together from bits and pieces. If you ask someone once what their gender is, they may just agree with their assigned sex because they think that’s what they’re “supposed” to say, or because they haven’t gotten to the point of understanding their feelings about it. So you have to make this an aspect of how you raise your children in general, something that you do often, in order for it to have meaning and for them to feel secure and unashamed in exploring it. You also should be open to fluidity. Don’t expect them to give you one definitive answer that will never ever change. Let them be a girl one day and a boy the next. And then a girl again a couple weeks later. And then a boy again. And then both for awhile. That may be what provides them the process they need.

That may sound like a whole lot of work, but it really isn’t. It’s just adding one small extra tidbit into all the other things you encourage a child to explore and learn and understand. Just as you give them a chance to learn about bugs and dinosaurs or astronomy and chemistry or hockey and basketball or dress-up and drawing or writing stories and designing games, and those all provide them a way to explore their interests and their passions, adding gender into that, and encouraging them to be curious and open-minded about, and discover for themselves, who they want to be, that’s not any dramatically big extra project.

And making up for that is the fact that most of the most important work you can do is in what you DON’T do. You know, like you DON’T pressure your son to join the kids hockey team, you DON’T force your daughter to enter a beauty pageant, you DON’T act disappointed and frustrated when they stray from gender roles. And you spare yourself a lot of pain and emotional stress when you let go of that baggage, wanting them to be “normal”. When you let go of the insistence that you children fit into strict gender roles, that’s one less thing you don’t have to worry about, or be sad or disappointed about, or frustrated about, or work to “fix”, or have fights about (“no, you may NOT wear make-up! You’re a boy! Stop arguing about it! Go to your room!”), or allow to get between you and your happiness and joy in your children. You let go of your desire for that imaginary Child That “Should” Have Been, and it makes it that much easier to just find a peaceful and simple joy and pride in the child you actually have, whoever they may be.

By pulling away those pressures and coercions to get your child to fit into their assigned gender, and by not only allowing but actively encouraging exploration of gender, and offering lessons to counter the hostile and shaming messages of a cisnormative culture (which is also, incidentally, an important message for any child: to not trust the messages they get from advertisements and the culture as a whole, to think critically about them, and NEVER let those messages make them feel ashamed of who they are), you’ll be able to foster a child’s sense of confidence in their gender so that when difficult or important decisions about that need to be made, you can trust your child’s understanding.

Gender variance in a young child, 10 or under, is not something that needs to be worried about too much. Simply allowing them to explore and express themselves is pretty much all you need to do. It may just be a phase, it may not, but that’s not really something to worry about too much. Don’t shame them, let them have space to work through that, and que sera, sera. However, when you reach the point of immediate pre-adolescence, that’s when things get a bit more serious, and important decisions come into play.

If your child is persisting in a transgender identification at the cusp of adolescence, at that point, it’s very unlikely to “just be a phase”, and it probably is serious. The important thing here is to be very supportive of your child. Things are NOT going to be easy for them, but having you on their side will make things a thousand times easier than they otherwise would be, as will not forcing them through an undesired puberty. You should contact whatever resources and support networks for trans youth are in your area, as well as resources for parents of trans youth to help you through this (because it won’t be easy for you either… whenever someone transitions, their families and loved ones transition with them). You should seek the assistance of both an experienced and trans-friendly psychiatrist and physician. Do EXTENSIVE research into their background, and talk to the local trans community about their reputation. Ideally, seek out and talk to trans people who saw these doctors and get their input and recommendation (or lack thereof) first, as well as accounts of their experiences. If possible, do a bit of compare / contrast. If you are unable to have much choice in terms of who you see, at the very least learn a bit about the warning signs and red flags associated with cissexist doctors and “gatekeeping” (you can talk to your trans community and support networks, or trans-advocates, about this… I’ve mentioned some of this on occasion, but I should probably do a full post sometime) and ditch the doctor if they begin demonstrating cisnormative bias.

While finding these doctors, you should begin a serious conversation with your child about the benefits and risks of lupron. Lupron is a medication that simply delays puberty (in both sexes) and prevents the irreversible changes associated with it, thus effectively preserving your child’s choice in the matter until they’re old enough to consent to transition and more irreversible treatments like estradiol or testosterone therapy. I’ve got a post about this here. You should also talk to them about the option of taking on a new name and presenting as a different gender at school, or perhaps simply “part-timing” at home or in safe spaces. Your child should also have access to trans-friendly counseling so as to help cope with the stresses and social anxieties (and likely bullying) that will come along with being trans. If at all possible, as said, try to find a group for queer or trans youth where they can meet and hang-out with other queer/trans kids in a safe, supportive environment, and make some friends.

And about that bullying… yeah, that’s probably going to happen. There’s not much you can do to stop it. If it gets really really bad, you might consider the option of homeschooling, but still… that’s a decision you’d have to work out. The thing is, though, you can’t make someone stop being trans (or gay). Trying to prevent them from transitioning, or being out, or force them to be “normal”, is just going to make things even harder and more unhappy for them. There’s a slim chance that might help spare them from bullying at school, but you’ve only replaced it with bullying from their family. You can’t protect them from the intolerance of the world, all you can do is be supportive of who they are and offer them love and security at home.

Altogether though, really the most important thing you can possibly offer a child, whether cis or trans or intersex, straight or gay or bi or pansexual or asexual, is genuinely unconditional love. That is the absolutely central thing. As long as that is your priority, that that love is based on who your child is rather than who you want your child to be or imagine them to be or wishes they were, that you make sure they know your love is unconditional (don’t just tell them that you love them no matter what, demonstrate it), and that you give them space to explore themselves in accordance with the space in which your love would still be offered, then you are doing a good job. Encourage them to find whoever they are, and whatever they wish out of life, and let them know no matter that ends up being, you are there for them and will stand behind it.

It can be tricky. Every single moment of our lives contains a thousand tiny ways that someone can send us a message of disapproval or limitation, imply what we should not do and what we should do. A parent can end up coercing a child into a particular gender role and suggesting they should be ashamed of behaviours x, y and z without even realizing they’re sending that message. Like the looks of disapproval I always read on my dad’s face. He probably didn’t mean to be sending them, but I definitely picked up on them and internalized them into a metric shit-ton of shame and self-loathing. But as long as you make the other messages stronger, and engage in ACTIVE encouragement of exploration, ACTIVE demonstration of unconditional love and acceptance, then they will internalize that into a similar shit-ton of confidence and self-acceptance. Which is exactly what every child, regardless of sex, orientation or gender, needs in order to be healthy and happy.

tl:dr?

Sure, assign a gender. But encourage exploration. Have open dialogue.  If they define a trans identity, pursue trans-friendly supports and resources and talk about lupron. Accept that things might be tough, so that you don’t make them tougher. Love unconditionally. Demonstrate it and make sure they know it.

I hope in whatever little way this can help a few parents navigate this stuff, and help a few kids feel a bit more loved and accepted. I know it’s hard and confusing, as a conceptual thing. But the reality of just loving and accepting your child, and exploring, expressing and constructing their identity together, is much easier and much less exhausting than the alternative of trying to force them into something. Give them the space to find it themselves.

Good luck!

Comments

    • Anders says

      Considering her comments in other threads I dare say so.

      Good post. I’ll remember it if the day comes.

    • says

      Yes, absolutely. I didn’t speak much to gendering or raising intersex children simply because I don’t really know enough about it to trust my ability to write well on the matter.

  1. says

    Great post. I think things would have gone very different for me if my parents had raised me doing even half the things you suggest. Being forced to do male (or perceived as male) things like playing sports or (the worst) going to a boys high school were incredibly damaging to me. And, I have a strong feeling, that if someone had thought to ask me, sincerely and non-judgmentally, when I was 7 if I like being a boy, or would I rather be a girl, that I very likely would have been able to say yes, rather than taking another 24 years to be able to even say it to myself…

  2. Emily says

    I pretty much read that going. “Yep, yep. I agree. Yes…”

    I do intend to adopt at some point, and I’ll give them every opportunity to explore their own gender, and if the child expresses any gender variance, of course I will support them.

  3. Anders says

    I think it’s sad that there are so many people out there who see their children as so much clay to be molded rather than as little people to be protected. Who try to live through their successes rather than trying to live their own lives.

    Thought for the day, I suppose.

  4. says

    One of the best trans-child-aware bloggers I know is Arwyn at Raising My Boychick. Her posts make me want to cry and beg her to adopt me. But what I really love is how she brings Gender Diverse Parenting into the daylight. http://www.raisingmyboychick.com/tag/gender-diverse-parenting/
    I have heard some people claim that assigning a gender is child abuse, a claim I find to be as equally ridiculous as that not assigning a gender is child abuse. I think both cis and trans people look back at their childhoods, recall what they wish had happened, and worry that the wrong things might be forced on every child ever. Yes, it’s fun to think about how wonderful life could have been if I had gotten the chance to pick my own gender from scratch. But I wasn’t traumatized by having a gender assignment; the damage came from not having the option to change it at will.

    • says

      But I wasn’t traumatized by having a gender assignment; the damage came from not having the option to change it at will.

      I think this is how it generally is. For most of us it is not the initial assumption that destroys our will but rather once we find our voice having it repeatedly silenced by those who are supposed to love us.

      We don’t have to go over the top in our efforts, we just have to be willing to listen to what our children care conveying to us about themselves and accept them for who they are.

  5. Mattir says

    I’m a parent and I endorse this message. The Spawns have known since they were in diapers that the only things that are boy or girl are the physical bits that make germ cells and that dividing activities, hobbies, and interests according to gender is as unjust as segregated water fountains (it was quite amusing to see them deliver this message to the local Catholic family who were trying to have a boys-versus-girls soccer game).

    Basically I’ve tried hard to raise kids who have a queer-theory model of gender. It’s been tough to watch how they have to deal with homophobic slurs because of choices they’ve made to grow their hair or not shave their legs, but they’re strong and wonderful and seem to be dealing with it fine.

    It helps to homeschool and hang out with people we’ve met through FtB so as to create a community where the kids can receive support for unconventional choices.

  6. Old One-Eye says

    Disclaimer: I am het, cis, white and male – apologies for any priviledge that leaks through.

    I’m also a relatively new parent (just shy of 11 months). And, well, it might be that I’m having a lousy day today, but reading the section on #ToMyUnbornChild… I want to go and hide in a corner and cry about it. Although I suppose… that’s better than wanting to storm off and scream at people about it. This is so completely opposed to everything I feel as a parent.

    I made a promise to my daughter before she was born “No matter who you are, I will always love you”. That may be a lot to live up to, but damn it… I’ll try. On the plus side, I’d like to think she’s got a good shot at not being forced into the stereotypical “little girl” role – my wife’s got a fairly dim view of “girly girls” and a near-pathological dislike of pink. (The “Baby Boy” vest wasn’t intentional – nothing in her age-range at the shop in the girls section, everything else in the pack on the boys side was passably gender-neutral).

  7. donnamccrimmon says

    This actually touches upon a question I thought of recently: to what extent should those in favor of gender equality try to erase gender definition completely?

    I ask because while I am all in favor of gender equality, I don’t think it’s too feasible to wave away any and all classifications of ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine.’ Most non-English Western languages assign gender to inanimate objects, that’s how ingrained the importance of gender distinction is in our cultures.

    Now obviously most things seen as ‘for girls’ or ‘for boys’ are based on rather pointless social expectations. Girls like to cook, boys like to get dirty. That’s bulls**t, there’s no reason to split children along those lines. But at the same time I’m not too put out by the idea that things like make-up or dresses wouldn’t be used by boys too often, just so long as society doesn’t force people to avoid things they’re interested in. The general idea of gender distinction doesn’t concern me; it’s the inequality and sexism that do.

    If I had a child (really uncertain if that will ever happen) I wouldn’t try to force them into any particular interests or pursuits (though I will say that if they don’t like to read or don’t like Star Wars I’ll have to disown them). I agree completely that it’s all about letting the child figure out for themselves what they are, what they like, etc. But I’m not sure if I would go as far as you suggest here and try to “push” them (for want of a better word) into trying both boy things and girl things.

    I remember when I took a sociology course in college we were given a short story about a couple who raised their child without any gender distinction. They called them X, they dressed them in colorless, unisex clothes, they didn’t do anything that could tip the child’s identity to male or female.

    My issue with that idea is the couple is essentially using the child for their activist purposes, controlling the child’s life to make their own point. I think I understand what you’re trying to say here about encouraging them to follow their wishes. But at the same time I wouldn’t say to a boy “Do you want to wear a dress today?” because he would get so many strange looks from people (at the least; let’s not dwell on the comments he might get). Which raises the question of why girls can wear pants but boys can’t wear skirts or dresses, but that’s another issue.

    I think as a parent I would be concerned about my child “deviating” from any norm not because I’d be embarassed but because I’d be worried about potential bullying and ostracization. I never really belonged growing up, and I wouldn’t want that happening to my kid(s).

    And that may be the biggest roadblock to trans- acceptance: no one wants to draw attention to themselves, either through their actions or their children’s. Fear of being different is so pervasive.

    • McKenzie says

      I think that discouraging deviation because you’re worried for your child can be just as bad as discouraging it because you think it’s sick or wrong. Not necessarily is, but can be. It’s sort of victim blaming, don’t do that because people will be mean to you if you do it. It’s natural to feel worried and unfortunately we don’t live in a world where you can go out as obviously not cis and not expect to get at least some abuse, but I don’t think that’s a good reason to try to convince someone not to experiment.

      It’s interesting because plenty of groups are discriminated against, but you don’t often see parents telling, for example, their cis female children to pretend to be boys because otherwise people will be sexist to them, or telling their children of any other minority to pretend to not be whatever minority they’re in.

      • donnamccrimmon says

        “but I don’t think that’s a good reason to try to convince someone not to experiment.”

        It’s easy to talk about hypotheticals. I don’t know that I would try to convince my son not to dress like a girl, but honestly I think the fear problem might lead me to it. Though I have no compunctions about a daughter dressing/acting like a tomboy.

        I wouldn’t call it a double-standard, but I think the women’s rights movement has made it OK for women to go into a lot of ‘masculine’ areas while there hasn’t been an opposite movement to make it OK for men to go into ‘feminine’ areas. There is no real men’s rights movement, just a bunch of assholes trying to make the world safe for drunken, obnoxious fratboys (that’s a rant for another day).

      • McKenzie says

        Hmm, I dunno that I’d call it a hypothetical. I can’t claim to speak for everyone but I’ve been on the receiving end of “don’t be gender variant people will laugh at you” and I found it incredibly frustrating.

        Then again I probably should have realised that my mother wasn’t going to be supportive when I mentioned I was mostly androphillic and she replied that she “couldn’t see me with a man”.

        Tangents aside, I think it is very hard to avoid saying it, and I propose a variant: while experimenting be aware that people will be mean but don’t let it stop you if you want to.

        • donnamccrimmon says

          “while experimenting be aware that people will be mean but don’t let it stop you if you want to.”

          That may be the best, most common-sense solution anyone can offer their child.

  8. Movius says

    You mention gatekeeping in your post. I hope you will write your article on it soon.

    I just finished reading Whipping Girl on my Kindle over the course of many lunch-breaks at work. Until I read this book, as an outsider looking in, this had always seemed to me as a mild inconvenience rather than the vile and sadistic unscientific mind-game it actually is. I can’t imagine forcing that on anyone let alone an innocent child.

  9. says

    donnamccrimmon kind of touches on what I was going to ask. In case it matters, I am a cis, white, straight male without children.

    To what extent would you encourage parents sitting down with their children and explaining the way society views gender norms, while still being supportive. For example “It’s okay to be a girl, and it’s okay to be a boy, and regardless of which you want to be I will always love and support you. But if you’re a boy and wear a dress, or a girl who plays sports then there may sometimes be people who will get mad at you for no reason. These people are wrong, but you may encounter them and you should be prepared to have to deal with the prejudices of other people if you choose to express yourself in certain ways.”

    I don’t necessarily know what the best way to word it would be (probably not that) but I’m curious to what degree you would encourage parents to engage in such discussions.

    • says

      I don’t think it’s wise to talk to them about bullying in the same conversation as encouraging them to explore. Otherwise you’re tacitly threatening them and giving them a reason to think what you mean is “don’t do that, or your life will suck”. Bring up the bullying talk IF they begin wanting to engage in gender variant behaviour publicly, and keep it as a separate conversation from the “you can be whoever you want to be, I’ll always love you” talk.

    • says

      Concern trolling your children isn’t useful. Kids learn that there are people who fear and hate them for being who they are. They don’t need to be taught that; they *do* need to be taught the strength to be who they are anyway.

  10. Gender Realist says

    “Make sure they know they don’t HAVE to play with dolls or HAVE to play with trucks.”

    Basically you’re admitting here that there is such a thing as biological gender and that the gender “stereotypes” are indeed correct. I am, of course, assuming here that you assume (correctly) that boys tend to play with trucks because of their nature, while girls tend to play with dolls because of their nature. Surprise, surprise.
    Maybe you should share this deep insight into human nature with PZ Myers and Jen McCreight.
    Btw, I recently saw a documentary about a trans boy who turned into a girl. They did the whole transformation before puberty and the girl turned out to be pretty damn hot, just like a normal girl!

  11. says

    Ahh, thanx
    I was more or less sick when you wrote this (I’ve been constantly for months), so it slipped me.

    I am, still, a bit worried and confused and I feel like one step forward, two back.

    First of all, I agree with most of what you write, do most of the things because I really hate gender stereotypes and what they’re doing to kids and then there’s this part:

    Don’t imply that boys have a penis and girls have a vagina.

    And I’m wondering what I’m supposed to do
    First of all, those parts are there, they “need” an explenation.
    Call it being a privileged cis-mum, but how could I explain the obvious difference between mummy and daddy without refering to the genitals, especially if I don’t want to refer to other stereotypes.
    Secondly, kids seem to define gender often along the lines of “what you do and what you wear” (and I’m seriously wondering if that’s in part due to the fact that they don’t get to see genitals either in real or at least in dolls) and I’d like to STOP THAT.
    At least I’d like to teach my daughters that they don’t stop being girls because they like cars, climb trees, wear blue.
    How can I teach that at the one hand their gender identity is not threatened by what they wear or do if I try to “explore” the other gender with them by making such choices.
    I’m simply lost at this point. Honestly.
    I’m trying to give them lots of “I love you the way you are, you’re wonderfull to me.” To me the most important thing is that they become happy. I’d also like them not to be judgemental assholes in the likely case of them being straight and cis.

    • says

      You can refer to the difference in gender between mommy and daddy (“woman” and “man”) as something APART from the difference in anatomy / sex between mommy and daddy, daughter and son (“vulva” and “penis”). Those ARE two separate issues and so it’s entirely truthful to educate your children about them as such.

      • says

        I understand what you’re saying, but I’m not convinced that the approach is very workable.
        I think it would leave a child thoroughly confused and not very convinced.
        Firstly, and I admit that this might be absolutely my inability to do so, how should I explain a 4yo what is the difference between men and women if it’s neither that you wear pink/blue, something kids that age are often actually convinced of. It’s their understanding of those matter, nor the hardware.
        I’m afraid that “it’s because you know it” isn’t an explenation they will understand.
        Secondly it stands in crass contrast with what they see. They experience every day that those people with a penis get a male noun and those with a vulva a female one.
        That doesn’t mean that this is correct, but if they’re too small to understand what you’re actually trying to explain, they’ll just not believe you.
        Doesn’t matter if you’re actually truthful or not, I value truth highly in raising my kids, but a complicated truth they can’t understand and that stands in contrast to the facts they see every day tastes like a lie to them.
        Kind of like teaching Bohr’s atomic model: We know it’s not correct, but we still teach it because at that age it’s something kids can grasp.
        Perhaps going for “most men have a penis and most women have a vulva, but sometimes there’s a missmatch and although she has a penis she’s still really a woman” might work.
        It’s still entirely truthful and fits their own experience better.

        • says

          I’m afraid that “it’s because you know it” isn’t an explenation they will understand.

          I don’t think you’re giving them nearly enough credit.

          Truth is, they very likely already do understand this, because they already “know” their gender before they ever ask you to define it in precise terms.

          I’m sorry, but telling children halftruths and untruths about queerness for the sake of avoiding “confusing” them?

          Where have I heard that before?

          http://www.xtra.ca/public/National/National_Post_apologizes_for_running_transphobic_ad-10837.aspx

          They experience every day that those people with a penis get a male noun and those with a vulva a female one.

          Children see other children’s genitals every day?! News to me!

          Reminds me of the people who assert with absolute certainty that XX = woman and XY = man without realizing that like >90% of us have no idea what our karyotype is, and we pretty much NEVER know what anyone else’s is.

          And even if they DID know what all the other kids genitals are, all that would indicate is that those with a penis were ASSIGNED male and those with a vulva were ASSIGNED female. You can explain this while also reminding them that they don’t have to stick with their assignment if they don’t want to.

          • says

            Natalie, I really value your insight and input on trans and gender questions, but I really think you don’t know much about children and their cognitive development.
            No, I don’t underestimate them.
            I know, we all want them to be brilliant little thinkers who rock the academic world by age 8, but in truth they’re not.

            Truth is, they very likely already do understand this, because they already “know” their gender before they ever ask you to define it in precise terms.

            Research says they don’t.
            First of all, things that are “preverbal” to them can hardly be accessed by verbal communication. It’s like those things existing in seperate rooms with no door to go through.

            Secondly, preschoolers often believe that their gender is defined by gender expression. Although they “know” at some level that they are “something”, they are also afraid that this might change if they made the wrong choice in shirt colours. Pink makes the girl, not their genitals, not their inner gender identity.

            I’m sorry, but telling children untruths about queerness for the sake of avoiding “confusing” them?

            Now you’re strawmanning me and you’re doing so maliciously.
            I never said anything about telling them untruths, I was looking for an adequate and age appropriate way to educate them about trans issues.
            Holy shit, did you read what I wrote? If you’re telling them the truth in a way they can’t understand, to them you’re not telling the truth. You can sit all smugly on your high horse but you achieve shit. Because they’re children and not exceptionally short and undereducated adults.
            Yes, that means engaging something Pratchett calls “lies to children”: simplifying matters in a way that they can understand, which we know to be incorrect, but which are tools so they can get the “long story” later.

            Children see other children’s genitals every day?! News to me!

            They do so in less prudish parts of the world. Unisex toilets in kindergarten and stuff, children being encouraged to help one another with getting dressed/ undressed.
            Or having siblings, for that matter.

          • says

            Kids thinking a pink shirt makes them a girl is actually MORE accurate of how gender works than saying a vulva is what makes them a girl.

            If you don’t want my input, or don’t think I’m capable of offering anything substantive on this issue, don’t ask me. Okay?

            Just do NOT expect me to sympathize with the attitude that it’s beneficial for kids to be taught a simplified, cissexist concept of gender just so they don’t get “confused”. Insisting that we HAVE to teach gender/sex the way we’ve always taught it, or that that’s the only version of gender/sex that “makes sense” or is “comprehensible” is a HUGE part of why these attitudes are so entrenched. And a big part of what makes life suck for those of us who don’t fall within that simplistic lesson.

            Transgenderism is NOT “confusing”.

          • says

            Oh for fuck’s sake, if I didn’t want your input I wouldn’t ask you. But just because I asked you doesn’t mean that you’re suddenly an expert on children and education and I’m sick and tired of you claiming that I wanted to teach kids “simplified cis-genderism”. I was actually looking for a way to teach them simplified queer-gender theory in an understandable and accesible way.
            I nowhere claimed that teaching transgenderism as such is confusing or that we had to teach sex/gender the way we always did.
            If I thought so I obviously wouldn’t have asked for input.
            I disagree with you on how to teach children and didn’t think that the approach you mentioned would work well.
            That doesn’t mean I don’t want to teach them.
            But I’ll sure let my daughter know that next time she wears a blue shirt she stops being a girl.

          • says

            You’re asking me “how do I teach them a queer-friendly version of gender?” and then when I make my suggestions, in the simplest possible terms, you get all “but that will CONFUSE them!!!” and implying that the simple suggestion that you NOT engage in genital-essentialism is already too much. Do no harm?

            I think maybe you should think about why you’re assuming that this is inherently so hard to teach children in a way that makes sense to them. And that maybe part of the reason this SEEMS like it would be too difficult to grasp is because it’s difficult to grasp within the context YOU were taught. Gender/sex distinction is a lot less confusing if you’ve never been taught they’re the same.

            And don’t criticize me for alleged straw-manning if you’re going to turn around and casually do the same. I said “more accurate” not “accurate”. Gender expression doesn’t determine gender any more than genital sex does, but at least it’s in the same ball-park. And acting all mortified at how THAT suggestion might be misinterpreted but not seeming to worry that genital essentialism would be misinterpreted is awfully hypocritical. Her thinking blue shirts would end her girlhood would be awfully limiting, but at least it would be HER choice, not YOURS.

          • says

            and then when I make my suggestions, in the simplest possible terms,

            My goodness, are you actually that much beyond criticism?
            No, your suggestions were not “in the simplest possible terms”, but that seems lost on you.

            implying that the simple suggestion that you NOT engage in genital-essentialism is already too much. Do no harm?

            Wait, you actually think that this is simple?
            No, you haven’t offered anything, especially no “simple suggestions”. So, no, vulvas and penises don’t make women and men. Doesn’t mean that it doesn’t add together for most women and men.

            I think maybe you should think about why you’re assuming that this is inherently so hard to teach children in a way that makes sense to them.

            Maybe it’s because I actually talk to them and work with them every day? Trying to figure out to how to explain things to them, from photosynthesis to gender theory is something I engage in daily. So, when was the last time you tried to explain something like that to a 4yo? What did you read on the subject of cognitive development and gender studies about children?

            . And that maybe part of the reason this SEEMS like it would be too difficult to grasp is because it’s difficult to grasp within the context YOU were taught.

            Guess why I was actually asking for input. It was amistake I won’t repeat.

            Gender/sex distinction is a lot less confusing if you’ve never been taught they’re the same.

            Helps a lot if you actually have two words for it, I don’t, go figure. It’s also not like I’m raising them in a vat.

            And don’t criticize me for alleged straw-manning if you’re going to turn around and casually do the same.

            Oh, did it frustrate you?
            Not nice, is it?

            And acting all mortified at how THAT suggestion might be misinterpreted but not seeming to worry that genital essentialism would be misinterpreted is awfully hypocritical.

            What is awefully hypocritical is that you’re still acting like I actually argued in favour of gender essentialism.

            Her thinking blue shirts would end her girlhood would be awfully limiting, but at least it would be HER choice, not YOURS.

            Muah-ha-ha.
            No, sorry, you have no clue about the current gender studies and current studies on girls and stereotype threat if you think that it has anything to do with choice that girls nowadays are afraid to wear anything but pink.
            Oh, and who’s talking about “my choice”? I didn’t choose her sex, I don’t choose her gender. I’m actually trying to offer her choice. I don’t think that teaching her that her gender expression can actually endanger her sex and gender won’t do the trick.

          • says

            Okay. This conversation is NOT productive. And I do NOT appreciate cis people asking my opinion on gender stuff only to turn around and belittle me and cisplain how stupid and uneducated I must be if they don’t like my answers.

            I’m ending this now, or at least ending my participation. But please, at some point, do try to take a moment to think about WHY I became frustrated with you. I’ll do the same in kind.

  12. says

    natalie, if i were a kid, i would totally get all kitten-eyed and beg you to be my mom. i wish every would-be parent had to read this post before conceiving!

    <3!

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