Gender Identity Conversation With Child
AMAB- assigned male at birth
Trans- you think/you know you are different than your assigned gender at birth.
Non Binary (also called queer, gender fluid)- the experience (truth/identity)of not being either gender.
Child (5 years old, AMAB) to Mama: Can we buy me a dress? I want to wear a dress to the first day of school.
Mama: (face scrunched. Belly tight. Heart pounding and remembering her conversation with her therapist, who has been guiding her through her doubts and fears about what she realizes might be her child’s gender fluidity or trans identity) OK honey I understand you want to wear a dress. (This is reflective listening so that child feels heard). Can you tell me what about a dress feels better for you, honey? (this is a healthy inquiry that helps the child explore their thoughts and feelings)
Child: I don’t know. I just think I will feel more comfortable.
Mama: (getting down to his eye level) You know that boys don’t usualywear dresses, right?
Child: (pained face, slouched shoulders) I don’t care.
Mama: What will you say to the other kids if they ask you why you are wearing a dress?
Child: I like it.
Mama: And if they tease you about it?
Child: I don’t understand why you are worried about what someone may do, Mama. I want to wear what I want to wear.
Mama: You know I love you right?
Child: yes Mama (rolling his eyes).
(Mama buys child a dress. His smile spreads from ear to ear. In fact, Mama notices a lightness of being she has not seen in a while. The next day, the first day of school, child comes home, eyes lowered, body like it’s wearing the weight of the world on his shoulders.)
Mama: Child, you seem sad.
Child: I am. You were right. The kids made fun of me and said, “boys don’t wear dresses.” I should have listened to you.
Mama: You tried to be you in school, and you were not accepted. That must have been terrible. I have an idea. For now, maybe wear your dress at home. And at school wear clothes that feel less good but won’t bring such mean attention on you.
Child: I shouldn’t have to do that. It’s not fair.
Mama: I agree. And you get to decide to be fierce in your truth or pick and choose until the classroom feels safer. Do you want to talk more about how you feel about your gender?
Child: what is gender?
Mama: Like boy or girl. (Mom realizes she kind of blew it because that’s the point. In distant cultures, gender was not binary. And that it is in this culture, does not make it a matter of fact. But the words are out of her mouth.)
Child: Why do I have to choose?
Mama: You are right. You don’t. It’s this culture we live in that has created the binary of boy or girl. Gender is more understood as a spectrum, darling, it just hasn’t caught up to everybody. We know that some people feel uncomfortable in their assigned gender at birth.
( Mama remembers the pain of her religious childhood where the Church told her there was just one way to truth and that way was restrictive and judgmental and myopic and she was growing stronger by the day as a recovered church goer and finding a newer, more loving relationship to god, or whatever it was that helped sustain her. Her husband was sort of on board with honoring their child as he is. She asked him to choose between love and the church and he chose love. He agreed to get his own therapist to process his confusion with the idea of trans and non- binary identity. Mama thinks he is seeing his child’s choices as a reflection of him rather than of child)
Living your truth, in who you are, is more important than fitting your self in to what is not true. Do you want to talk to me more, about your feelings and about your thoughts on this?
Child: I guess. (takes a deep sigh) I don’t really understand why I would rather play with girl toys and wear girl clothes. And I want to grow my hair long. Would that be okay? No more haircuts please.
Mama: I think we should go, you and me and dad to a counselor to help us through this, to help you feel most comfortable And yes, let’s grow your hair if that makes you happy.
Child: I guess I’ll go to talk about it, Mama. I feel like I am comfortable, well until now with what happened at school. Can I go now? I feel better. I want to play.
Mama: Go darling. Be free! Be happy! Most of all, be you!
(Mama asks her counselor if she would see the whole family and do some work on this issue. The counselor said yes and encouraged Mama to find her child his own counselor too, which she did that same day)
Note from author: I am an LICSW and work with clients who are cis gender (identify as their assigned gender at birth), and who are gender fluid and who are trans. I also supervise other therapists. The story I shared is a combination of many stories. This mama is open and loving and sometimes in my experience, it does not go like this. (some) Religion seems to be the doorway to judgment and non acceptance of this. And today, politics of conservatism pushes a (false) narrative that gener fluidity is extreme and wrong. How sad for folks to be othered. To not be acepted for who they are. Like in the 50’s, when being gay was considered a pathology, I believe society will catch up and love will win. I wrote this short story to give people a place to start. It’s not easy. Some children want to change their birth names. FInd out what ‘s in a name. Find our what clothing means to them. Talk with your children with a non judgmental curiosity. Find out what’s in their hearts. Love who they are. and please, seek professional help if you or your child seem overwhelmed.