I’ve always cared about righting what I see as injustices. But once my daughter, Lucy, was born, it became deeply personal. In the 3 ½ years since she was born, every time I hear of a child being harmed, neglected, bullied or mistreated, I think, “What if that was Lucy? She deserves better.” All children deserve to be loved unconditionally and supported and no one, but especially not our babies (no matter how old they are) should be treated poorly for being who they are.
Yet sometimes kids are treated poorly, especially if they belong to a minority group. Maybe they have an intellectual disability. Maybe they are seen as being overweight or are the only child of color in their class. Maybe parents can’t afford to buy them the coolest clothes or toys. Or maybe they are transgender.
It’s common for people to confuse sex and gender identity. However, there’s a lot more to being male, female or any other gender than the sex that was assigned at birth! Understanding gender identity as a parent can help you better support your child as they grow and continue to develop their identity. To tackle this topic, this article will be the first of a three-part series that will offer information on common terms, how to support your child in their gender identity, and how you and your child can support their peers!
Understanding gender is new for many people, but most kids know and vocalize their gender by age four. Lucy has been telling me she’s a girl for the past year. I’ve heard the argument, “Little kids don’t know their gender. When I was four I thought I was a cat!” While this may be true (and you did not grow up to be a cat), medical experts apply the test of a child being “insistent, consistent and persistent” when talking about their gender. A friend of ours, for example, had a baby that was born with a penis. As soon as their child was developmentally old enough to show their preferences (starting as young as age 2 years old), their child only showed interest in what are generally considered to be “girl toys” and “girl clothes”. As their child grew, their child consistently, insistently, and persistently tried to tell their parents they were actually a girl, and not just a boy who liked “girl” things. After years of this, their parents finally realized they had a daughter and she knows exactly who she is. It just took her parents awhile to truly hear that.
Know the Difference
A great place to start is knowing the difference between sex assigned at birth and gender identity. Sex is the biological sum of someone’s physical anatomy (usually their genitals), hormones, and chromosomes. We are typically assigned a sex at birth that is based on whether we are born with a penis or vagina, though about 2% of people are intersex.
Gender identity, however, isn’t about anatomy. It’s about someone’s personal sense of their own gender and who they know themselves to be. It’s often (but not always) expressed through a variety of masculine and/or feminine characteristics. Clothing, appearance and behaviors can all be ways to express gender identity.
Now that we know the difference between sex and gender identity, the following are some common terms. It’s up to each individual to dictate the terms they use for themselves, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to respect each other’s identities.
Transgender: When gender identity and sex do not align.
Non-Binary: Someone who does not identify as a man or a woman (typically the gender binary most seen in our culture).
Gender Creative: People, typically children, who don’t conform to traditional or stereotypical gender norms.
Cisgender: Someone who identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth.
But there are many more terms! Check out www.hrc.org/resources/glossary-of-terms for a more comprehensive list.
And keep in mind that intersectionalities may play a role in a child’s experience of being transgender. Intersectionalities are different identities such as race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc. that overlap to make our experiences different and create unique modes of discrimination for each person. So while families of white trans kiddos may struggle for acceptance in their community (depending on the community) if the family was black, they may struggle with acceptance and affirmation for two reasons – their race, and that their child is transgender and this can lead to vastly different physical and mental health outcomes for the child depending on how welcoming and affirming their communities are to those identities.
Keep an eye out for our next article on Gender Identity: 101! Have questions about having these conversations with your kid? Contact me, Bridgercare’s Education Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org!