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2-Minute Therapy

A Gender Identity Expert On Raising Kids Who Are Comfortable In Their Own Skin

In 2015, Caitlyn Jenner greets shoppers at grocery checkouts across the country, and Transparent wins Emmys, but that doesn’t mean questions about gender identity and your own kids are simple. Maybe Billy really likes his sister’s tutu, and you don’t know how you feel about that; maybe Susie’s more interested in slapshots than figure skating, and your spouse thinks that’s a bad idea. Presumably, you want what’s best for the kid, and that means ensuring they’re comfortable in their own skin — even if that means they’re doing different things in that skin than you expected they would.

Jean Malpas is a psychotherapist at the Ackerman Institute who works with families on issues of gender and sexuality. Here are his tips for guys with kids who don’t necessarily conform to gender norms.

Even You Can’t Mess Up Your Kid’s Gender Identity
“Nothing can make or break a child’s gender identity,” Malpas says — it’s as innate as their eye color. Many people have a misconception that steering their daughter toward prototypically feminine activities will help her emerge from a tomboy “stage.” Like Donald Trump in 2016, that’s just not going to happen.

“Many people have a misconception that steering their daughter toward prototypically feminine activities will help her emerge from a tomboy ‘stage.'”

But You Can Give Them A Complex About It
Attempts to change their gender identity will just get in the way of them developing a complete sense of self. “You can make them feel bad about it. You can make them feel that they can’t be themselves and that they have to hide that from you, from their friends, from their siblings, but you won’t be able to change how they relate to themselves,” he says. Basically, you’re forcing your kid to be 2 people at once and, Marvel superheroes aside, that rarely works out well in the real world.

Don’t Let Your Family Be Peer Pressured
Society has rigid ideas of what you should do with your son versus with your daughter, and you should ignore them. “You might be missing out on opportunities for connection,” says Malpas. “Your daughter might love a manicure/pedicure one afternoon and baseball the next. The salon doesn’t have to be with your wife.” He has a point — your toenails could use some work.

The Toy Store Isn’t Your Friend
Toy manufacturers have reduced the preponderance of girl’s toys towards quiet, reflective activities, while boy’s toys are more high stimulation. “It can be really contrary to the temperament of the child, and it lets gender stereotypes lead the way,” he says. So, encourage your kid to go toward whatever aisle of the store they’re curious about, even if they don’t see themselves on any of the packaging.

Society has rigid ideas of what you should do with your son versus with your daughter, and you should ignore them.

Open Your Mind And Your Kid Will Follow
The bottom line is that there are all sorts of ways to be a boy and just as many ways to be a girl. If you do nothing else, communicate this to your kid and let them be the way that comes most naturally to them. “Present them with a wide range of possibilities,” says Malpas. “There are all sorts of ways to be yourself.”

If all of this doesn’t necessarily come naturally to you, don’t beat yourself up about it, but do take the advice of a guy who learned to let his son dress like a girl. Because, the last thing you want it for your kid to be like Jeffrey Tambor’s character in Transparent and only come around to their true self at 70. Seriously, did you see how screwed up his kids are?

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