My gender-fluid child is now eight years old, and for six of her years, it’s just been about me getting out of the way. Now that she’s living fully her truth, everything is easier.
For now, the entire family is slightly more comfortable with the term “gender fluid”. Since she’s still only eight years old, it doesn’t exhibit confusion or self-loathing about her body or circumstances, and she is relatively comfortable stating, “I have a boy body and a girl brain.” (She adopted this terminology from I Am Jazz, the wonderful children’s book about a transgender child. And isn’t it wonderfully simple?)
If it sounds like we are spit-balling, here, welp…that’s the times. According to Jack Drescher, Columbia University psychology professor, “Terminology changes rapidly and in this area what was okay a few years ago and on the cutting edge now is deemed to be offensive. For example, using natal male or female are now a reason to be thrown off twitter although we used it in 2013. So do what you think best; everybody else is making up their own terminology.”
Starting at age three, when my son wore princess dresses (at home, not yet in public), it was charming. He played obsessively with every other girl’s Disney princess figurines, loved unicorns and rainbows and sparkles. He vibrated with frantic excitement when trying on dress after dress during playdates with girlfriends.
We were hip to the notions of transgender identities and gender-fluidity. Hell, I was an actor in a Broadway show that had a trans character when my kiddo was born. Ultimately, I knew I just wanted my kid to be secure and happy.
At age four, our kid’s princess obsession escalated. I often heard the statement “I’m excessed with princesses,” and I responded, “Truer words, kiddo. Truer words.”
The frenetic cross-dressing continued. He would don a cheap “Ariel” dress and flounce like he feared turning into a pumpkin and never again feeling the thrill of a dress.
Fellow parents marveled at our laissez-faire approach. Privately, we were not chill; we were “concerned” this was no longer just a phase and in fact stressed about it morning and night.
Mainly, my partner and I would roll our eyes at each other thinking, “Great. This is when people say ‘give the gays a kid and they’ll turn them into princesses’.” (Fear not – we knew that was an imbecilic assumption.)
I asked advice of all my friends (our kid’s gender expression was an incessant discussion.) Many observed “It’s normal he’d explore his feminine side growing up in a house with two dads who don’t wear heels or make-up. He’s just curious. It’ll pass.”
Some went further with “Don’t do it. That’s a pandora’s box that can’t be reversed.”
That always felt wrong, to me. I wasn’t yet brave enough to support my kid 100-percent, but I knew repression wasn’t the answer, if only because of my own experience being gay.
To wit: At five years old in kindergarten, my son asked why he couldn’t wear dresses to school, declaring, “It isn’t fair that only girls get to wear dresses!” And finally we felt our then five-year-old’s sense of justice was on point. We, his gay fathers, were just trying to protect him from life being more difficult than it already was.
And saying that to ourselves, we realized that was exactly the message fed to us during our own coming out processes – that our parents don’t want life to be more difficult.
But more than anything, living one’s truth is what’s most important, regardless the surrounding haters. And living in a confident sense of personal truth makes life easier.
Furthermore, studies show that kids aren’t going through phases and aren’t confused at all about their gender expression. On the contrary, the National Academy of Sciences has shown that children know what they’re doing – by identifying with and playing with toys and peers according to their gender expression, not necessarily the assumptions made based on their assignment at birth.
In other words, the kids aren’t confused; society and adults are confused.
Alicia Salzer, lesbian psychiatrist and mother of a non-binary child, emphasizes “Children sense our expectations, and those are limiting. When we let them live in their own fluidity, they explore and experience their own journey.”
A tale as old as time: the more parents limit, the more children defy. And such defiance isn’t necessarily a child’s “truth”. Rebellion can be quite limiting as well.
So once again, our children are hampered by expectations and societal programming and we just need to get out of their way.
Returning to my personal journey story, first grade saw my kiddo wearing dresses in school…with little more than a shrug from any of the kids or teachers.
Second grade saw us switching pronouns. And by that age, it had begun to feel increasingly unjust to even refer to her as him.
I’ve no idea what her path or level of transition may ultimately be, but I know that we, her dads, finally transitioned and got out of her way. And as long as she knows we have her back, she will be okay.
Now speaking and living her truth – whatever that truth may be – my daughter is less desperate to demonstrate her femininity. She doesn’t even wear dresses anymore (but only leggings…never pants or jeans.) She doesn’t invent a new “more feminine” name to be called on the daily. She just is.
Whatever her path may be, I know she’s in an era that can be fluid. She can ebb and flow and just sit in her truth.
What’s important (and what I won’t compromise on) is that she is kind, empathetic, and tries hard.
Other than that, she’s gonna be alright — as long as we stay out of her damn way.