Dear Is This Normal,

How do I let my child explore their gender expression? 

Signed, 

Supportive Parent

Dear Supportive,

You know that meme? The one with the horse rubbing their sweet face against the fence post that says, “I love this post”? I wish I could put that meme here, BECAUSE I LOVE THIS POST. I love that you asked, because it shows a willingness to learn and adapt (which is not easy as adults, let’s be honest). It shows that the times, they are a-changin’! It shows that this is a thing we as parents are thinking about now, instead of just going along with the status quo. It’s called growth, baby, and we really love to see it.

Let’s first define the difference between gender and assigned sex, because they are two very different things. When your child is born, they are assigned a biological sex based on their external gentalia. People are also born intersex (this is when they have biological characteristics that are considered male and others that are considered female) and may be assigned a sex through surgery if the external genitalia aren’t obviously male or female. 

Gender and gender identity, on the other hand, refer to a person’s sense of who they are, and can be developed through many factors like biological traits, societal construct, and environmental influences. Gender and biological sex are not mutually exclusive. They are independent of one another and don’t always align.

So let’s talk a bit about those societal influences. We all heard them growing up: boys wear blue, they play in the dirt, they’re rough and tumble, they don’t cry, they love trucks and pretending things are guns. Annnd girls wear pink, are dainty and fragile, play pretend mama with their dolls, and are ruled by emotion.

Everywhere you look, those stereotypes are drilled into us and our kids. In the kids’ clothing and toy sections of stores. In bookstores. On television and movies. Hell, we even see it in products aimed at adults, who should presumably know better! Two different kinds of razors for men and women. Pink tool kits filled with all the same tools that you’d find in a “men’s” tool kit. Nevermind the fact that the pink crap is usually more expensive too (different gripe, different post, AMA).

Our jobs as parents is to push back against those gender stereotypes by  letting our kids be kids while exploring who they are as humans. Gender identity generally develops in stages and by age four most kids have a good idea of which gender they identify with the most. But all kids need to be able to explore different gender roles freely and comfortably and with the support of their parents and loved ones. And that starts at home, with us. 

Now, how do you give your child the freedom to explore their gender expression? Honestly, by just letting them EXPLORE. As parents, we must resist the urge to confine them to mainstream gender roles. Let them play without your influence or interference. Introduce them to different non-conforming gender roles through books and television shows that show, for example, men as nurses or women as construction workers. Provide them with a wide range of toys to play with, and don’t limit them. Offer your sons baby dolls and your daughters dump trucks. 

When your kids are babies, move away from the traditional blue and pink clothes and opt for more gender neutral choices. When they get old enough to start participating in sports or activities, let them choose! Your daughters can play football and your sons can dance, if that’s what they want to do. If your child starts expressing a gender identity that’s different from the sex they were assigned at birth (through their clothing or hair styles or chosen name, for example), then just be supportive. That’s really what it all boils down to: support and love your kids. And be prepared to adopt a zero tolerance policy for bullying, disrespect, deliberate misgendering, and negativity aimed at your child from society, or family, or friends. Your kid needs to know you have their back, no exceptions. 

You got this, Supportive. Just asking the question and demonstrating a willingness to learn and grow in order to best support your kids is HUGE. Keep asking questions, too. So much of parenting is being able to constantly evolve as our kids grow and develop and their needs (and our methods) change. Best to you and yours, now and always.

Here’s to Kids Being Whoever They’re Meant to Be!

Is This Normal

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