Saturday, December 02, 2006

A Bigger Focus on Gender Identity in Children

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A boy, 5, left, who identifies as a girl, plays with a friend in Northern California. He began emulating girls shortly after turning 3. Photo: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

This is so refreshing to see. I encourage comments from the trans community on this -- especially if you are willing to share early childhood experiences. I would guess very few adults who have grappled with gender issues ever received this kind of support as children. It will be fascinating to observe how such open acceptance and support might improve the lives of people who otherwise may spend decades grappling with their gender and the disapproving societal garbage surrounding it.

Children as young as 5 who display predispositions to dress like the opposite sex are being supported by a growing number of young parents, educators and mental health professionals.

Doctors, some of them from the top pediatric hospitals, have begun to advise families to let these children be “who they are” to foster a sense of security and self-esteem. They are motivated, in part, by the high incidence of depression, suicidal feelings and self-mutilation that has been common in past generations of transgender children. Legal trends suggest that schools are now required to respect parents’ decisions.

Personally I think this is great. The early years are critical for a child to begin developing confidence and self-esteem and there is absolutely nothing wrong in supporting them. I do not understand why our society can be so accepting of little boys being boys, and little girls being girls, but so overwhelmingly convinced that crossing any lines or breaking any barriers is such an unnatural negative.
Cassandra Reese, a first-grade teacher outside Boston, recalled that fellow teachers were unnerved when a young boy showed up in a skirt. “They said, ‘This is not normal,’ and, ‘It’s the parents’ fault,’ ” Ms. Reese said. “They didn’t see children as sophisticated enough to verbalize their feelings.”


At the Park Day School in Oakland, teachers are taught a gender-neutral vocabulary and are urged to line up students by sneaker color rather than by gender. “We are careful not to create a situation where students are being boxed in,” said Tom Little, the school’s director. “We allow them to move back and forth until something feels right.”

For families, it can be a long, emotional adjustment. Shortly after her son’s third birthday, Pam B. and her husband, Joel, began a parental journey for which there was no map. It started when their son, J., began wearing oversized T-shirts and wrapping a towel around his head to emulate long, flowing hair. Then came his mothers’ silky undershirts. Half a year into preschool, J. started becoming agitated when asked to wear boys’ clothing.

En route to a mall with her son, Ms. B. had an epiphany: “It just clicked in me. I said, ‘You really want to wear a dress, don’t you?’ ”

Excellent thinking outside the usual rigid confines. It should be that simple.

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