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What Caused My Child to Identify With a Different Gender?

What is gender?

As your child gets older, they'll question things about themselves. They'll make discoveries about who they are, and their gender is no exception. It's essential to understand the many facets of gender to support them during their journey fully.

Gender comes in many forms, and there are two sides of the coin to consider when your child explores their gender.

Gender identity. Gender identity describes your sense of self. Many people identify according to their assigned sex at birth (referred to as cisgender). For example, you may identify as a female if you were born a female.

Male and female expectations will vary depending on the culture. For example, if you were born male but identify with female expectations (such as gender roles or style) in your culture, you may identify as female. This type of person is called transgender, or trans for short.

The male and female binary is the groundwork for understanding gender, but not the only two genders. The terms nonbinary or genderqueer encompass all the genders that don't fall into the gender binary. Exploring the variety of gender identities that fall under nonbinary is a vital part of discovering your child's gender identity.

Gender expression. The other side of the coin is the outward expression of gender. If identity is internal, expression is external.

How you express your gender is mainly dependent on your gender identity and the typical traits of your culture. People express their gender differently, so assuming their gender identity based on their expression may not be straightforward.

‌Gender is individual. Regardless of how a person identifies or expresses themselves, listen to what they tell you. Then, use the pronouns, labels, and identifiers they wish to use publicly.

Gender is not sex. Sex describes your genitalia. At birth, the doctor assigned your sex as either male or female. Sex influences gender identity early on, but the two become more unrelated as you get older and explore your identity.

Gender is not sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is how you describe the people you're attracted to and love. Gender identity influences the language you use to describe your sexual orientation, but the two are otherwise unrelated.

What causes someone to identify as another gender?

There's no one reason someone is transgender. Please talk with your child about how they feel, their views on gender, and society's expressions of gender to understand their reasoning.

Your child may not know the exact reason they identify as a particular gender. But like any other part of their identity, it's who they are.

Some factors can contribute to exploring gender, but they aren't the cause. However, they may open the door for your child to explore gender.

These factors include:

  • Genetics
  • Hormone levels
  • Life experiences, particularly in childhood and adolescence

Supporting your transgender child

Discussing gender with your child is challenging. However, it's important to talk openly about gender to ensure your child doesn't go through the journey alone.

Exploring gender is stressful for your child. They'll worry about not fitting into gender roles and experience distress from kids their age. Consider taking the following steps to help them take this journey safely.

Get outside help. Even if you feel comfortable helping your child, getting support from a third party can be helpful. Look for help in the following areas:

  • Talk to your child's school or other organizations. They can serve your child's needs and make sure they're safe.
  • Work with a mental health professional who has experience with gender matters.
  • Seek guidance from parents of transgender children. Peer support goes a long way. 

Be patient. The language surrounding gender is still developing. It'll take time for your child to figure out what language works for them. Even once they figure it out, their perception and definition of their gender will continue to change over time (also called gender fluidity).

Be mindful of gender norms. Many personal products are gendered. For example, your clothes, decorations, and media are all designed with your gender in mind. Kid toys and clothes are particularly gendered.

As your child explores their gender, be mindful of the products and media they consume. Then, allow them to explore those products to develop their sense of gender expression.

Be aware of discrimination. People who don't fit the mold experience biases. It's essential to be mindful of what biases your child may encounter as a transgender person. While this may reveal personal biases, you'll grow by becoming aware.

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