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What should I do if my child tells me that they may be transgender?

Is my child transgender?


At some point, nearly all children will engage in behavior associated with different genders – girls will play with trucks, boys will play with dolls, girls will hate wearing dresses and boys will insist on wearing them – and gender nonconforming behavior does not necessarily mean that a child is transgender. That said, sometimes these behaviors can clue us in to what a child may be feeling about their gender – with some children identifying as another gender than the one they were assigned by the time they are toddlers.


The general rule for determining whether a child is transgender or non-binary (rather than gender nonconforming or gender variant) is if the child is consistent, insistent, and persistent about their transgender identity. In other words, if your 4-year-old son wants to wear a dress or says he wants to be a girl once or twice, he probably is not transgender; but if your child who was assigned male at birth repeatedly insists over the course of several months--or years, that she is a girl, then she is probably transgender. Children who are gender non-binary---in other words, they do not feel that they are a boy or a girl, but perhaps a bit of both, or neither, may not have the words at a very young age to capture that feeling, but over time it may become more clear to them, and ultimately to you, that they are non-binary, versus a trans girl or a trans boy.


Naturally, there are endless variations in the ways that children express themselves, so the best option if you think your child might be transgender is to consult a gender therapist. 


What not to do.


Trying to change your child’s gender identity – either by denial, punishment, reparative therapy or any other tactic – is not only ineffective; it is dangerous and can do permanent damage to your child’s mental health. So-called “reparative” or “conversion” therapies, which are typically faith-based, have been uniformly condemned as psychologically harmful by the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and numerous similar professional organizations.


Simple ways to start supporting your transgender child


-Be your child’s advocate – call out transphobia when you see it and ask that others respect your child’s identity.


-Educate yourself about the concerns facing transgender youth and adults.


-Learn what schools can and should do to support and affirm your child.


-Encourage your child to stand up for themselves when it is safe to do so, and to set boundaries when necessary.


-Assure your child that they have your unconditional love and support.


What name and pronoun should I use?


For some transgender people, being associated with their birth name is a tremendous source of anxiety, or it is simply a part of their life they wish to leave behind. Respect the name a transgender person is currently using. 


If you're unsure which pronoun a person uses, listen first to the pronoun other people use when referring to that person. The easiest thing to do is ask a person which pronouns they use. If you accidently use the wrong pronoun for someone, apologize quickly and sincerely, then move forward with intention. The bigger deal you make out of the situation, the more uncomfortable it is for everyone.

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