Parents' Top 10 Questions
Frequently Asked Questions
It’s very possible. Many parents wish for a medical or psychological test that would succinctly “prove” their child’s gender identity. Yet, no such test exists. In the past, assessment guidelines were put forth for providers that worked with transgender adults. These guidelines suggested that a person would answer yes or no to certain kinds of questions allowing a “professional” to then make a “diagnosis”. We better understand today that having a transgender, nonbinary, or otherwise gender-diverse identity is not something another person can definitively “assess”. We know that the only one to make such a determination is that child/person. A trans person has an internal sense of their gender identity that is different from how others perceive them. The latter is assumed, often based on what is externally visible and within a fixed understanding of gender that is presumed to be “normal.” Most people have never had to give thought to their gender identity—the intrinsic and innate sense of one’s own gender—it just seems to be a given reality. While being transgender is a normal human experience, it is simply not as common.
No. Current studies on gender cognition indicate that a gender diverse child’s awareness of their gender is commensurate with that of non-transgender children. In other words, trans children have a solid sense of their gender in the same way, and at the same time, that other children do. Though they may know that they feel themselves to be a different gender, a young child generally lacks the vocabulary to express this definitively. With no images of other trans or gender diverse children like themselves—and with the awareness that this difference is unsettling to adults around them—a child may wait to disclose this information to parents for some time. Some children express this as early as two years old, others do not. “Knowing” from an early age does not make a child any “more or less trans” than children who express their gender at later ages.
Yes, this could be a phase. Keep in mind that a childhood phase may apply to an interest that lasts a few weeks or a month rather than several months or years.
A belief put forth in the past was that transgender children generally express their gender identity differences insistently, persistently, and consistently. This certainly applies to many children, but there are others for whom it does not. Sometimes parents wish for these definitive indicators so as to have a clearer understanding of potential next steps. Yet many children express gender differences in a variety of ways. This can come across as confusion and uncertainty and, why wouldn’t it? It is confusing for many of us as adults to sort out the distinctions between our gender identity, gender expression, and who we are in the world. The question of whether it is or isn’t a phase is less relevant than the importance of providing a supportive environment for children during that exploration (as one might support any exploration). This helps provide optimal results for a child’s social and emotional well-being. Children generally do not express disappointment in the fact that a parent was supportive of them during any of their endeavors. Supporting a child’s gender exploration does not make them transgender but having a supportive environment for exploration and discovery matters, whether their gender identification difference is ultimately proved to have any permanence or not.
With the above thoughts in mind, if during a period of exploration and information gathering, a child “changes their mind,” the act of supporting them has done no harm. A name or pronoun once changed, can be changed again. Hairstyles can be changed “back”. Even certain medical interventions such as puberty delay and early hormonal interventions can be paused, discontinued and/or remedied. Having the chance to explore and “try things on” is often the only way to gain salient information.
Adolescent years are a time of discovery and exploration. Children are influenced by their peers at school as well as their connections found on the internet (*Instagram, YouTube, Tik Tok etc.). If your child has some gender differences, they will soon discover adults and teens who are talking/posting about their gender identity and steps related to transitioning. If a person who does not experience a gender difference watches a video or reads a chat thread, they will not decide that they are transgender by simply viewing or reading this content. If a person does experience an awareness that their gender is somehow outside the “norm,” this new information can be clarifying. They may see themselves reflected in others and now have the language to describe how they feel. It isn’t that they are influenced by what they find on the internet as much as they are empowered by it. It is possible that a child is exploring and expanding their understanding of gender in an effort to experience more personal freedom from society’s gender expectations. They may feel themselves to be gender diverse without a need to specifically claim a transgender identity.
*We strongly encourage parents to be discerning and attentive to their child’s social media engagement for reasons to do with safety and misinformation.
After a parent’s realization that their child is gender diverse—but often before they have had a chance to catch their breath—the question of how to navigate schools looms large and immediate. Teachers, administrators, counselors, and even other parents may put up some resistance to a child’s gender journey. Home-schooling communities are often no exception. Educators and administrators may struggle to understand the school’s role in the transition process. Principals may say, “Why should we do all this for one student?” Or they may ask a bewildered parent, “Just tell us what to do.” A teacher may directly or indirectly blame the gender diverse student for any bullying that they might experience. Faith, political, cultural and geographical differences can complicate the conversations even further. It is not appropriate for a school to ask a single family to shoulder the burden of educating everyone. To learn more about supporting your child’s experience in school, please visit www.genderdiversity.org. Information is available about school trainings, family consultations, and other available resources.
Most people have a familiarity with what it means to be gay or lesbian—someone who has a same-sex romantic or sexual attraction. The term transgender may feel like it somehow falls into that definition. However, being transgender is not a sexual orientation. We all have a sense of our gender that is innate, even young children. A clearer way of understanding it is to consider the language that children themselves use, for example, “in my heart and mind, I am a boy even though you see me as a girl.” As humans, we all have an innate sense of our gender identity, that is separate from the people to whom we have an attraction.
No. It’s understandable that parents want clarity on the causes of differences in gender identification. Many parents wonder if their childrearing practices had any influence in the formation of their child’s identity. Recent studies have shed light on gender cognition development and the evidence points toward neurobiological and other physiological origins to the formation of gender identity. But ultimately, as we wait for more definitive information and answers, parents recognize that their child needs guidance and support now.
In many respects, your child is the best one to determine who they are and how they feel about their gender. Children of all ages—whether 5, 15, or 25+—will articulate their gender identity to the best of their ability with the language they have available. Yet, this does not mean that their understanding of who they are won’t evolve over time. Clarity can take time. It is important to recognize the challenges that come when a child feels an incongruence within their body while perhaps also experiencing resistance from friends, family, at school and from society. What your child unequivocally needs is your support in finding this clarity. Traveling this path together is the single most important ingredient to achieving long-term, successful outcomes. Your child may need your support and assistance in many ways but not know how to ask. Of course, the younger the child, the more you may need to take the lead with respect to schools, gender transition related steps, disclosing to others, and navigating any challenges that arise. DO engage your child in conversation, DON’T assume they know all there is to know, and DO strive to travel this journey together.
We’re so glad you asked! Give your child a hug, become a member here and dive in. Join our online groups, post a question in the forums, read our articles, sign up for a webinar, schedule a one-on-one consultation, and more. You surely have more questions and perhaps some complex feelings to sort through. Our goal is to provide a place that is just for you. A place where you can hear from other families who’ve been in your shoes, and from those whose experience may be quite different. Joining Trans Families will give you a safer space to explore your own needs while deepening your understanding of your child’s gender journey. Join this growing, caring community and get the support you need at the pace that works for you.