I had a conversation with my mother over the phone a couple days ago in which she randomly decided to tell me I should make sure my child knows that gender doesn’t matter. See, my eldest was born a female but has (for the last 6 months about) decided to identify as a male and go by a boy’s name. I’m 100% supportive of the self-identity exploration process, and I’m 100% okay and happy with whatever the end result turns out to be. My mother, on the other hand, seems to think my (now son) is spending too much time thinking about gender, and that he should “just be a kid”. Oh, there are so many things I find infuriating about this. Bringing this up practically ended our conversation because I was too upset to say anything to her after that. She even tried blaming me – saying that my emphasis on being different (since I had been reading many books about a variety of family-types and genders and whatnot) was probably giving my child the wrong impression, and that perhaps he was doing all of this just to please me. Man was I pissed when I heard that.
Under my mother’s assumption of childhood she stated that children that age aren’t supposed to think about gender. As if a main portion of ones identity is suddenly unimportant because that person is a child. As if children are so unaware of themselves and the way they interact with the world. Let me tell you right now that gender is a VERY important part of a person’s childhood. Besides the fact that gender stereotypes are pushed by the media and society until the basis for being a girl means you’re wearing pink and love baby dolls and having tea parties, and the basis for being a boy means you love superheros, trucks, and play rough with your friends in the mud…children at a young age are coming into their identities. They are discovering what it means to be them. They experiment with tons of different things to find out who they are (bouncing those ideas of themselves off of their surrounding environment; i.e. those who have very narrow-minded disapproving “traditionalists” around them will be met with waves of negativity that shift out their unique characteristics and mold them into a predetermined shape).
My son is 5 years old. Does that seem kind of young to be thinking about your gender? Well it’s not. It’s actually very common for children around that age to be thinking about their gender, as well as their sexuality (even if they don’t think of it to quite the same extent as adults do). ALL children at that age take on a very thick gender persona – it just isn’t obvious when the children are taking on the pre-approved and prescribed gender that “fits” the sex they’ve been born with. But nonetheless it still takes up a big portion of their time. The girls focus on girl things and want to hangout with other girls, the straight girls talk about the boys they are crushing on, they all wear the things they think cute girls should wear. They take on the identity of female very strongly. They exude it. They mimic the women in their lives, they think about who they might grow up to be, and they try to act a certain way and think of themselves a certain way. Same goes for boys. They take on whatever society gives them when it comes to the gender they identify with. Of course it’s easy for a woman, who has always been a woman, to think that gender is of little importance. She doesn’t see the role it played in shaping her own life, because she was lucky enough to truly be the predetermined shape society claimed her to be.
How is this any different than the children who, at the same age, start to experiment with their gender (or decide that the gender people have placed on them does not fit)? They realize that they are different from the other people who they are supposed to identify with. They find similarities with them and people of the opposite gender. They take on the persona of the opposite gender, find opposite gender role models, imagine themselves and their futures based on this new identity. Sometimes these experiments are just experiments – just phases. That’s true. Some people go the rest of their life experimenting with tons of different identities, finding small new pieces of themselves each time they change who they are (or more fully become who they are). Some children will test out another gender and then change back when they’ve better learned to understand themself and their connection to society (or when they’ve learned that being different and identifying with their predetermined gender is okay). Others, however, will continue to live their lives in a new gender. Any of these possibilities (or any others) are completely okay. Point is, we need to support them wherever they’re at, because we have no clue where they’ll end up.
I want my children to be able to express who they are in whatever way they choose to. I want them to feel comfortable being themselves. I want them to know I love and support them no matter what. Therefore, I will not try to make them downplay their emotions or tell them that figuring out their identity isn’t important. I won’t try to mold them into someone I think they should be, or think they truly are. I won’t make assumptions about them. I will treat them with respect. I will allow them to show me who they are. I will always be open to seeing the ways in which they express themselves. I will always be interested in understanding and rediscovering who they are. Because no matter what other people think…gender matters.