Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Advice Columnist Counsels Mother of Gender Variant Child

Below is an excerpt from Barbara Meltz's advice column concerning a mother who has a gender-variant child:

Q: Please help. When my daughter was 2 years old she told me she wanted to be a boy. Everyone told me she would grow out of this. She has always played with both boy and girl toys. Wears clothing both boy and girl. She is fascinated with batman and superman. She is now 5. She refuses to wear pink or anything girly. She says that is for girls and she is a boy. She is in kindergarten and tells the other kids she is a boy. Her father is absent. She has a few positive male role models in her life. My father and 2 brothers. When she plays with my niece she is so rough and aggressive and truly has characteristics that resemble the behavior of a little boy. She told me over the course of 6 weeks about a little girl who is in the 2nd grade and is in her after school program. Now... she tells me she "like likes her." The other little girl draws her pictures gives her things and my daughter always tells me she is beautiful etc. I am teaching my child socially this is this and that is that "but if that's how you feel, I love you no matter what." My question is ..... For the best interest of my daughter's psychological well-being, how do I handle this gender issue, of her wanting to be a boy, when she is a girl and only 5 years old?

A: It is possible that your daughter has something that's called gender identify disorder. She fits some of the descriptions (dressing like the opposite sex, expressing desire to be the opposite sex, refusing to identify with her gender). And yes, research indicates this can surface in early childhood. (For a scholarly & historical look at the issue, click here.)

As best as I can determine, the consensus is that it's too soon to begin counseling but certainly that is something that your daughter will benefit from down the road. In the meantime, the best that you can do as her mother is love her unconditionally; model your tolerance for differences of all kinds; and include people of all kinds in her world, including people of diverse races, religions, and sexual orientation.

At this age, children notice differences but are not put off by them unless they pick up messages, subtle and not so subtle, that the differences are wrong or bad. So I'm guessing that, so far, she has not run into peers who are troubled by her insistence that she is a he. That may change within a few years. Establishing a foundation now where she knows that (a) she can talk to you about anything; (b) that you will not pass judgment; and (c) that you will give her accurate, age-appropriate information will mean that as she gets older, she will feel supported and not isolated. The good news is that our culture has a much broader tolerance for sexual differences today than it ever has in the past.

In the meantime, help her develop positive self-esteem by allowing her to develop her individual interests and strengths rather than pushing or imposing typical girl interests onto her. She only wants to wear rough-and-tumble boys' clothes? Fine; find some that fit her well. Help her to identify playmates who like to do what she likes to do, whether they are boys or girls (ask the teacher for suggestions). And always be in touch with the teacher so that you can be on top of any social issues that surface; that's something I tell every parent. If you have a close enough relationship with other parents or teachers and you want to share your thoughts with them, also fine. But I don't feel that that's necessary in and of itself.

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