Supporting a Gender Non-Conforming Child by Thinking Outside the Guidelines
Insistent. Persistent. Consistent. Community standards generally use these descriptions of behavior as a guideline or indicator that a child is serious about their gender identity.
That being said, the absence of insistent, persistent and consistent articulation of one’s gender identity does not necessarily imply that a child is cisgender and not transgender. It worries me that, if a child does not fit this guideline, they may be disregarded. I was none of these – ever. I was inconsistent, wishy washy, and unsure. I am still trans.
Backtracking or showing uncertainty and hesitation is normal. One day they may feel like a boy then a girl the next day. Many people do not have a clear path. It can be confusing to watch somebody present feminine one day then masculine the next but there is no right or wrong way to do gender or be transgender and many people need to experiment with what feels right.
It is okay to feel like a man, woman, neither or both. It is ok to not know.
Apprehension and hesitation to move forward can exist. Trans people, even children are acutely aware of opening up a can of worms and there is no way of knowing how people will react, how their lives will change, if friends will be accepting, how they will navigate schools or which restrooms to use. Sometimes even if their present way of life is not gender affirming, it feels less scary to stay with what is most comfortable. Often, trans people test the waters before moving forward. As stressful as it is, you are under their microscope as they feel out your level of acceptance.
Your child does not need to be 100% certain for you to validate and believe them. Rarely in life is anybody 100% certain. Another scenario is that kids can question gender, even go on hormones or blockers then decide that was not for them. This does not invalidate transgender people nor does it mean that the child or parents made a mistake. On the contrary, it shows adaptability, flexibility and growth.
It might help to remember that at this point/age nobody is making permanent decisions. By letting a child present as the gender that they feel they are, you are giving them freedom to be themselves, not forcing permanent change upon them. Children are able to know themselves better than adults think they do. By the age of 2, children have a concept of gender.
Especially as adults, when things feel difficult, we want to be certain so we can feel validated in our decisions. When things are changing, we want definitions so we know how to orient ourselves. We create labels so we know how to relate to each other. We follow guidelines so we can avoid being wrong.
Remove labels, definitions, certainty and expectations and what we have left is movement through time and change. Have faith and believe in the ones you love as they are in this moment.
Honor their identity as it develops over time. This builds unconditional love and a foundation of resiliency. With that foundation the future is manageable no matter what it brings.