Question: How can I tell my son “mommy’s not really a girl”?

Nox asks…

I am in what appears to be a gender-normative relationship. How do I balance my gender queerness and trans questioning with raising my son and trying not to confuse him. He is at the age where he’s noticing differences in girls and boys, and he sometimes applies them to my husband and me. His innocent statements about my doing stereotypical woman things hurt me more than if a stranger had said them. How can I tell my five-year-old son “mommy’s not really a girl” without screwing him up for life?

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Posted by on August 12th, 2010 at 08:00 am

Category: questions 14 comments »

14 Responses to “Question: How can I tell my son “mommy’s not really a girl”?”

  1. Anonymous

    Remember that children are far more adaptable, resilient, and open-minded than we give them credit for. I am almost positive your child will not be screwed up for life. He may be confused at first, but he will likely take it in stride.

    Try to keep the explanation simple, using concepts he understands, such as “Mommy likes doing girl *and* boy things, that’s why mommy doesn’t like being called a girl”. It might even be fun for both of you to turn it into a game or a teaching exercise. See if you guys can name things both of you do that are cross gender boundaries. Maybe your son like arts and crafts or you’re the one who fixes things around the house.

    With time, you can always expand on what you’ve told him.

    Most importantly, you definitely should talk to him. It’s not worth it for you to hide from your own son and be effectively closeted in your own home.


  2. Andrea

    Your child loves you more than he may be invested in a gender binary. He is lucky that he will be welcomed into queer thought so early on! Besides, weren’t we all confused when we started investigating gender beyond naturalized notions of men and women?

    Also, it might be a good idea to have start this conversation with you son as a unit with your partner. It might be good for both your husband and you to be there to answer his questions.

    Have fun with it! You have the opportunity to raise a different kind of boy.


  3. --V--

    You’re thinking about this the wrong way. If you think introducing him to these ideas is going to “screw him up”, you’ve already lost this battle.

    Instead, encourage him to actually ponder why these are thought of as male or female behaviours. “Why do you think that’s something only girls do?” Point out that you do things you want because it makes sense for you, and that he should feel free to do the same as he grows up.

    Try and cultivate a healthy interest in these issues, get him to question whether things are done for a logical reason or just because of convention. If you start now, he’ll likely be much more comfortable and capable once he starts to define his /own/ sexuality and gender role.


  4. Anonymous

    I work with children in an educational capacity, and many times most of them ask me if I’m a boy or a girl, or why I look like a boy, etc. If you think in the mind of a child, you could point out that he might like to play with trucks, but if a girl wanted to play with trucks he would let her, and that there is no such thing as a girl toy or a boy toy. Then you could say that the same thing applies to different areas of life; a girl can have short hair and dress in typical boy clothes, and a boy can wear dresses if he wants. Point out to him that what matters is that the person is happy. Then explain that really boys and girls aren’t so different, and that you are just trying to be happy, even if it’s not like the other “normal” mommies.


  5. Hollis

    OMG! Please don’t teach your son that there are girl and boy jobs!! PLEASE!! In fact I would recommend that you stop that way of thinking for him immediately. I have an 18 year old son and I NEVER EVER told him that “men do this or women do that” and if my husband ever had I would have corrected him immediately. My son was brought up that women and men are both capable of doing the same things, the only difference is simple… Males have a penis and Females have a vagina. I never told my son he could or couldn’t do something. He loved to dress in heels, feather boas, and long dresses at just 6 years old. Today he is 18 years old and if I tell people that know him that he used to wear dresses and feather boas, they never believe me, until he proves it to them. His girlfriend thinks the world of him because he NEVER imposes any gender roles on her. This is the best man he can be… Plus he never pretends to be tough. He does things because he is good at them, such as cooking, fixing things, gardening, decorating, and camping. Please!! DON’T tell you son there are certain THINGS a certain gender does. That is the source of “gender dysphoria” As for how you see yourself, gender makes no difference in parenting. But HONESTY does… so I think you owe your son a “hear 2 heart”.


  6. Rhube

    I’d say tell him that sometimes people aren’t boys OR girls.
    Considering he’s your child, you don’t have to worry about what you’re telling him, in the sense of “Maybe I shouldn’t tell him things like that, because you’re the one raising him. If you think it’s something he needs to know and understand, then go for it.
    And just ditto what everyone else said.


  7. J.D.

    I have a friend who does alot of babysitting, and I help her out (its summer and they keep me busy) so I’m around kids about every day of the week (its fun even though I’m not the one who gets paid because it gives me an excuse to play with toys and run around like a six year old without people thinking I’m an idiot). What you have to keep in mind is that kids aren’t adults. I know that seems obvious, but we all have to remember that kids see the world very differently. When a kid asks me why I look like a boy I say “because thats how I like to look” or if they ask if I’m a boy or girl I say “a little of both, a little of neither” and sometimes they say “Why?” to one of those questions and I just say “well thats just how I am!” and usually they’ll say “that’s weird” or “cool” and then they’ll be fine. It doesnt even phase them. They ask me things like “can you grow a mustache?” and they think its funny or silly and they generally really like me. I think I confuse younger kids sometimes, because they don’t really know what to make of me, but as far as older ones (like 5 and up) go they usually dont care. As long as I’m still willing to play catch or barbies with them or swordfight or make funny faces they’re happy. Kids dont see the world in rules and restrictions they see it in fun and games. If only we were all like that.


  8. Gen

    This must be so difficult. All I can think to say is- remember that no child is born knowing ignorant ‘facts’, and that children are the most open minded examples of humanity that we can offer, for a short while.


  9. lulu

    Just say “mommy’s not really a girl.” And then explain what you mean by that in an age-appropriate way. I would be careful not to build gender stereotypes into discussion of your trans identity. He will probably follow you for a few sentences and then drift off . . it is more a matter of introducing the thought than anything else.

    Be honest. Start introducing him to the concept that male and female is not the same as penis/vagina . . that that is one way that many people choose to mark the difference, but that there are other ways to mark the difference too, and some people who don’t want to say there’s a difference at all. And that there are many different ways of being male/female and that we each have many different dimensions, some have no gender at all. I can’t imagine how excited I would have been to have heard this as a kid. Kids have beautiful imaginations. What is confusing to adults can be nourishing for children.

    See if you can spend time with the families of other genderqueer people. Try to introduce him to social settings where he has a chance of meeting kids with other backgrounds like his.

    Your son will accept what you say. It is the love in your heart, not the category of gender identity that you belong to, that is going to protect him in this world. If or when he starts getting confused, just explain in an age-appropriate way. He is going to be responding to *your* attitude about the whole thing . . if you are comfortable, relaxed, nondefensive, then he will register that fact.

    You and your son deserve to have an honest human relationship.


  10. chinesewriting

    Boy was i thinking about this as well. I’m only sixteen but in the future i plan to go through the FTM process and possibly adopt and i wouldn’t want to “confuse” my child, for the lack of a better term.


  11. Cat

    It’s about an MTF rather than a genderqueer or FTM, but Jennifer Finney did a wonderful job of covering her son’s reaction to her transition in this article:


  12. Haylock

    Thank you so much for asking this. I have 3 1/2 year old twin girls and have been asking myself the same question, so I appreciate reading the answers!

    Then again, all on their own, my kiddos are pretty outside the gender spectrum. 9 times out of 10, it’s toy trains or cars instead of dolls.


  13. Jessica

    I am with Hollis on this. “Oh, why do you think this is so? Somebody told you? Do you believe everything people tell you? People are people. Some people are men and some are women, some are neither man nor woman, and some are both.”

    I always remember Yevtushenko’s Poem: Lies.

    Telling Lies to the young is wrong.
    Proving to them that the lies are true is wrong.
    Telling them that God’s in his heaven
    and all’s well with the world is wrong.
    The young are people, they know what you mean.
    Tell them the difficulties cannot be counted,
    and let them see not only what will be
    but see with clarity these present times.
    Say obstacles exist they must encounter,
    sorrow happens, hardship happens.
    To hell with it.
    Who never knew the price of happiness will not be happy.
    Forgive no error you recognize,
    for it will repeat, increase,
    and afterward our pupils will not forgive in us
    what we forgave.


  14. Samson

    Thanks so much for asking this question, and thanks to all the commenters too. Extra-heartfelt thanks to Cat for that NYT article. I’m female-bodied and genderqueer and would love to have kids with my FTM partner–but I’m not a “mommy.” I’m not sure I’m a “daddy” either. Maybe I’m a maddy.


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