Question: Sexual Identity of Child

Mum who loves her son asks…

Hi, my five year old son has repeatedly expressed that he wished he was a girl since he was about to turn 3. It is a nearly daily thing, he prefers girl clothes, and has asked me things like “If I pray hard enough, will God change me into a girl?” When we go to the toy store, you can see him longing to go down the “girl” aisle, but not wanting to in case people make fun of him.

Bottom line is, I love him no matter what, and I want him to be happy with who he is. How do I help him figure out who he is without pushing him either way, when society demands he dress/act like a boy? Is it OK to support him when he really wants the pink knickers with love hearts? Or am I doing him harm by allowing him to pick those instead of the ninja turtles?

I need help, but not just theory – real experience. Plenty of people have told me he’ll grow out of it, and he might, or he might not, but I don’t want him growing up ashamed of who he is – I just can’t figure out who he is…

Please post your response in the comments below.

» Ask Genderfork «

Posted by on April 17th, 2010 at 08:00 am

Category: questions 31 comments »

31 Responses to “Question: Sexual Identity of Child”

  1. Sadie

    You may want to talk to TYFA, transYouthFamilyAlly. I know they have helped a lot of families figure out these answers. And they are a great way to connect to other families going through exactly this. You already are doing great by recognizing there is a LOT of pressure on your child, expecting hir to be a boy. If this was my child? I would listen to what s/he is telling me and allow hir to dress how s/he wanted and play with the toys s/he wanted. But, this is your child and not mine, so you have to figure out the answers for yourself. Know that there is support,you will not be alone and you are doing well already.

    When you have some time on your hands, go here:


  2. Jay

    Sadie has an excellent response, and I just want to back them up. I don’t have any sort of professional knowledge in the area, or even kids of my own, but I’d say that you wouldn’t be harming your child any by letting them play with whatever toys they wish, etc.

    For example, I’m bio-female and doubt that any harm came to me from playing with ‘boy toys’ or wearing ‘boy shirts’.

    And kudos to you for actually looking at this and supporting your child instead of just ignoring/belittling them! :)


  3. Lyn Aven

    I can tell you love your little child. If ‘e is worried about how the other kids will treat ’em, there are plenty of “safe” expressions that may be able to strike a good balance. Work with ’em on finding things that will express ‘eir femininity without making ’em uncomfortable around the other kids. Pastel colors are a good place to start. ‘E might also consider a simple necklace; I’ve found a little bit of neutral-looking jewelry goes a long way toward making me feel better. And as for toys, I, for one, collected teddy bears and stuffed animals as a little person.

    The best part is that if this DOES end up just being a phase, you’re not stuck with a bunch of overly-girly stuff for a child that ends up deciding ‘e is a boy.


  4. mc

    I think it’s always easy for us to say, oh, let your kid be. But there is a real problem as a parent to know how to take care of your child – to assure your child that he or she will always be loved no matter what, but also to prepare the child for the fact that the world is cruel to people who don’t fit in.

    Children are sometimes incredibly different when they grow up – I was the girliest girl kid around, and now as an adult I’m not quite feminine anymore. I do think trans organisations would be the best to help, as they’re knowledgable about both the real experience of real kids, as well as societal impact on the kids.

    Like Jay, I want to say, what an awesome parent you are! I hope that all other parents will be as wonderful, accepting and open, but also acutely aware of the effects society has on children, as you are. Thank you!


  5. raphael

    please check out the book “the transgender child” by stephanie a. brill and rachel pepper.

    good luck + blessings on both you and your kid. :)


  6. Venessia aka Josie's Mommy~

    Congratulations to you for acknowledging your child’s unique attributes so early on! That’s a big step in the right direction, and rather brave of you to take it.

    As the other posters mentioned, TYFA is a great resource, and I highly recommend you utilize this as soon as you can! When my own daughter transitioned two years ago, it was through TYFA that I found the answers and support I was seeking.

    I also think it might prove very useful for you and your child to find a therapist. BUT, it is absolutely imperative you find a knowledgeable therapist on the topic of gender variant youth. To help guide you in this, The Transgender Child; A Handbook for Families and Professionals by Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper (with the foreword written by Dr. Norman P. Spack, MD) is an invaluable tool that you will find yourself returning to time and again.

    In your post, you mentioned the possibility that your child is going through a phase. I suspect you know otherwise because in your own words, “…my five year old son has repeatedly expressed that he wished he was a girl since he was about to turn 3. It is a nearly daily thing,…” This consistency over the course of years indicates a real and genuine understanding of the identity of self. Your child knows who s/he is. Just like you do.

    Peace and courage to you,



  7. Oliver

    My immediate judgement is that it’s very, very unlikely to be a phase. I mean, age 3 to age 5 is an incredibly long time for a child that little, especially considering how much change and development goes on in those years, and especially considering that your child might have felt this way even before that – maybe they just didn’t have enough communication skills to express it before they turned 3.

    I know a lot of trans people, binary and nonbinary, don’t realise who they are till adulthood – but your child’s story does seem to fit the subset of trans people who knew as soon as they knew anything. So your child is incredibly lucky to have someone who listens and takes in what they’re trying to say.

    Also, they are also lucky, in a way, because at that age, strangers will just gender them according to their clothing. That gives you, and them, a lot of room to experiment without being faced with strangers making a negative fuss.

    Probability lies on the side of your child not growing out of it. It’s worth maybe starting to think of your child with female pronouns – just correcting yourself, in your head for now, and just using the term “girl” for them in your own mind. Because it’s probable that they will eventually want those things, and it will hurt you far less to accept the possibility now, rather than have it sprung upon you later.

    Whatever happens, the best of luck for you and your child.


  8. Karen

    I have no recommendations for you, but want to applaud you for being sensitive to and aware of your child’s need, for loving your child no matter what, and most of all, for being respectful of your child as an individual. So few parents are. I have every confidence you will figure out how to navigate this, because you are asking questions and looking for resources. I don’t doubt there will be difficult times for you and your child as you (both) try to figure things out, but the love you show in this post will help you get through it. Best wishes to you both!


  9. Mercury Mars

    i’d have to say support your child and absolutely, absolutely talk to a professional about it, as soon as possible. if your child is transgender they will thank you forever. even if you child grows into a gender identity that isn’t female, girl, or the like, in any way, having done “female” things in their life will be good for them, not bad. maybe try buying your child “girl” or “girly” clothes or toys to try out just at home, to avoid any embarrassment of them picking them out at the store or going out with them. see if your child is happier with these things. and of course as has been already stated, use the resources available to parents of trans and gender-variant children, because they know better than I do.

    i’m sure you’ll do you best to help you child and i wish you the best of luck.


  10. Alex

    wow. This strikes a cord. You see, this was me as a child. And it never went away. After more than thirty years I’m FINALLY transitioning and not depressed for the first time in my life.

    If he wants to dress like a girl, let him


  11. jamessooy

    The best thing you can do is to be consistent, supportive, and to let your child feel they are safe to change their mind – even daily.

    Maybe pressing the question “why do you want to be a girl?” can help clarify exact motives. Seems like any young child’s answer is “I don’t know” until you really get them to open up – though being too forceful will make it seem like the inquisition.


  12. Oliver

    From what jamessooy said, I’ve got another idea – it might be worth mentioning the existence of trans girls and women, next time your child says they want to be a girl. Obviously you should avoid stating that’s what they are, but I’d say “You know, some girls are born looking like boys; then, they tell everyone that they feel like they are a girl rather than a boy.”

    If they are a trans girl, they will be very happy to know this; if not, it won’t do any harm.


  13. m

    I think its hugely important that you make the space for your child to express and explore their gender identity. I also think its hugely important that you prepare them for the world we live in.

    So many parents of gender diverse children restrict their children’s gender exploration and expression out of fear for their child’s safety and comfort… as well as out of fear of ridicule or critique from fellow parents, teachers, etc. Children who step outside of their assigned gender boxes (especially if that gender box is male) will be really really heavily socialized by their peers, teachers, role models and society at large right back into that box.

    Your job as a supportive mom is to prepare your child for this and be there to love them, affirm them, and support them when the world can’t handle how genderfabulous they are.

    And furthermore, your job as a supportive mom is to be an advocate for your child. None of this is going to be easy (we do live in a world that is structured around cisnormativity), but its going to be the best way to love, support, and nurture your child.

    And sure, your child may very well be pushed into a male gender box by the world and they may choose to stay in that box… but they will always know that you were the one person who really loved them just as they are.

    Good luck with your journey.



  14. Rusty

    One more resource that might help is Accepting Dad’s blog ( His son Oscar is 11(?) now, and he has always liked girl’s toys and clothes—but he didn’t turn out to be transsexual. Even so, his parents faced a lot of what you’re facing when he was younger, especially how to keep him safe while allowing him to express himself.

    There are also a lot of links to additional resources in the sidebar.


  15. Avery

    You might want to talk to the people here:

    Gender Spectrum hosts a monthly phone in support group for parents of gender variant and transgender kids. They also host in person support groups in Oakland CA and Seattle WA.


  16. RBG

    I grew up constantly being disapproved of for my androgynous tendencies. If I had to do it all over again, I feel being teased for who I was would be better than languishing for years under an uncomfortable mask. How I wish my parents were as thoughtful and aware as you are!

    Talk to your son, take it a few steps at a time. Don’t let him be afraid!


  17. maddieo

    you should probably support your child, because i know how difficult it can be wanting to break the gender cycle and not having parental support.

    i could be wrong, but usually when kids that young are convinced they want to be a girl, or think they deep down are it girl, it could be literally true. there are cases where while the fetus is developing, it develops a girl/boy brain, but changes to a boy/girl body. it sounds weird, and i dont wanna freak you out, but it happens.


  18. Anonymous

    i’d have to say support your child and absolutely, absolutely talk to a professional about it, as soon as possible.

    The right professional. Some of the people who hold themselves out as professionals on this subject are transphobic gorgons who will do everything short of electroshock to try and make sure that a kid won’t (horrors) turn out to be trans.


  19. Mak

    Here’s the deal. If you let your kid play with non-stereotypically “male” toys and wear feminine clothing, zie’s going to get teased. Kids are pretty accepting about this stuff, but as they get older they pick up their parents’ or society’s expectations and prejudices, and some of them can be very cruel. That’s going to be hard for you, because it’s never easy for a parent to watch their child hurt. But in the end, if zie turns out to be transgendered, zie’s going to be incredibly thankful that you let hir find hir own path. Frankly, the rates of suicide among transgendered youth are astonishingly high largely because people refuse to let them be themselves. You sound like a great parent- mostly your kid just needs to know that you love and support them.

    (Oh, and sorry if all these gender-neutral pronouns get confusing. We use them a lot around here, but there are several different sets of them around.)


  20. Kat

    That defines me exactly at that age (except biologically female but mentally male). My parents let me dress like a boy. Even when I was 2 and potty training, the tipping point was getting to wear Power Rangers underroos. I grew up in rural Oklahoma and dressed male all through elementary school. I never had any issues from my teachers or my peers. In middle school it didn’t work out so well (at that time I also felt the pressure to be more femme), but in elementary school no one cared. A few years ago my mom told me a story about one of my best friends in elementary. We always played together with the same group of boys. Some how he figured out I was a girl (not very difficult, I kept a female name). His mom asked why he didn’t want to hang out with me anymore, and he said “because she’s a girl”. She responded, “but she’s the same person you were hanging out with before. She’s the same person, how does her being a girl make it different?” We stayed the best of friends until I changed schools for middle school.

    Sorry for the long story, I just wanted to share my experience. I feel that my parents letting me dress how I felt on the inside made me who I am. Yes, there were hard times when I got to middle school, and less so in high school, and even less now that I’m in college. I am still gender queer, have great friends that honestly don’t care, and I have a great partner who supports me through everything.

    P.S. I used to pray that God would turn me into a boy when I was 5 too.


  21. Bee

    I would take hir down the girls aisle! Show hir there’s no shame in “girls’ stuff.” Buy the pink knickers with love hearts to try out. How does your child like them? Try a couple of other “girl” items that are not so stereotypical. Let your child grow and develop, in whatever way ze develops.

    It might turn out more complicated (teasing, pronouns, etc) but the only real mistake you can make is to not listen to and respect your child and continue to ask questions.


  22. Jules

    I read an article several months ago that may address some of the concerns you have about what other kids will say to your child. It’s written by a woman whose son decided to wear a pink sundress to school. He doesn’t seem to have expressed any desire to be a girl, but it’s a reassurance if that is something you’re worried about:
    Overall, I think it’s important to warn your child of what ‘e might encounter from other kids (and their parents) but to let ’em wear clothes and play with toys that ‘e feels both comfortable and safe with. ‘E is very lucky to have a mom like you.


  23. Lilybean

    I’d like to add an interesting thought: if you had a daughter who wanted to wear dungarees and play with trucks and cars, would you worry about whether it’s a phase, and ask a genderqueer blog for advice, or would you go “oh, she’s a tomboy”?

    I’m not trying to give any answers here, only questions to think about… I believe advice shouldn’t be telling you things, but helping you find the answers yourself. :]


  24. nick

    First off: wonderful to see a parent that is so openminded about whatever their child’s gende rmay be and wants the best for him/her/hir. :)

    Second: I haven’t got personal experience with this but I do know that statisticly, about 80% of such children do ‘grow out of it’.

    Still, I’d say that regardless of whether they’re going to grow out of it, giving a child as much space as possible to be him/her/hirself is best. After all, the best message to give your child is to be proud of whatever he/she/sie is.
    I myself come from a home where my parents have always indulged by desires of wanting to be a boy, and while that got me bullied quite a bit in school, I find that my childhood was a lot less emotionally confusing than that of FtM’s that were forces into pink dresses.


  25. Kab

    You’re already moving in the right direction by asking the question. I wish more parents were as supportive as you! Personally I’d say allow him to be what he feels he is, but I’m not qualified, only genderqueer!


  26. Cassie

    Well, besides the fact that everyone should love the ninja turtles [;)]…

    And besides everyone else’s great responses – I’d say just support hir and whatever zie wants. Whether or not he’ll grow out of it later, being a girl now makes her happy, and that’s important. I’d say encourage hir to do what makes zie happy. Support hir by letting hir know those who would tease and bully and make fun of – aren’t worth it. Help hir find true friends and just be happy.

    Good luck! I think it’s very awesome you’re trying to support your child instead of controlling them in a way that won’t help. :)


  27. Regen

    My parents have never discouraged me from acting like a boy, but they have discouraged the idea of being trans gendered…I’m thinking along the same lines as lilybean, there’s a difference between wanting girly clothing and toys and being transgendered. On the other hand, the constant mentioning of a desire to be a girl at that tender age might suggest something deeper. On the third hand,when I was five one of my friends was like that, and now he’s gay, not trans. Your child may not be fully aware of what it means to be a girl versus a boy– all e knows are the stereotypes. It may simply be that e wants the girly things and wants to be a girl so e can have them, not because e really wants to be a girl.


  28. Jessica

    I am of two minds about seeking professional help. In my experience there is some really good professional help out there and then there’s the other kind.

    Assuming you’re not a millionaire, you may need to work through this with your child on your own. Understanding the situation from their perspective is essential. Your child obviously understands that there are rules enforced on social situations and that there can be consequences from transgressing those boundaries. They may not understand that they understand this. Find a way to explore this topic that both of you understand. Work through things together. Share. Be very very clear that other people’s opinions/demands will not be instantly your opinions/demands. You two are a team. The goal of your team is to get for your child the best compromise between what they need, what they can bear, what they can do, and what they can get away with to be themselves.

    And keep things fluid. Your young person should have every opportunity to change and grow – just because they have headed off in this or that direction now should not necessarily determine what happens in the rest of their lives. Keep options open. Some things may be even more important later that could be preserved or ruled out today.

    I always remember what my sister told me when I was a teen: “Well, you can’t have it now. And when you can have it, you won’t want it.”

    One more thought… Some children need attention. Some shun it. Are you sure your child isn’t using this as a way to get and keep your attention? Some children can be incredibly manipulative, especially of their adults. Before you make life changing decisions, be sure in your heart that in their heart this is genuine.

    When in doubt, love your person for the person they are.


  29. s.a.g.

    I have to say everyone already said most of what needed to be said I think. But one other side thing to think about: If your child identifies as Female rather than male they still may enjoy stereotypically male activities, or if they identify as male and prefer stereotypical female toys. It sounds (from a completely unprofessional point of view) as though your child has always felt female, so I would continue being the loving, supportive parent you already seem to be, just remember that just because later on they may show desire for masculine activities doesn’t mean their gender identity has changed.


  30. Lilybean

    I wonder if the 80% who grow out of it do so because they’re expected to?

    I’m with jessica. Try to get an understanding going. Don’t fret too much about gender roles. Let them be themself, and love them for whoever that is.

    And I wish you both well.


  31. Gabriel

    When I was 4 years old, I told my mom I wanted to be a boy when I grew up. She blew it dismissed it, even when I asked if I could be the ring bearer instead of the flower girl at a friends wedding. I also started stealing my little brothers underwear and wearing it, and when I finally hit puberty, binding.
    I didn’t grow out of it,but he might. I’m only stating my personal experience before giving my advice. I can definitely say I know where he’s coming from, and I cant tell you this: Encourage him! If its not a phase,he will fill loved and supported and not so bad about it all (its confusing for us too) And if it is a phase, then one day he won’t want to wear pink knickers anymore.


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