Talking with your boy about “being different”

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Has your child asked you about Caitlyn/Bruce Jenner yet? If he hasn’t, I can promise you he has been talking about that with his friends. In January, we discussed how your son knew he was a boy, and now we need to discuss the issue of transgendered individuals.

All the evidence indicates that a disconnect between sex and gender happens very early in a transgendered person’s life. Jenner herself has reported that she knew from the time she was small that she was more comfortable in women’s clothes, but she stayed as a male because there was a great deal of pressure to do so. In fact, she became the model of masculinity for a generation, simply to make it evident to the world that she was not female. However, it now appears that she has been transitioning for many years, and has finally made the leap to full womanhood. Jenner has always been a very brave person, but this move took a special kind of guts.

It seems so odd in part because we tend to think about sex as dichotomous – isn’t everyone either male or female? Actually, no. The very first thing that we ask about a newborn is whether it is a girl or a boy and sometimes that classification is not always obvious. There are individuals who are considered intersex, who have characteristics of both sexes. This is a complicated situation as there are many different reasons why an individual may have characteristics of both sexes. Check out the web site of the Intersex Society of North America if you’re interested in learning specifics about these conditions.

What is more complicated is that several of these conditions do not appear as ambiguous – the individual presents as consistently male or female and may not know until they are older that there is a problem. Not only that, but there are no indications that those who believe that their assigned gender is incorrect have any of the intersex conditions. Research is trying to determine if there is a biological reason for those who claim that the body they inhabit is inconsistent with the gender that they have been assigned, but it is difficult to conduct research because there are not many intersex individuals.

The odds are that your son is perfectly normal, but more and more people are feeling comfortable about discussing their ambiguities, and so your son may know of a child who is declaring that he or she is not the gender that the child appears to be. One mother has discussed very frankly how she presented this dilemma to her young son and you may find her words to be useful.

Most importantly, you need to be able to help your son understand that whatever gender he identifies with is part of who he is. That, of course, means that you must be comfortable with your child’s choice. I find that the most two concerns most often voiced by parents faced with this situation is that others will think they did a poor job parenting their child, or that if their child transitions to the other gender, that they will not have the opportunity to have grandchildren. You’ll note that in both cases, the concern involves the parent, not the child. Please remember, if your child is wrestling with this issue, it is not about you.

It’s perfectly normal for young children to be somewhat unsure of their gender. This does not mean that a child is destined to be either homosexual or transgendered, but that the child is developing a sense of self. The process of coming to know yourself can be complicated and parents can be most helpful when they accept the child as he is. Being athletic is no guarantee of heterosexuality, as Jenner has shown, so if your child isn’t interested in stereotypically masculine pursuits, don’t worry. Sexuality comes in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. Accept your boy for the wonderful kid he is and don’t try to pressure him into getting involved in activities that you think are appropriate for young boys.