I'm not sure why, but a lot of folks seem to be under the impression that "gender neutral parenting" is how transgender youth happen. That it's somehow so confusing for kids that they suddenly don't know their own gender?
And what they're saying is that a child who has access to MORE toy options is going to be so discombobulated that they have an identity crisis. Which, in my experience, kids are just stoked about having lots of toys to choose from. But okay.
I was not raised in a "gender neutral" household. I had an older brother, who had the stereotypical boy stuff. And then my parents gave me the stereotypical girl stuff.
Occasionally, if we played a game together, we might incorporate dolls and action figures into the same make-believe scenario. Or as we called them, "toys."
And despite the ballet classes, the dresses, the dolls — I still wound up being transgender. I just happen to be very effeminate. And guess what? I would've been regardless. Because what I enjoy and my gender are not the same thing.
I often tell people that I'm glad that I wasn't a cisgender boy. And this surprises them. "But you transitioned! You had to get testosterone and top surgery and all that — wouldn't it have been easier to have started that way?"
No, I don't think it would have been easier. Femininity is a big part of me. I love fashion, interior design, cats, flowers, dance, pop music — if it's stereotypically "feminine," I probably enjoy it. A lot.
But if I'd been perceived as a boy? I would've been discouraged from exploring all of the feminine things that I came to love so much. The stuff that makes me really, really happy. I would've been bullied — not just by other kids, but by adults, too.
My mom and I have had conversations about how, in some respects, being perceived as a girl and then transitioning later in life spared me a lot of pain. Because being effeminate AND perceived as a boy is a very lonely, difficult place to be.
Being transgender hasn't been the easiest road for me. But being effeminate and perceived as a boy shows us a very cruel side of humanity, too. At least I was allowed to cry, enjoy glitter, wear a dress, and smell the roses without an adult telling me to "man up."
The thing is, the toys and clothes you give to a kid aren't going to determine whether or not they grow up to be transgender. The only thing you're doing when you deprive a kid of a toy or outfit they adore is telling them that who they are and what they love is wrong.
Rather than teaching your kid that they aren't perfectly lovable and enough exactly as they are, you're teaching them that if they don't operate within this strict binary, you will love them less. They learn that to be enough for you, they have to change who they are.
Instead of trying to shape your child by selectively giving them certain toys, certain clothes, and color-coding everything whether they like it or not... you could take that time and energy and just... love them. In all of their wonderful uniqueness.
I had more dolls than I can count. I was covered in gold glitter at my first ballet recital. And? I still didn't end up a girl or a woman. I still wound up being transgender — the only difference is that I'm not ashamed of who I am or what I love.
The only difference is that I'm comfortable with crying and expressing my emotions. I can wear nail polish and rock a beard and not feel insecure. I move through the world confidently and without apologies. I'm resilient and I'm happy.
"Gender neutral parenting" isn't about creating gender nonconforming kids or transgender kids. It's about giving kids the freedom to pursue what they love and be who they are — whoever that happens to be.
Kids should be allowed to just be kids. To be imaginative, creative, unashamed, and carefree. Why place limits on what that looks like? You're not going to change who they are — you're just going to leave them questioning if who they are is okay.
If I had been cisgender, I still would've been an effeminate queer boy. I would've still been a dancer. I would've been a theater kid and joined the orchestra and watched American Idol with my mom and cried when Kelly Clarkson won.
But I don't know if the world would've been so kind to me. I don't know if I would've been kind to myself after a while, either. In the end, it's not a question of who I would've become — it's a matter of how much shame I would've felt about who I grew up to be.
Someday, I hope we can all agree that kids should be given ample space to explore who they are without shame. And whether they end up LGBTQ+ or not, I only care that they grow up to be mentally healthy, kind, and self-assured. But that only happens with unconditional love.
You might call it "gender neutral parenting" but I just consider it a part of that unconditional love that kids need. To give them every opportunity to explore what makes them happy, and to assure them that no matter who they become, they are enough and they are loved.
If we tell our kids that it's okay to be different, to be unique — that this is what makes them so special and precious — we have to practice what we preach. And if that means letting a boy pick up a doll, it's up to us to get our shit together and support him. Period.
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