While some see the explosion of diverse gender identities and expressions as a trend that will fade, I take its wide embrace by kids today as a sign that a hypergendered world doesn't (and hasn't) been good for people figuring out who they are. There's great freedom and relief in not being required to makes choices about your identity, likes and dislikes, and your presentation to the world before you really get to experience who you are.

While many parents today are more open to viewing gender on a continuum, they still don't always understand it. Even if they do, they're often sending kids out into an aggressively gendered world to be policed and hurt by their peers. 

Most kids don't want their gender to be a thing. They want it to be unremarkable and normalized and to just be whoever they are. In the land of gender policing that's hard for anyone, but it's especially hard for those who don't fit neatly into your typical male-female boxes. At school those boxes are not just enforced by their peers, but by gendered bathrooms and locker rooms, lunch tables and lineups. In the books they read Johnny is playing baseball and Jenny is watching him. Over and over again kids with more expansive genders get the message they are defective.

Feminist parents celebrate all genders and fight for kids' right to be who they are. They help their kids understand that everyone can have a unique gender and teach respect for everyone's gender identity, gender orientation, and gender expression. Just like we don't want our daughters devoting all their mental energy to their appearance, we don't want gender fluid kids spending all their time explaining themselves, correcting people on their name, pronouns, and identity and metabolizing the confusion, hurt and anger others throw their way because they don't understand or accept their differences.

Gender fluid child wearing t-shirt saying "Love who you are"

Gender Diversity

Phase or Freedom?
Gender As A Continuum
 

Gender is often considered binary -- the idea that there are two distinct and opposite genders. But it's more useful and true to many people's experience that gender is a continuum with the hyper female stereotype on one end and hyper masculine stereotype on the other. Most kids likely fall somewhere along that continuum and not at either end if given the space to explore this part of their identities. 

Below are a list of terms to familiarize you with the more expansive and creative world of gender. Many of these terms are relatively new to academia, medicine, and mainstream discourse. That means these are evolving terms and people can choose the term that most resonates with them. If you are going to refer to someone’s identity, you should always ask what label they prefer. There is also a list describing terms related to sexual orientation.


Before we get to gender and sexual orientation terms, here are a few you should know first:

 

Heteronormative. Heteronormativity is when binary gender identity and heterosexuality are considered the normal or preferred way of being. Everything is measured against behavior, clothing, relationships and identities of the straight, binary person. Heteronormativity is often linked to 

heterosexism and homophobia. If you’re not heteronormative, you’re often forced to explain yourself, while cisgender and heterosexual people don’t have to.

Gender Expression: This is how we express our gender identity to the world, through clothing, behavior, voice or hairstyle. It may or may not conform to stereotypically feminine or masculine behaviors or characteristics. We can't assume someone's gender identity based on their gender expression. If a cisgender boy wears a dress, it doesn't change his gender identity. It just means that he likes to wear clothing that society typically associates with girls.

Gender Identity: An internal, deeply felt sense of being female, male, a blend of both or neither. Identity refers to how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. It can be the same as or different from their sex assigned at birth.

Gender Dysphoria: Falling outside of the gender binary does not mean someone has gender dysphoria. There must be clinically significant distress caused when a person's assigned birth gender is not the same as the one in which they identify. According to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the term - which replaces Gender Identity Disorder - "is intended to better characterize the experiences of affected children, adolescents, and adults”​

        Gender

  • Gender Binary: The idea that there are two distinct and opposite genders––female and male. This model is limiting and doesn’t account for the full spectrum of gender identities and gender expressions.

  • Cisgender — Gender identity aligns with the sex assigned at birth. This is generally determined by external genitalia -- female, male or intersex

  • Intersex: An umbrella term used to describe a wide range of natural bodily variations. In some cases, these traits are visible at birth, and in others, they are not apparent until puberty.

  • Gender Expansive, Genderqueer, Gender Fluid: These terms are used for those who embrace a fluidity of gender identity and often, though not always, sexual orientations. They may be transgender or they just don't fit neatly into the culture's expectations of what boys or girls should look like or do.

  • Non-Binary: A term used for someone who doesn't identify exclusively as male or female. They may identify as both, somewhere in between, or outside the categories of a woman and a man.

  • Gender Non-Conforming: This is often used interchangeably with the terms above but sometimes it's also used to refer to people who identify as cis-gender but who dress or behave in ways that defy gender stereotypes.

  • Transgender: someone whose gender identity doesn't align with the sex they're assigned at birth. Being transgender does not imply any specific sexual orientation.

      - FTM: Female to male -- Someone assigned female at birth but identifies as a man (trans man)

      - MTF: Male to Female -- Someone assigned female at birth but identifies as a man (trans woman)

  • Two Spirit: An umbrella term and identity within many first nations communities both historically and presently that describes people who live within a spectrum of genders, sexual identities, gender expressions and gender roles.

  • Gender Questioning: The exploration of one's sexual orientation, sexual identity, gender, or all three by people who may be unsure, still exploring, or concerned about applying a social label to themselves.

 

Sexual Orientation

 
Two women kissing
  • Lesbian: A woman who is emotionally, romantically, and/or sexually attracted to women. This includes cis, trans and other people who are women.

  • Gay: A man who is emotionally, romantically, and/or sexually attracted to men. This includes cis, trans and other people who are men.

  • Bisexual/Bi+: A term that describes a person who is emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to people of more than one gender, sex, or gender identity.

  • Pansexual/Pan — meaning gender and sexuality aren't determining factors in whom someone is attracted to.

  • Same-Gender Loving: A term coined and used by communities of color instead of lesbian, gay or  bisexual to express attraction to and love of people of the same gender.

Acronyms

  • LGBTQIA+: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning or Queer, Intersex, Asexual or Ally. The plus sign is for all other self-identifying people not represented in the LGBTQIA acronym.

  • QTPOC: Queer, Trans, People of Color

Actionables:

According to Gender Spectrum, there is a long list of things we can do as parents to support trans or gender non-conforming kids. Here are some of their suggestions:

  • Confront your own anxieties so that you are not parenting from fear.

  • Meet other youth and adults who are transgender or non-binary.

  • Meet other parents of transgender or non-binary kids.

  • Tell others (while respecting the needs of your child), especially close family friends and extended family.

  • Find support: parent groups like PFLAG, faith community, friends. 

  • Make sure your child has affirming medical providers, safe school environment, and models/mentors. Be your child’s advocate for equal rights.

  • Read The Gender Creative Child by Diane Ehrensaft.

  • Use the name and pronouns a child uses, regardless of what is written on their birth certificate.​

  • Post pictures depicting gender-expansive individuals or cultures in which gender is expressed differently than typically represented by traditionally binary notions. 

  • Display examples of people doing things not traditionally seen for their gender, such as male nurses, childcare providers, and dancers and female soldiers, auto mechanics, and athletes.

  • Don’t divide kids into boy and girl groups. This strengthens gender stereotypes and reinforces the binary. Use birthdates, dogs and cats, winter or summer, chocolate or strawberry. ​​

  • Share examples of gender’s impact on you or what you’ve learned about it over the years.

  • Respond to gender-based putdowns firmly, but constructively, always being careful about further marginalizing the target of the statements. Follow up privately to see if how you handled the situation was comfortable for your child

In addition to Gender Spectrum, check out Welcoming Schools. They offer a long list of books for children across a range of ages that high gender diversity. A few great ones for preschoolers are:

            Little, BROWN

            Jacob’s New Dress

            Red

            I am Jazz

            Introducing Teddy

            Sparkle Boy

            Neither

            Who are you? Kids’ Guide to Gender Identity

Ultimately it is simple. Kids and teens want, and need, to be seen and affirmed. Representation and actual knowledge matters. This shouldn't be confined to one day a year. 

 
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Feminist Parenting