On June 15th, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects the LGBTQ+ community from employment discrimination. This important public win for the LGBTQ+ community paves a clearer path into the future than ever before, particularly for transgender (or trans) youth. Perhaps this broad acceptance of trans adult life will make it safer and more realistic for trans children to disclose their gender identities to their families and communities.
Gender identity is a person’s internal sense of how they fit into society’s rubric of gender. This internal sense is distinct from biological sex. For many people, their interiority aligns with their biological sex but for some people it doesn’t. This internal-external difference is often called gender dysphoria or gender incongruence.
Many individuals who experience gender incongruence report understanding their identity from a very young age, and the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that most children have a stable gender identity by age four. While it is becoming more common for children to share this information with their parents or for parents to recognize this experience in their children, many individuals still choose to hold onto this important self-knowledge and keep it private for years or even decades.
Here are a few simple and strategic ways parents and other caring adults can create space for children to explore gender diversity:
- Notice and address gender assumptions. If a child in a preschool classroom says ,“Trucks are for boys”, a teacher can respond by saying “You’ve noticed that a lot of boys like to play with trucks and some girls like trucks, too. Trucks can be for everyone.”
- Loosen up social norms for appearance. If a child says, “Girls have long hair”, an adult can say “Yes, a lot of girls like to wear their hair long and sometimes boys do, too” or “Sometimes people with long hair are girls, but not always.” Allow space for dressing up in clothes or costumes not typical for the child’s assigned gender. Dress up play, or imaginative play, is a safe way to do the gender identity work that young children need to do.
- Notice other people’s preferred pronouns and make yours known. I have a pin with she/her printed on it that I keep on my purse. The assumption that most people would make about my gender from my appearance is aligned with how I experience my own gender. However, when I explicitly announce my pronouns, it signals to my child and to others that I see and support gender diversity.
These few simple actions provide early stepping-stones that support children on their future gender path—a path that is now more promising and protected than ever before.
By Cristina Spencer