Gender-Variant Children Aren’t Necessarily LGBTQ Children

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Just because your son is asking for nail polish and stealing his sister’s tutu doesn’t mean he’ll grow up to be gay. An article over at The New York Times reveals some of the dialogue that’s taking place with parents of gender-nonconforming children — that is boys who like purple shirts and girls who want mohawks. The parents featured in the article navigate their children’s predilections and unconventional tastes with blogs and like-minded playgroups, letting their children dress themselves as they like. Many of these parent-launched blogs such as “Raising My Rainbow: Adventures in Raising a Slightly Effeminate, Possibly Gay, Totally Fabulous Son” tack on homosexuality when understanding their child’s behavior — but that might be assuming a bit much for a four-year-old.

The Times observes:

In general, researchers say, the behavior of very young children may not be a strong predictor of their adult sexual orientation. “Even when the child has extremely gender variant behavior at 4, it doesn’t necessarily mean the child will be gender variant at 10 or 15,” said Dr. Edgardo J. Menvielle, who directs the Gender and Sexuality Psychosocial Programs at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. “It’s possible they will remain who they are and they may also change in a variety of ways.”

In other words, parents have to wait, a limbo that many find unbearable. Some rush to aggressive advocacy. Diane Ehrensaft, a therapist in Oakland, Calif., said that a parent might say to her, “ ‘I know my child is transgender and I’m ready to go with hormone blockers.’ ”

Her response? “Whoa, not so fast.”

While it’s lovely to see an new generation of supportive, advocating parents completely ready to throw up the rainbow flag and sign up for PFLAG, the immediate jump from boys with Barbies to gay presents a very limited understanding of gender — and homosexuality for that matter. If we’re going to narrowly define gender or assign sexual identities based on what toys children like to play with, that alone can be just as short-sided as repressing gender-variant behavior. If anything, what these gender-noncomforming children are showing us is that our conceptions of gender are too confining — as girls who want short hair might just turn out to be straight. Boys with princess phases may never exhibit same-sex interests or identify as transgender.

Appearance and preferences are not necessarily anchored by gender, nor should they be. Gendered interpretations of our children need to be expanded as well as support for those children who are do eventually identify as LGBTQ.