How young is too young?

As I’m sure all of us “old timers” have noticed, kids are coming out at younger and younger ages.  I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, the sooner a kid can be themself the less trauma they’ll have to deal with later.  However, I do wonder whether or not some of the very young kids (say, six and under) are capable of expressing themselves well enough to have their needs met.

How do you know if a kid is trans or just gender variant?  At what point do you decide that social transition is less risky than aiming for some sort of middle ground?  I don’t know that there are any good answers to these questions other than “if the kid is hurting themself something needs to change.”  Not all kids are the self-harm type though, in fact they seem to be the exception.  So how do you know if your daughter who likes boy clothes and calls herself David is trans or not?

I worry that more liberal parents are taking almost too liberal of a stance on trans kids.  I worry that we’re taking kids and forcing them into yet another box that they may or may not fit in.  What happens if you socially transition little David and then he’s too scared to tell you he’s not really a boy, just a little girl who likes trucks?  Young kids are so easily swayed, especially when it comes to things like gender.  They’re little, their brains can’t accurately grasp the subject at hand so how can they possibly answer what is very much an adult question?

I wish parents could see that they have more options than just transition or repression.  Particularly with the youngest kids, they’re still so fluid in their identities it seems almost cruel to box them in.  What is so wrong about just allowing kids to be kids for a while?  Save the big gender questions for when they’re a bit older, when they can at least see more to it than wearing dresses or ties.  I know there’s pressure to make kids conform once they hit school age, but that’s what adults are for.  We’re meant to help guide kids to understanding and accepting differences, not force everyone to pick a box.  Let Susie wear the ‘boy’ uniform and Danny play with dolls, they’re not hurting anyone.

I fully support and accept the idea of older kids transitioning, but with these tiny ones I wonder.  It seems that rather than becoming more open to the idea of gender variance we’re simply finding another way to diagnose and treat it.  As an effeminate man, I can’t support that.  What happens when a parent finally ends up with a kid like me?  Sure, I’m trans, but I also don’t fit most people’s idea of what a ‘man’ is very well.  I did a lot of the classic FtM things like insisting on boy-ish clothes and not having girl friends, but I was also a little swish-stick.  I worry that this new class of parents is enforcing gender stereotypes in ways they’re not aware of.

12 Replies to “How young is too young?”

  1. I feel the same

    “It seems that rather than becoming more open to the idea of gender variance we’re simply finding another way to diagnose and treat it. ”

    It’s like when people started “accepting gays”- instead of making the world more diverse, we now have straight-acting-marrying gays. It’s a judo trick that society has perfected. Give you a little and take a lot from you i.e. your visions of greater freedom.

    The dangers you describe could be easily avoided if parents would just let go of prescribed male/female roles, but it seems they have no inclination right now.

    • It goes in waves. I know when I was a kid there was far less emphasis on gender roles, at least where I was growing up. My parents were the only weirdos who actually cared and even they were fairly lax about it until after puberty (when it was time to start “acting like a lady”). They weren’t happy about my cross-gender hissy fits, but for the most part they went with them. Now it’s like everything has to be either over the top girly or so butch it’s almost scary. We’ve also lost almost all good female role models and gender neutral shows in kids’ TV, it’s like we’ve gone backwards.

  2. Yes – I think, too, that parents can go a long way towards accepting their kids’ identities by saying “you might be feeling this way but I need you to live in this way until you’re a little more grown up so you can be sure.” I don’t know how old someone needs to be before they transition but I think puberty is a pretty basic first threshold. So much changes then, I really had no idea anything was wrong until puberty and I’m sure other kids go through the same and the opposite as well. I’d rather see parents educate without pushing; give the kids access to some awesome trans adults and maybe someone should write kids book or two.

    • I can see how puberty would be too late for some kids. I mean, I socially transitioned myself in elementary school so I really can’t say no one else ever should. This transition before kindergarten thing just scares me though, especially with little (possible) trans girls who tend to be transitioned due more to gender roles than any real harm to the kid. Now, they’re also more likely to self-harm so at that point I say fuck the possible consequences, get the kid in a dress, but for the ones who don’t…where’s the line?

      I actually wrote a book for my honorary niece. She reminds me a lot of myself at her age and her mother still isn’t quite sure what to do with her so she wanted something that would explain all the options in language a four year old could understand. She’s a bit older now and still pretty gender neutral, but we’ve got a few doctors on call in case she starts freaking out and ends up needing hormone blockers.

  3. I don’t know. I mean, I hesitate to say there should be an absolute age below which no kid should ever transition. But I think the main thing is that, especially for younger kids, you have to take special precautions to be absolutely sure it’s coming from the kid. Parents/teachers shouldn’t be involved at all in enforcing gender roles one way or the other (which is harder than it sounds).

    In other words, it’s totally fine if a kid socially transitions him/herself, like NA did. And if a little possible trans girl goes shopping with her mother and insists on pink clothes and dresses, then they should be bought (within reason). If a little possible trans boy suddenly insists his name is Luke and wants a short haircut, that’s fine. But the parents should go on offering and clearly approving of the clothing, hairstyles, and names of the child’s birth gender, and nobody should start switching pronouns until the child insists on it. And under no circumstances should the parents be in the business of enforcing gender conformity in the child’s preferred gender – no telling little Luke he needs a haircut, or telling the pink-frilly trans girl that girls don’t play football.

    Which is all a lot more complex than the simplified “early transition or not” question as usually framed.

  4. Oh, and one more thing: especially for small children, it’s a very good idea to check for signs of possible sexual abuse. Abused kids have been known to engage in defense mechanisms that mimic trans symptoms. (Of course, an abused kid can also be trans – abuse, if present, is not grounds for denying them their freedom of gender expression.)

  5. From the perents I have heard from, that is not the impression I got, I remember one family who where asked what if your child changes their mind “Well we know how to do this now, figure it will be easier the second time” I think honestly, discussions and letting kids know that it is ok to be unsure, it is ok to say, I don’t know, and it is ok to socially and medically detranstion will do the most good for the most people.

  6. “Abused kids have been known to engage in defense mechanisms that mimic trans symptoms.”

    kyril- where did you read that?

    • Heard/saw it directly in the kids themselves when I worked as a counselor in a camp for abused kids. There were quite a number of little girls who thought that if they were boys, or looked like boys, then boys/men wouldn’t want to touch them.

      The boys didn’t seem to have the reverse reaction, although we did see a number of effeminate boys, but I suspect that may be linked to the known fact that effeminate boys are more likely to be abused.

  7. I think the book Transforming Families is a pretty good read for the parents of young children who may be showing gender variance. The book is a collection of small pieces written by trans people there family members and there are several pieces about young children in the under 9 range. The general consensus of the parents seems to be that they will let there children take the lead, and if the kids wants to be called one name or one gender than they will do it, if the kid wants to be called “he” some days and “she” others than they will do that too and they will wait until the kid is old enough before making any decisions about hrt or srs.

  8. You know, I struggle with wondering about this too. Then I remember I started getting breasts at 8 years old and got my period by 11. Yech! If only…heck if only someone had helped me clue in before age 27!

    But I do think we need to allow for very little kids to just be kids. Even though my fiancee and I (we’re both trans) both know that we knew (ok, she knew beyond any doubt, I had some weird feeling) around age 4. So I go back and forth.

    By the way, great blog title! I live in Seattle, and know two or three transguys named Aidan. Or Aiden. All depends. 🙂

    • The allowing kids to be kids part is what concerns me. Especially with the way everyone has been jumping on Shiloh Jolie-Pitt being a baby trans guy. The child is like five, gender at that point is more wrapped up in clothes and toys than anything. Maybe Shiloh’s trans, maybe not. Brad and Angelina don’t seem to think so, but they’re still allowing for whatever clothes and play things are age appropriate. I don’t see why we can’t just go with that. Let kids be kids. Especially the very young ones, I had cousins who wanted to be dogs at four. They didn’t grow up to be furries any more than I grew up to be a fairy princess.

      Well, maybe a bit of a fairy. Sometimes.

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