Throughout my journey parenting my 7-year-old transgender son, I have learned that there is so much more to gender than your birth sex assignment. This doesn’t always tell your complete story. Gender identity is how you feel inside and how you express your gender through clothing, behavior, and personal appearance. It’s a feeling that begins very early in life.
In our family’s case, we began to notice our son’s gender expression was different than his assigned sex at birth. It started as early as 2 years old. He refused to wear dresses. He wouldn’t allow any hair accessories. At 3, his preferred playthings were all physical and outdoors. He chose boys as his earliest playmates. At age 3 1/2 he stopped wearing any clothing items that might typically be considered feminine. He asked to shop in boys departments and chose collared shirts, bowties and neckties as a way to assert his preferences. In hindsight, I recognize his strong need to assert who he was and how he felt on the inside, his earliest and easiest way to express his gender identity.
He told me at age 4 that he wasn’t a girl. We went to Europe that summer before kindergarten, and he was misgendered everywhere (everyone thought he was a boy). He didn’t correct anyone, actually preferring it, which showed us that we had to begin to support him in a much more comprehensive way.
That same summer, before starting kindergarten, he told us he was going to be a boy in school. We found many ways to support his identity, from changing his name, to helping with clothing and hairstyle choices. In the spring of that year, he began to use male pronouns. Since then, he has continued to express as male, shortening his haircut at every opportunity. Once we were all on board with his correct pronouns and gender expression, he eased up on wearing ties and collared shirts and began to show comfort in his identity—choosing t-shirts, sweats and more casual boys clothing.
Its really common for people to confuse sex, gender and gender identity but they’re actually all different things. Sex is a label—male or female—that you’re assigned by a doctor at birth based on the genitals you’re born with and the chromosomes you have. It goes on your birth certificate.
Some people call the sex we’re assigned at birth “biological sex.” But this term doesn’t fully capture the complex biological, anatomical, and chromosomal variations that can occur. Having only two options—biological male or biological female—might not describe what’s going on inside a person’s body.
Gender is much more complex: It’s a social and legal status, and set of expectations from society, about behaviors, characteristics, and thoughts. Each culture has expectations and standards about the way that people should behave based on their gender. Generally, these constructs are binary—male or female. But instead of being about body parts, it’s more about how you’re expected to act, because of your sex.
So what is Transgender or Trans? In the case of my son, it means that although he was assigned female at birth (AFAB)—he was born with female sex characteristics—he identifies as male. In the LGTBQ community, this is called trans-male. My son uses he/him/his pronouns.
Our son, our family, and we as supportive parents, are most definitely not alone. Studies have shown that 0.6% of adults and 0.7% of kids in the US identify as trans. Many researchers show that they believe this number is much higher, but people of any age choose not to report because of fear of discrimination and transphobia. We chose affirming parenting behaviors—those that strengthen a child’s sense of self-worth. While this was full of challenges (including feelings of grief and loss) for our family, it was important to take whatever steps we could to demonstrate to our son that we were with him on this journey.
I identify as cis-female. This means I was AFAB and identify as female. I use she/her/hers pronouns. The reasons folks label themselves “cis-gendered” rather than just male or female, is to provide a context for which to identify each of us. It dissociates us from the binary and demonstrates a more inclusive language rather than only male or female.
Instead of saying “biological sex,” some people use the phrase “assigned male at birth” or “assigned female at birth.” This acknowledges that someone (often a medical team) is making a decision for someone else. The assignment of a biological sex may or may not align with what’s going on with a person’s body, how they feel, or how they identify.
Children, by and large, don’t really subscribe to the same gender constructs as adults. At school, classmates have embraced him for who he is. They may remember when he went by female pronouns, but no one argues with him identifying as male. They just know him as one of their friends. Lyons Elementary School has been a place of safety and inclusivity. Youth are rejecting the binary and asking adults to keep up.
Typically, students demonstrating negative behaviors around transgender students are those whose parents and influential adults demonstrate similar opinions, behaviors and biases.
Lyons is a small town but our population and growth is obvious. We’re also a town that has shown a great deal of fortitude. In the wake of the 2013 flood, by embracing each other, despite our differences in socio-economic status, political views, or cultural diversity, we proved that we could stand together to rebuild our town, our community and our Lyons pride. That has made Lyons appealing to a larger population and we are beginning to see more diversity in our growing population, including gender diversity.
As parents of a trans-boy, along with other parents in our community, we hope others—especially adults in the community—continue to show support of our children. This begins at home, teaching our children the values of embracing all kinds of diversity.
Communities are beginning to have conversations about how to help folks understand gender diversity without fear. Helping folks to see that our differences are what make us truly unique and even more wonderful, that when everyone is embraced for who they are, our communities become stronger and more united.