Parents often ask me how they can tell if their child is transgender versus gender nonconforming and if they should be transitioning him/her.
Before I reply, I always clarify that I’m not a certified expert on gender or when to or not to support/encourage/allow a child to transition. I’m merely self-taught and have personal experience.
The only thing I’m an expert on is my child — and most days he does a thing or two that makes me question even that.
When people ask me about the state of their child’s gender identity, I reply with a question.
“What does your mom gut tell you?” (Or dad gut or primary caregiver gut, I don’t discriminate when it comes to questions of the gut.)
There’s trusting your gut and the there’s trusting your mom gut. My mom gut feels stronger and is correct more often than my regular gut. Like it is more accurate because it’s an invisible nerve that is tethered to my child and feels and knows things about him that no other person could feel or know.
My mom gut says my child is not transgender and not currently in need of transition.
I’ve considered very, very seriously at least three times during his life that C.J. is transgender (and I’ve mildly contemplated it during fleeting moments on hundreds of days).
The first time was when he was four and for a few months was pretty adamant that he was going to be a woman when he grew up.
The second time was when he was six and asked us to call him by a girl’s name and use female pronouns.
The third time was not so long ago when he watched one of his friends transition socially from male to female and said that maybe he should transition too.
Over the last four years, some professionals have told us that C.J. is transgender and that we should help him transition socially.
But, we never have. Because my mom gut said it wasn’t the right decision. I’m glad I didn’t. Sometimes transitioning is the answer and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes there is no answer. And, sometimes you just keep on living in the middle of the gender spectrum because that is where your child is most happy and healthy.
My son no longer wants to be a woman when he grows up, like he did when he was four. He didn’t feel comfortable during those days when he was six and we called him Rebecca and used female pronouns. And, after watching his friend transition he declared that he couldn’t imagine being a girl every day.
So, he continues to identify as gender nonconforming; just as he has since he was old enough to identify as anything and despite how much I’d rather him use the term gender creative (I’m a sucker for positive connotations).
His gender isn’t up to me. It’s up to him.
On this unique parenting journey, I believe that:
- If your heart beats wholeheartedly, lovingly and accepting-ly for a child;
- If you don’t have religion or the fear of what other people will think clouding your judgment; and
- If you would love your child the same if they were cisgender, transgender or gender nonconforming.
Then you should go with your gut.
If you can’t quite tell what your gut thinks, but your child is happy, healthy and thriving, give it some time.
If your child is consistently insistent that their sex and gender don’t match up or shows signs of distress (like depression, anxiety, behavior issues, self harm, self mutilation, etc.) seek out help from professionals. I’d start with a gender therapist.
Eight years into parenting a differently gendered child, have I totally and completely ruled out that my child is transgender? Absolutely not. C.J. has taught me to get comfortable living in uncertainty. More importantly, he’s taught me that you should feel confident listening and trusting your mom gut (dad gut/primary caregiver gut), so long as your heart is in the right place.