I have witnessed many parents panic about the increasing acceptance of transgender people-- especially transgender children-- within our culture. Sex-changing treatments for children are on the rise, transgender people are featured prominently in the media, and parents like Beck Laxton are springing up with radical ideas about raising gender-neutral children. In today's world, we can no longer explain to kids that a boy is someone with a penis and that a girl is someone with a vagina, because we now know that it isn't always so simple. In the midst of this shift in our cultural paradigm, many of us are left asking: is transgender acceptance going to confuse our children?
I can't speak for society, but I can speak for my own family. My four-year-old daughter is well aware that the line between boy and girl is sometimes blurry. Her "other" mom is also her dad-- my partner is currently undergoing the process of transitioning from male to female. Our daughter is well aware that her parent has a "man body and a lady-brain," and that transgender people must use a combination of treatments to look the way they feel inside. Laser hair removal, hormone replacement therapy, and words like "genderqueer" and "cisnormativity" come up regularly at the dinner table. Transgender acceptance is simply part of our family's lifestyle.
The concepts of transgenderism are normal and well-understood in my home. My daughter knows that one of our close family friends was born with a girl-body but is now a man. She knows that there are boys with wombs and girls with penises. I've spotted her playing make-believe with her toys and have gathered that one of her purple ponies is female-to-male transgender and undergoing hormone replacement therapy so he can grow a pony-beard. I'm not at all worried about this, because I know my daughter is not confused in any way.
As accepting as we are of transgenderism in my family, it has not influenced my daughter's own gender identity or her understanding of the difference between sexes. She will gladly explain to anyone who will listen that she is cisgender because her body matches how she feels inside. While she enjoys cars, trains, and dinosaurs, she has never once doubted her identity as a female. She has short hair and occasionally wears boys' clothes, but is quick to correct anyone who mistakes her for a boy. She may know that there are boys with girls' bodies, but she is absolutely certain that her body and mind are in synch.
Science makes it clear that transgender acceptance doesn't confuse children. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that transgenderism in children is often evident by age three, meaning that a child's feelings toward his gender are likely set in stone before he can even speak fluently. There is no indication, according to any published research, that early or frequent exposure to gender deviance will cause kids to be confused or transgender. One well-designed study by the American Psychological Association found that 100% of kids with gay and transgender parents "were happy with their gender and had no wish to be a member of the opposite sex." Scientifically, it's clear that exposure to transgenderism doesn't confuse children at all, and may even solidify their comfort with their own gender and sex.
"I really wouldn't want to be transgender," my daughter says sympathetically to her male-bodied mom. She snuggles against my partner's chest and adds, "It really doesn't seem like it would be fun to have a body that doesn't match the way you feel on the inside." In saying this, my daughter reveals that she not only isn't confused by exposure to transgender acceptance, but understands that it's not a choice-- and not a walk in the park. If our family's lifestyle has had any impact on my daughter's emotional or social development, it has only made her more comfortable with herself and more compassionate toward other people. I have no regrets about raising my daughter to acknowledge, understand, and accept transgender people.
Related Work by Genevra Reid
"She's my Daddy"-- An Interview with my Daughter