The topic of children and gender expression seems to be coming up more and more often in the media these days. Usually the subject is framed as a controversy (as in, is it okay to paint your son's toenails pink or do parents have the right not to disclose their babies sex or gender). The topic isn't new, of course.
Children and youth have always explored and experimented with gender expression. It is an entirely expected part of child development. What may have changed is that after years of work by trans activists and their allies, a space has opened up in popular culture and mental health where we can talk about gender expression as both diverse and healthy.
In other words, more and more of us are coming to accept that there are more than two choices, and if you don't conform to the rigid set of gender roles set out by society, the problem may not be with you.
There are a few contemporary terms that are being used to describe children that find themselves in what we might think of as a kind of middle space: gender non-conforming, gender independent, gender variant, gender creative. They are all words that describe a child who in some ways is making it clear that they don't fit neatly into the artificial binary of male/female genders, that the gender options given to them are too narrow.
Recently Rainbow Health Ontario developed an excellent primer for parents and educators on this topic. In addition to proposing a working definition (they prefer the term gender independent children) the fact sheet offers information on some of the common questions parents and educators have, including:
- How to best understand gender independence and how best to support youth and families.
- What's the relationship between gender independence and mental health?
- What does gender in adulthood look like for gender independent kids?
- Information on social and medical transitioning for kids who develop into trans youth.
It won't be all things to all people, but it's well researched, thoroughly referenced, and it is by far the least pathologizing information I've come across from a health care organization. And, it's free!
Rainbow Health Ontario: Supporting Gender Independent Children and Their Families
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