gender identity in young children

After nwc watched this documentary on Josie, a transgender child, we started talking about transgenderism in young kids.  I have no problem with people transitioning to the opposite gender, but with children it is a bit more complicated.  Certainly some children really do feel like they are in the wrong body, but there are others for whom it might be a phase or influenced unduly by environment. How are parents to know?  How can the children even understand their own wants and needs and the long-term implications?

Parents have a responsibility to provide a structured environment in which to teach their children.  It's their responsibility to say no often.  But on transgenderism, how are they to know if they are just being indulgent or if they're helping their child embrace their true identity?  There are no easy answers.

For me, the essence of this problem is restrictive gender roles.  Heterosexual boys can like pink.  But, even in modern western society, boys who like pink are usually expected to be gay or transexual, which makes very little sense.  Girls have it a little easier, as tomboyishness is more socially appropriate, but get too macho and middler schoolers will start calling you a lesbian, even if your behavior has nothing to do with your sexuality.  Children are making decisions based on the signals of gender, instead of the more hidden implications of sex, which are different.

Regardless of a child's gender identity, I think it's important to protect children from gender stereotypes as much as possible.  This means choosing media with the right gender messages, talking about gender, and providing plenty of gender-neutral toys (e.g., puzzles, model animals, blocks).  We need to stop emphasizing things like how pretty girls are and how emotionally removed boys are.  Even for cis-gender children, these expectations can be damaging.

If we stop swallowing gender stereotypes hook-line-and-sinker, transgenderism in children becomes less of an issue, because it would carry less baggage.  A kid could say something like: I like dinosaurs, ballet, and chocolate muffins; I have long hair, and I'm a boy.  Gah, that's starting to sound eerily like the I'm a Mormon campaign.

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