A girl who identifies as a boy

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  November 12, 2009 06:00 AM

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Barbara, Please help. When my daughter was 2 years old she told me she wanted to be a boy. Everyone told me she would grow out of this. She has always played with both boy and girl toys. Wears clothing both boy and girl. She is fascinated with batman and superman. She is now 5. She refuses to wear pink or anything girly. She says that is for girls and she is a boy. She is in kindergarten and tells the other kids she is a boy. Her father is absent. She has a few positive male role models in her life. My father and 2 brothers. When she plays with my niece she is so rough and aggressive and truly has characteristics that resemble the behavior of a little boy. She told me over the course of 6 weeks about a little girl who is in the 2nd grade and is in her after school program. Now... she tells me she "like likes her." The other little girl draws her pictures gives her things and my daughter always tells me she is beautiful etc. I am teaching my child socially this is this and that is that "but if that's how you feel, I love you no matter what." My question is ..... For the best interest of my daughter's psychological well-being, how do I handle this gender issue, of her wanting to be a boy, when she is a girl and only 5 years old?

From: Aliah, Sacramento, Ca

Hi Aliah,

It is possible that your daughter has something that's called gender identify disorder. She fits some of the descriptions (dressing like the opposite sex, expressing desire to be the opposite sex, refusing to identify with her gender). And yes, research indicates this can surface in early childhood. (For a scholarly & historical look at the issue, click here.)

As best as I can determine, the consensus is that it's too soon to begin counseling but certainly that is something that your daughter will benefit from down the road. In the meantime, the best that you can do as her mother is love her unconditionally; model your tolerance for differences of all kinds; and include people of all kinds in her world, including people of diverse races, religions, and sexual orientation.

At this age, children notice differences but are not put off by them unless they pick up messages, subtle and not so subtle, that the differences are wrong or bad. So I'm guessing that, so far, she has not run into peers who are troubled by her insistence that she is a he. That may change within a few years. Establishing a foundation now where she knows that (a) she can talk to you about anything; (b) that you will not pass judgment; and (c) that you will give her accurate, age-appropriate information will mean that as she gets older, she will feel supported and not isolated. The good news is that our culture has a much broader tolerance for sexual differences today than it ever has in the past.

In the meantime, help her develop positive self-esteem by allowing her to develop her individual interests and strengths rather than pushing or imposing typical girl interests onto her. She only wants to wear rough-and-tumble boys' clothes? Fine; find some that fit her well. Help her to identify playmates who like to do what she likes to do, whether they are boys or girls (ask the teacher for suggestions). And always be in touch with the teacher so that you can be on top of any social issues that surface; that's something I tell every parent. If you have a close enough relationship with other parents or teachers and you want to share your thoughts with them, also fine. But I don't feel that that's necessary in and of itself.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with
some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

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32 comments so far...
  1. While I never had any troubles identifying as a girl, I also never (and still do not) enjoyed girly things. I never liked pink clothes, makeup, and shopping. I like climbing trees, playing army, and getting muddy. Now I am an engineer - still mostly surrounded by guys, and much happier that way. I am married (and the mom of two sons) and still don't feel the need to be girly. Perhaps this little girl will grow up to identify as lesbian or something. But perhaps she is just a major tomboy. And that's ok.

    Posted by BMS November 12, 09 07:57 AM
  1. When I was small, I climbed trees, played with GI Joe, Tonka Trucks and had worm farms. I played with dolls too - Barbies and stuffed animals. I made paper fighter jets and pulled Army recruiting ads out of magazines for my walls. In 3rd grade, I used to draw pictures of me sitting by a tank in Army fatiques, or on patrols in the woods. I HATED dresses. Oh, the fights we would have over dresses, my mother and I...

    I also hated baths, being told what to do and the color pink.

    It never dawned on me to think I was a boy though. I just thought I was what I was - and my parents never encouraged or discouraged non-gender specific play. My father would throw a football to me and tell me I had a quarternack's arm and I loved it. I would serve fake tea to my mom and she seemed to appreciate that too.

    I "liked" girls and boys equally, in that way of elementary school crushes, though after first grade, I shied from girls because I viewed them as petty and mean and too...girly.

    As a tween and teen, I channeled all of that into punk rock. This was early/mid 1980's, so it wasn't acceptable, accepted, music and fashion you could find on the radio or in the malls. I loved that I found a place in life where I never fit before...

    As an adult, I work in a male dominated career field, I DO wear the military uniform now, but they still won't give me a tank for some reason (poop), but I am happily a woman. I wouldn't trade my woman bits for anything. It wasn't always that way, but I found my fit in life. I'm married to a wonderful man now and have a daughter who seems to prefer jeans to skirts, worms and mud to dolls.

    Be there for your daughter. Let her play the way she wants to, with what she wants to (within reason, of course...I mean, sharp knives and such, maybe not). Just because she wants to be a boy now doesn't mean that will always be later. Sometimes, us girl-boys find our way and have the support and love and lack of gender role imposition in our lives that end up helping us to love our femininity while still allowing us all of the pleasures of "being" a boy too.

    Now if only I could have my tank...

    Posted by Phe November 12, 09 09:28 AM
  1. I have two older brothers, and would often tell people, when asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, that I wanted to be a boy. I used to refuse to wear pink, dresses of any color and always wanted to have short hair. It was only in my teenage years and later that I began enjoying wearing dresses, and later in college that I started wearing any make up. I just wasn't interested. I think that as long as your daughter understands the value of being yourself and that she is loved as she is, she will be perfectly fine.

    By the way, I still don't wear pink!

    Posted by Skal November 12, 09 10:41 AM
  1. Aliah, As the mother of a gender variant child much like your own I can agree that it is still early in your child's life and no one can predict with certainty what the future holds. That said, I will tell you that there is a subset of gender variant children who display a very consistent, persistent and acute cross gender identification throughout childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. This is the case with my own child who is now 17, identifies as transgender, and lives his life as a young man. This is just one of the possible outcomes you may want to be aware of.

    For more information and resources I would encourage you to visit www.imatyfa.org and look into joining the parent chat group there called TYFA TALK. The group is comprised of parents who all have young children 3-17 who are gender variant and transgender.

    Kim Pearson
    TransYouth Family Allies
    www.imatyfa.org
    kimp@imatyfa.org

    Posted by Kim Pearson November 12, 09 11:18 AM
  1. My child was born a biological female and expressed much of the same attitudes and opinions that your child is expressing. I thought it may be a phase, but over time, instead of going away, things got stronger. In kindergarten, I allowed him (THEN "her") to get his first haircut. Now, he is in 4th grade, living as a boy full-time, and claims he will NEVER change his mind, because he "IS A BOY." So be it. I love my child no matter what gender he is and if he changes his mind down the road, we will just switch gears and go with it.

    You are not alone. Get support from other parents who have kids like yours. And take it one day at a time! Hang in there.

    Posted by MOMofMASON November 12, 09 12:46 PM
  1. Hi! I am a mom of a boy who identifies as female (the opposite of your case). I agree with Kim Pearson.. this does not always "go away" and you should be prepared for this. I am a member of the TYFA online support group, and it is extremely helpful in helping you to figure out what to do! I highly recommend it! Although the MtF (male to female) situations are more "visible" because of our masculine-driven society.. we should not turn a blind eye to the FtM children. The whole "tom boy" attitude is why many of these children go undiagnosed, and thought to not exist as much. Families I know who have a true transgender FtM child, have a lot of difficulties being taken seriously because of this. So please do not take this lightly. True this child MAY be a "tom boy", but then MAY NOT! Keep an open mind and be educated about the possibility that this may not "go away"! Join the TYFA group and talk with parents in the same situation! Good luck to your family! Sounds like you have the right attitude... loving your child NO MATTER WHAT! Yay you!

    Posted by Jennifer Hardy November 12, 09 01:12 PM
  1. Aliah, I'm the father of an 11 year old gender non-conforming boy who presents as female, but who is comfortable with his body at this point to the point where we are not in therapy and we are not seeking any sort of early intervention.

    Kim's point is well taken; Sean is a wonderful young man, and together they did the right thing for him. The realty is, no one can give you any odds, any numbers that matter, on what the likelyhood of any outcome might be; you have one child here and you must do what is right for that child, so you need to familiarize yourself with a variety of long-term outcomes, and then, pivot back to the here and now, don't get ahead of yourself, and take this one day at a time.

    You need support in this; I recommend internet mailing lists; these lists may also put you in touch with people in your area that have kids like yours that you can share with face to face, but the reality is we are thinly scattered over the entire planet at this point. Repression is so widespread that it's hard to say what this means, but I've yet to hear about a school system with more than one k-8 fully out gender-nonconforming or trans child.

    There are links to TYFA and other sites on my blog as well; I'm dealing with a MTF child, so my site might be of that much use, but i'll throw it out there anyway: www.acceptingdad.com

    Posted by Bedford Hope November 12, 09 01:24 PM
  1. Let me tell you something...

    Young people are the people who know who they are better than most adults in the world? Why? Because they haven't been shaped by the cookie cutters around them and developed too far to be scared... Or think its wrong to do what they feel is natural and right.


    I'm not saying she should start this all at once, but it is NEVER too late for COUNSELING. Trust me...

    If I had had the help I needed much sooner, I would be much less full of misery now. Do the right thing... And please, don't listen to people who have no idea what they're talking about, who are only afraid of what is different than them, and just take your kid to therapy. I'm sure it will become very clear then... Delaying does nothing. Children like this, if they don't get what they need, can become permanently depressed, suicidal and withdrawn. Do not lose this connection...

    Posted by kara-xen November 12, 09 02:39 PM
  1. What BMS is saying is true but it is not likely. There is a difference between a little girl who is a tomboy and a female child saying that they are a boy. Chances are this is not a phase. Transgender people often know they are when they are just 4 years old. Some come out at this age, others repress it until much later. I am 17 and i only came out a few months ago. I hate that I couldn't realize this about myself earlier. Now my parents don't believe me and Ive already endured puberty. You don't have to go out and get your child a sex change. But please, for his sake, let him be who he is. Before its too late for him and you.

    Posted by Kyle November 12, 09 02:49 PM
  1. I am greatly pleased with all of the commentors here.

    Posted by Monique VanDeSoaker November 12, 09 04:42 PM
  1. lady u need to chill if shes lesbian so wat i am and im proud im 13 and i just found out leave her alone

    Posted by gaypride November 12, 09 08:43 PM
  1. Support your child. Clearly, you have a son. Your child might identify differently in the future ... but you don't know that. For now, I'd say you have a wonderful son!

    Definitely get some support of your own. Clearly, you're learning how to deal with the issue and understand it. Joining a group for parents of trans youth would probably help a LOT (having your experiences validated, and learning new ways to think about the situation).

    One day, people will recognize that gender is something fluid, not defined by our organs, and situations like this one will no longer seem worrisome at all.


    Posted by sabend November 12, 09 10:15 PM
  1. I have nothing to add to the discussion but just wanted to say that the responses here are wonderful! Good for all of you parents who are dealing with this in a loving, accepting, and respectful way. Your children are so lucky to have you - keep working to understand them, help them be comfortable in their own skin, and love them just the way they are.

    Posted by Jen November 13, 09 12:05 AM
  1. What kind of advise is this? Gender identity disorder?? You must be a Republican-- anyone that doesn't jive with the rest of society must have a 'disorder'. This little girl could very likely be carrying male chromosomes. They can do testing for this! There are many l, many people that were born with the opposite sex chromosomes without knowing and were raised as the other gender by unknowing parents. The girl is 5, and quite capable of knowing how she feels. Get her tested!! The fact that you're divorced has nothing to do with the extent of her behavior. Trust that she knows her feelings and continue to support her and try to figure out if the cause is organic. Good luck!

    Posted by Lisa November 13, 09 12:21 AM
  1. gaypride,
    The concern was is that Aliah feels her daughter identifies as 'male' and she would like some guidance as to how to handle it.
    I am a 21 year old and came out as bisexual when I was 14, and although it took me some time at your age to realise it, here is some advice: not everyone is trying to attack your sexuality, and not everyone is homophobic. I'm not trying to be patronising, but its something worth thinking about.
    Aliah, I feel a lot like many of the posters here. Although it has occurred to me that maybe your daughter does sincerely identify as male, another view is that maybe she is too young to really understand the meaning behind saying she is a boy. she might just have homosexual feelings and not know how to clearly explain what she feels. making the connection that boys like girls might make her think that, because she likes girls, then she must be a boy. Just a thought.

    Posted by Clare November 13, 09 12:36 AM
  1. Give Dr. Norman Spack a call at Childrens' Hospital in Boston. He is a gender expert, and can give you some decent guidance about how to proceed. He's bright, honest and very experienced about these issues, and can offer great advice in dealing with your child.

    Posted by Bill Masterson November 13, 09 06:00 AM
  1. It is possible that she is remembering a past life as a male. I am not recommending hypnosis but that is usually how past lives are accessed. Before you split your sides laughing, google the late Dr. Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia Personality Studies who did rigorous research in India of children who remembered past lives which were later corroborated. I personally would not get my child labeled with a personality disorder and be taken through those hoops. Take her to UVA where they are still doing such research.

    Posted by Maisie November 13, 09 07:25 AM
  1. I think that as a Mother your reaching out to a community is a wonderful thing. I am pleased that by the supportive and helpful comments. I have a baby daughter and love her now matter what. I am glad to know that the world is shaping up to one that doesn't look for a mold but to a person. I would recommend watching the movie Lars and the Real Girl. While it is not about the issue you are dealing with specifically, it is a wonderful example of what a supportive, loving community looks like and it's just an all around feel good movie, too. Your daughter sounds like she knows who she is!! KUDOS to you for raising her to be so, and to her for her confidence!

    Posted by SRR1010 November 13, 09 10:06 AM
  1. Oh my, as I read over these responses they give me pause. It isn't prudent for folks to make assumptions or to try to 'diagnose' someone else's child. This child is 5 and the possible outcomes are infinite. No one here can possibly claim to 'know' that this child is gay or transgender or anything else from one letter from this concerned mother.

    This mother doesn't need us to diagnose her child. She needs support and resources. Let's leave diagnoses to qualified professionals and do what we parents do best...give this mom a cyber hug and let her know that she is in good company. The feelings of isolation for the parent of a gender variant child can be overwhelming and the same is true for the child. Reach out and be supportive....LOVE is what is needed most right now.

    Posted by Kim Pearson November 13, 09 10:49 AM
  1. Lisa, Gender Identity Disorder is a medical term, and not a "Republican" one. Also, while the presence of male chromosomes may be a factor in the gender identity issue, it is by no means the only factor, and by no means is a chromosomal difference always present. Doctors don't know what causes some people to be a different gender than the one they present biologically, but it happens. At this early stage, understanding, love, and support are the best things the parent can offer here. Counseling will help as she/he grows older to help address the feelings of isolation or depression that often can come with living in the wrong body.

    Posted by jlen November 13, 09 10:51 AM
  1. You better get something done about this right away. My ex told me he was "transgendered" since he was 3 years old. It's too bad his parents didn't take him to a shrink back then.
    I never cared much for dolls and dresses, but I know I am a woman, no matter how my parents dressed me or brought me up. Good luck, you're going to need it.

    Posted by Liz Pakula November 13, 09 11:06 AM
  1. Take a deep breath and try to relax. You have a happy and healthy child. Give things time. Love your child for who they are.
    It may be that you have a transgendered child, it may be that you have a homosexual child who is having a hard time grasping this. It may be that you have a child who wants to identify with somebody in particular, or prove that they are not like somebody. It doesn't matter which of these is true right now. You still approach it the same way. Give love. Value your child for all the joy that being a parent brings to your life.
    I would encourage you to enforce a rule of playing nice with your niece and any other child. Just because roughness is often accepted in a boy doesn't mean it's acceptable in anybody. Don't force girly things or deny boyish, just have a child. Spend time with your child doing things like drawing and going to the playground. Be there for them and over time an answer may come.
    Research the options mentioned by other posters so that you have all the information you need before you need it.But don't put anybody else's agenda on your child.

    Posted by Love-leigh November 13, 09 11:07 AM
  1. I think accepting your child as is, and focusing on a loving, close, trusting relationship is the way to go here. All will be revealed in time, and honestly, so much of who we are is just because we come that way...our parents are neither responsible for who we are nor are they able to change it. I would respect your child's sense of self and neither discourage nor pidgeonhole your child.

    I understand why people get so upset about the idea of identifying transgendered. It seems so unnatural for those of us who aren't born that way, but I can also understand knowing exactly who you are down to the tips of your toes. To have what you know about yourself conflict so strongly with the body you were given and the attitude society takes with you...that must be traumatizing at the hands of the insensitive.

    There was an episode of This American Life where they interviewed two mothers who had little boys who knew they were little girls. One mother took an acceptance attitude, another mother put her boy in intensive therapy and took away everything he loved. If you can find it, it might be worth listening to. It was eye opening for me.

    Posted by merilisa November 13, 09 12:44 PM
  1. I am a female and I too was a tomboy big time! I wanted all boy clothes and toys -I HATED girl things. Growing up -back in the 70's- I was very close with a male cousin who is the same age as I am. Together we played with Big Jim and GI Joe. We rode Big Wheels & bikes. We caught frogs and fished at a pond near where we lived -I did everything he did and I loved it. I told him I wanted to be called "Joe" and he went along with it -when we met new kids I'd be "Joe" and they all thought I was a boy. My parents knew and oddly enouph for that time they never really said anything to me about it -they just went along. As I grew up I realized I couldn't keep telling people I was a boy named Joe -so I stopped doing that but I still refused to wear girly clothes. As I got older I started to adapt to the way society wanted me to be. In high school and into my early 20's I started to dress a little more feminine and I dated a few guys. Dating guys never felt right to me and I could never figure out what my friends saw in men. Then I met another woman also in her 20's and I fell in love -I realized I was a lesbian. We had a relationship for 4 years. Now many, many, many years later -I'm very happily married to another woman and I'm very comfortable wearing semi-feminine clothing and jewelry. I don't want to be a guy named Joe anymore and I haven't wanted to be since I was a kid. I guess that was just a phaze for me because I'm very, very happy being a female.

    So, Aliah maybe your daughter is a lesbian....like me. My guess is at her age right now it's a wait and see thing. Thankfully society is more accepting these days and whichever direction she decides to go in it will be much easier for her than it was for a lot of people years ago. Keep doing what you're doing and be there for her when she needs you.

    Posted by Lynn November 13, 09 01:12 PM
  1. The writer should go here and listen to Act II, an very moving story about two gender-misidentified little girls.

    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=374

    Posted by BMW November 13, 09 01:56 PM
  1. Have you followed the fascinating Caster Semenya story? Amazing what the medical profession can uncover in this day and age.

    Among all the testing, you might want to have your daughter scanned to see if she is inter-sex. Some intersexed individuals have testes instead of ovaries. Should that be the case, some of your daughter's personality and activity will start to make sense.

    Regardless of the findings, from what I understand, there are medical options and recommendations and guidance. Sometimes the options/recommendations include doing nothing.

    I wish your daughter all good things.

    Posted by Aurora B November 13, 09 03:59 PM
  1. This sounds like my daughter at 5 years. Now she is 8 and in 3rd grade. She has 3 boys who are "best friends" Unfortunately, at recess they will often exclude her and leave her out only to be super friendly and loving to hang with her otherwise.
    A new wrinkle was that she told one of her friends, Nathan, in front of me, that she had a crish on a girl in her class. It could be she was holding her own with Nathan, who has had a crush on a girl for a year.
    It seems to me that she is entering a period where kids are much crueller and she is already feeling a bit lonely and left out. I love and I have no problem with her gender id or preferences, whatever they turn out to be. It is simply that I do not want to see her attcked (verbally or otherwise). Recently, a new boy asked her in front of others why she didn't change with the other boys. When she said she was a girl, he said he didn't believe it. Advice? I am not so sure whom I might talk to?

    I already found reading this blog very helpful. Izzy S

    Posted by Isabella S November 15, 09 04:38 PM
  1. My daughter (now 11.5) was/is just like yours - and our daughters are much like many others. Same story - starts by age 2 (so early!!), they cling hard to their identity despite our efforts to widen their preferences, etc. I am on a listserv - GirlsPG@topica.com - check it out. I was also on the TYFA listserv mentioned above, but found that it was geared to (or maybe just currently populated by) people whose children had socially transitioned into living full-time as the opposite sex from their birth gender, names and all. My daughter hasn't felt this need, is very boyish but willing to be her girl name and identity, and the TYFA listserv was just a little too intense for me as a result - just dealing with different issues than the transitioned kids. The GirlsPG@topica.com listserv is run by a Children's Hospital psychiatrist Edgardo Menviel and a social worker, and most - not all - of the people on it have daughters who are able to live as their birth gender but who otherwise behave as and look like boys. You will find much support, love, and understanding there, which you will find that you need. We all love and support our daughters being just who they are, but we all have had to go through grief at losing the kids we thought we had, letting go of our gender-related fantasies (oh, the little dresses and hair bows I had!), letting go of what others think of us for letting our kids be themselves, and we have all had to handle situations that we didn't know how to handle, and needed support and advice from others. I highly recommend that you join as soon as you can. You will find much comfort and help there.

    Posted by Debra A. November 15, 09 10:03 PM
  1. Oh my goodness, I'm getting teary reading this. The level of helpful information, support and kindness in the comments today is just beautiful. I've learned so much as well.

    Posted by Cordelia Potter November 16, 09 02:10 PM
  1. When I was a little girl, I refused to wear dresses or anything with girly colors. I'm straight now, however I do work in a male dominated field (computer engineering). I do like girly things now, but I just felt like that wasn't really me when I was a kid.

    Posted by Bonni November 16, 09 04:04 PM
  1. Although I cannot related 100% to Aliah, but what I will say is I think you have to let your daughter develop and be loving. Like some of the other posters, I was (somewhat still am) a tom boy. Every since I was very young I hated girly stuff and dresses. I am the oldest with two younger brothers, one of whom is gay. I never wear make up, even now as a middle aged adult and a professional, and still do not like to wear dresses (only when it is absolutely necessary). I never identified myself as a "boy" growing up but I was not a feminine girl, to my parents' disappointment. I was always strong headed. Even today in my profession, I prefer to work with men than women. My closest friend that I confided in was a guy ("was" because he had passed away). I will not go into my parents expectations, but what I'll say is that you should support your daughter as she grows up. Maybe she'll grow out of it, maybe she'll become a lesbian, maybe she'll be a transgender and want a sex change, maybe she'll forever be a tom boy but still a woman. It is all very difficult to say how she'll turn out. Don't force her to be a girly girl if that's not her "style". Keep an open mind and please accept her for who she is and who she'll become, sexual-orientation-wise - don't let it come between you and her because she is still your child no matter what.

    Posted by Somewhere in Boston November 21, 09 08:28 PM
  1. I am so thankful for all of these comments. It has been awhile since I first posted my concern. I come back often to read these comments which sincerely help me. My daughter is still in the same boat but 2 years older. We have solved so many issues as which bathroom at to use at school, following rules even if we disagree etc. She is aware that there are other children out there who feel the same way as she does and also there are people who do not understand that people can be different. Since she is older it is so much easier to communicate. I have reached out to various transgender sites and groups. This may be a phase.... It may not.... But I am learning and it is so comforting to know we are not the only ones who have a struggle with gender identity. Thank you ALL again for the resources and positive encouragement.

    Posted by Aliah Sacramento,Ca September 7, 11 02:05 PM
 
32 comments so far...
  1. While I never had any troubles identifying as a girl, I also never (and still do not) enjoyed girly things. I never liked pink clothes, makeup, and shopping. I like climbing trees, playing army, and getting muddy. Now I am an engineer - still mostly surrounded by guys, and much happier that way. I am married (and the mom of two sons) and still don't feel the need to be girly. Perhaps this little girl will grow up to identify as lesbian or something. But perhaps she is just a major tomboy. And that's ok.

    Posted by BMS November 12, 09 07:57 AM
  1. When I was small, I climbed trees, played with GI Joe, Tonka Trucks and had worm farms. I played with dolls too - Barbies and stuffed animals. I made paper fighter jets and pulled Army recruiting ads out of magazines for my walls. In 3rd grade, I used to draw pictures of me sitting by a tank in Army fatiques, or on patrols in the woods. I HATED dresses. Oh, the fights we would have over dresses, my mother and I...

    I also hated baths, being told what to do and the color pink.

    It never dawned on me to think I was a boy though. I just thought I was what I was - and my parents never encouraged or discouraged non-gender specific play. My father would throw a football to me and tell me I had a quarternack's arm and I loved it. I would serve fake tea to my mom and she seemed to appreciate that too.

    I "liked" girls and boys equally, in that way of elementary school crushes, though after first grade, I shied from girls because I viewed them as petty and mean and too...girly.

    As a tween and teen, I channeled all of that into punk rock. This was early/mid 1980's, so it wasn't acceptable, accepted, music and fashion you could find on the radio or in the malls. I loved that I found a place in life where I never fit before...

    As an adult, I work in a male dominated career field, I DO wear the military uniform now, but they still won't give me a tank for some reason (poop), but I am happily a woman. I wouldn't trade my woman bits for anything. It wasn't always that way, but I found my fit in life. I'm married to a wonderful man now and have a daughter who seems to prefer jeans to skirts, worms and mud to dolls.

    Be there for your daughter. Let her play the way she wants to, with what she wants to (within reason, of course...I mean, sharp knives and such, maybe not). Just because she wants to be a boy now doesn't mean that will always be later. Sometimes, us girl-boys find our way and have the support and love and lack of gender role imposition in our lives that end up helping us to love our femininity while still allowing us all of the pleasures of "being" a boy too.

    Now if only I could have my tank...

    Posted by Phe November 12, 09 09:28 AM
  1. I have two older brothers, and would often tell people, when asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, that I wanted to be a boy. I used to refuse to wear pink, dresses of any color and always wanted to have short hair. It was only in my teenage years and later that I began enjoying wearing dresses, and later in college that I started wearing any make up. I just wasn't interested. I think that as long as your daughter understands the value of being yourself and that she is loved as she is, she will be perfectly fine.

    By the way, I still don't wear pink!

    Posted by Skal November 12, 09 10:41 AM
  1. Aliah, As the mother of a gender variant child much like your own I can agree that it is still early in your child's life and no one can predict with certainty what the future holds. That said, I will tell you that there is a subset of gender variant children who display a very consistent, persistent and acute cross gender identification throughout childhood, adolescence and into adulthood. This is the case with my own child who is now 17, identifies as transgender, and lives his life as a young man. This is just one of the possible outcomes you may want to be aware of.

    For more information and resources I would encourage you to visit www.imatyfa.org and look into joining the parent chat group there called TYFA TALK. The group is comprised of parents who all have young children 3-17 who are gender variant and transgender.

    Kim Pearson
    TransYouth Family Allies
    www.imatyfa.org
    kimp@imatyfa.org

    Posted by Kim Pearson November 12, 09 11:18 AM
  1. My child was born a biological female and expressed much of the same attitudes and opinions that your child is expressing. I thought it may be a phase, but over time, instead of going away, things got stronger. In kindergarten, I allowed him (THEN "her") to get his first haircut. Now, he is in 4th grade, living as a boy full-time, and claims he will NEVER change his mind, because he "IS A BOY." So be it. I love my child no matter what gender he is and if he changes his mind down the road, we will just switch gears and go with it.

    You are not alone. Get support from other parents who have kids like yours. And take it one day at a time! Hang in there.

    Posted by MOMofMASON November 12, 09 12:46 PM
  1. Hi! I am a mom of a boy who identifies as female (the opposite of your case). I agree with Kim Pearson.. this does not always "go away" and you should be prepared for this. I am a member of the TYFA online support group, and it is extremely helpful in helping you to figure out what to do! I highly recommend it! Although the MtF (male to female) situations are more "visible" because of our masculine-driven society.. we should not turn a blind eye to the FtM children. The whole "tom boy" attitude is why many of these children go undiagnosed, and thought to not exist as much. Families I know who have a true transgender FtM child, have a lot of difficulties being taken seriously because of this. So please do not take this lightly. True this child MAY be a "tom boy", but then MAY NOT! Keep an open mind and be educated about the possibility that this may not "go away"! Join the TYFA group and talk with parents in the same situation! Good luck to your family! Sounds like you have the right attitude... loving your child NO MATTER WHAT! Yay you!

    Posted by Jennifer Hardy November 12, 09 01:12 PM
  1. Aliah, I'm the father of an 11 year old gender non-conforming boy who presents as female, but who is comfortable with his body at this point to the point where we are not in therapy and we are not seeking any sort of early intervention.

    Kim's point is well taken; Sean is a wonderful young man, and together they did the right thing for him. The realty is, no one can give you any odds, any numbers that matter, on what the likelyhood of any outcome might be; you have one child here and you must do what is right for that child, so you need to familiarize yourself with a variety of long-term outcomes, and then, pivot back to the here and now, don't get ahead of yourself, and take this one day at a time.

    You need support in this; I recommend internet mailing lists; these lists may also put you in touch with people in your area that have kids like yours that you can share with face to face, but the reality is we are thinly scattered over the entire planet at this point. Repression is so widespread that it's hard to say what this means, but I've yet to hear about a school system with more than one k-8 fully out gender-nonconforming or trans child.

    There are links to TYFA and other sites on my blog as well; I'm dealing with a MTF child, so my site might be of that much use, but i'll throw it out there anyway: www.acceptingdad.com

    Posted by Bedford Hope November 12, 09 01:24 PM
  1. Let me tell you something...

    Young people are the people who know who they are better than most adults in the world? Why? Because they haven't been shaped by the cookie cutters around them and developed too far to be scared... Or think its wrong to do what they feel is natural and right.


    I'm not saying she should start this all at once, but it is NEVER too late for COUNSELING. Trust me...

    If I had had the help I needed much sooner, I would be much less full of misery now. Do the right thing... And please, don't listen to people who have no idea what they're talking about, who are only afraid of what is different than them, and just take your kid to therapy. I'm sure it will become very clear then... Delaying does nothing. Children like this, if they don't get what they need, can become permanently depressed, suicidal and withdrawn. Do not lose this connection...

    Posted by kara-xen November 12, 09 02:39 PM
  1. What BMS is saying is true but it is not likely. There is a difference between a little girl who is a tomboy and a female child saying that they are a boy. Chances are this is not a phase. Transgender people often know they are when they are just 4 years old. Some come out at this age, others repress it until much later. I am 17 and i only came out a few months ago. I hate that I couldn't realize this about myself earlier. Now my parents don't believe me and Ive already endured puberty. You don't have to go out and get your child a sex change. But please, for his sake, let him be who he is. Before its too late for him and you.

    Posted by Kyle November 12, 09 02:49 PM
  1. I am greatly pleased with all of the commentors here.

    Posted by Monique VanDeSoaker November 12, 09 04:42 PM
  1. lady u need to chill if shes lesbian so wat i am and im proud im 13 and i just found out leave her alone

    Posted by gaypride November 12, 09 08:43 PM
  1. Support your child. Clearly, you have a son. Your child might identify differently in the future ... but you don't know that. For now, I'd say you have a wonderful son!

    Definitely get some support of your own. Clearly, you're learning how to deal with the issue and understand it. Joining a group for parents of trans youth would probably help a LOT (having your experiences validated, and learning new ways to think about the situation).

    One day, people will recognize that gender is something fluid, not defined by our organs, and situations like this one will no longer seem worrisome at all.


    Posted by sabend November 12, 09 10:15 PM
  1. I have nothing to add to the discussion but just wanted to say that the responses here are wonderful! Good for all of you parents who are dealing with this in a loving, accepting, and respectful way. Your children are so lucky to have you - keep working to understand them, help them be comfortable in their own skin, and love them just the way they are.

    Posted by Jen November 13, 09 12:05 AM
  1. What kind of advise is this? Gender identity disorder?? You must be a Republican-- anyone that doesn't jive with the rest of society must have a 'disorder'. This little girl could very likely be carrying male chromosomes. They can do testing for this! There are many l, many people that were born with the opposite sex chromosomes without knowing and were raised as the other gender by unknowing parents. The girl is 5, and quite capable of knowing how she feels. Get her tested!! The fact that you're divorced has nothing to do with the extent of her behavior. Trust that she knows her feelings and continue to support her and try to figure out if the cause is organic. Good luck!

    Posted by Lisa November 13, 09 12:21 AM
  1. gaypride,
    The concern was is that Aliah feels her daughter identifies as 'male' and she would like some guidance as to how to handle it.
    I am a 21 year old and came out as bisexual when I was 14, and although it took me some time at your age to realise it, here is some advice: not everyone is trying to attack your sexuality, and not everyone is homophobic. I'm not trying to be patronising, but its something worth thinking about.
    Aliah, I feel a lot like many of the posters here. Although it has occurred to me that maybe your daughter does sincerely identify as male, another view is that maybe she is too young to really understand the meaning behind saying she is a boy. she might just have homosexual feelings and not know how to clearly explain what she feels. making the connection that boys like girls might make her think that, because she likes girls, then she must be a boy. Just a thought.

    Posted by Clare November 13, 09 12:36 AM
  1. Give Dr. Norman Spack a call at Childrens' Hospital in Boston. He is a gender expert, and can give you some decent guidance about how to proceed. He's bright, honest and very experienced about these issues, and can offer great advice in dealing with your child.

    Posted by Bill Masterson November 13, 09 06:00 AM
  1. It is possible that she is remembering a past life as a male. I am not recommending hypnosis but that is usually how past lives are accessed. Before you split your sides laughing, google the late Dr. Ian Stevenson of the University of Virginia Personality Studies who did rigorous research in India of children who remembered past lives which were later corroborated. I personally would not get my child labeled with a personality disorder and be taken through those hoops. Take her to UVA where they are still doing such research.

    Posted by Maisie November 13, 09 07:25 AM
  1. I think that as a Mother your reaching out to a community is a wonderful thing. I am pleased that by the supportive and helpful comments. I have a baby daughter and love her now matter what. I am glad to know that the world is shaping up to one that doesn't look for a mold but to a person. I would recommend watching the movie Lars and the Real Girl. While it is not about the issue you are dealing with specifically, it is a wonderful example of what a supportive, loving community looks like and it's just an all around feel good movie, too. Your daughter sounds like she knows who she is!! KUDOS to you for raising her to be so, and to her for her confidence!

    Posted by SRR1010 November 13, 09 10:06 AM
  1. Oh my, as I read over these responses they give me pause. It isn't prudent for folks to make assumptions or to try to 'diagnose' someone else's child. This child is 5 and the possible outcomes are infinite. No one here can possibly claim to 'know' that this child is gay or transgender or anything else from one letter from this concerned mother.

    This mother doesn't need us to diagnose her child. She needs support and resources. Let's leave diagnoses to qualified professionals and do what we parents do best...give this mom a cyber hug and let her know that she is in good company. The feelings of isolation for the parent of a gender variant child can be overwhelming and the same is true for the child. Reach out and be supportive....LOVE is what is needed most right now.

    Posted by Kim Pearson November 13, 09 10:49 AM
  1. Lisa, Gender Identity Disorder is a medical term, and not a "Republican" one. Also, while the presence of male chromosomes may be a factor in the gender identity issue, it is by no means the only factor, and by no means is a chromosomal difference always present. Doctors don't know what causes some people to be a different gender than the one they present biologically, but it happens. At this early stage, understanding, love, and support are the best things the parent can offer here. Counseling will help as she/he grows older to help address the feelings of isolation or depression that often can come with living in the wrong body.

    Posted by jlen November 13, 09 10:51 AM
  1. You better get something done about this right away. My ex told me he was "transgendered" since he was 3 years old. It's too bad his parents didn't take him to a shrink back then.
    I never cared much for dolls and dresses, but I know I am a woman, no matter how my parents dressed me or brought me up. Good luck, you're going to need it.

    Posted by Liz Pakula November 13, 09 11:06 AM
  1. Take a deep breath and try to relax. You have a happy and healthy child. Give things time. Love your child for who they are.
    It may be that you have a transgendered child, it may be that you have a homosexual child who is having a hard time grasping this. It may be that you have a child who wants to identify with somebody in particular, or prove that they are not like somebody. It doesn't matter which of these is true right now. You still approach it the same way. Give love. Value your child for all the joy that being a parent brings to your life.
    I would encourage you to enforce a rule of playing nice with your niece and any other child. Just because roughness is often accepted in a boy doesn't mean it's acceptable in anybody. Don't force girly things or deny boyish, just have a child. Spend time with your child doing things like drawing and going to the playground. Be there for them and over time an answer may come.
    Research the options mentioned by other posters so that you have all the information you need before you need it.But don't put anybody else's agenda on your child.

    Posted by Love-leigh November 13, 09 11:07 AM
  1. I think accepting your child as is, and focusing on a loving, close, trusting relationship is the way to go here. All will be revealed in time, and honestly, so much of who we are is just because we come that way...our parents are neither responsible for who we are nor are they able to change it. I would respect your child's sense of self and neither discourage nor pidgeonhole your child.

    I understand why people get so upset about the idea of identifying transgendered. It seems so unnatural for those of us who aren't born that way, but I can also understand knowing exactly who you are down to the tips of your toes. To have what you know about yourself conflict so strongly with the body you were given and the attitude society takes with you...that must be traumatizing at the hands of the insensitive.

    There was an episode of This American Life where they interviewed two mothers who had little boys who knew they were little girls. One mother took an acceptance attitude, another mother put her boy in intensive therapy and took away everything he loved. If you can find it, it might be worth listening to. It was eye opening for me.

    Posted by merilisa November 13, 09 12:44 PM
  1. I am a female and I too was a tomboy big time! I wanted all boy clothes and toys -I HATED girl things. Growing up -back in the 70's- I was very close with a male cousin who is the same age as I am. Together we played with Big Jim and GI Joe. We rode Big Wheels & bikes. We caught frogs and fished at a pond near where we lived -I did everything he did and I loved it. I told him I wanted to be called "Joe" and he went along with it -when we met new kids I'd be "Joe" and they all thought I was a boy. My parents knew and oddly enouph for that time they never really said anything to me about it -they just went along. As I grew up I realized I couldn't keep telling people I was a boy named Joe -so I stopped doing that but I still refused to wear girly clothes. As I got older I started to adapt to the way society wanted me to be. In high school and into my early 20's I started to dress a little more feminine and I dated a few guys. Dating guys never felt right to me and I could never figure out what my friends saw in men. Then I met another woman also in her 20's and I fell in love -I realized I was a lesbian. We had a relationship for 4 years. Now many, many, many years later -I'm very happily married to another woman and I'm very comfortable wearing semi-feminine clothing and jewelry. I don't want to be a guy named Joe anymore and I haven't wanted to be since I was a kid. I guess that was just a phaze for me because I'm very, very happy being a female.

    So, Aliah maybe your daughter is a lesbian....like me. My guess is at her age right now it's a wait and see thing. Thankfully society is more accepting these days and whichever direction she decides to go in it will be much easier for her than it was for a lot of people years ago. Keep doing what you're doing and be there for her when she needs you.

    Posted by Lynn November 13, 09 01:12 PM
  1. The writer should go here and listen to Act II, an very moving story about two gender-misidentified little girls.

    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=374

    Posted by BMW November 13, 09 01:56 PM
  1. Have you followed the fascinating Caster Semenya story? Amazing what the medical profession can uncover in this day and age.

    Among all the testing, you might want to have your daughter scanned to see if she is inter-sex. Some intersexed individuals have testes instead of ovaries. Should that be the case, some of your daughter's personality and activity will start to make sense.

    Regardless of the findings, from what I understand, there are medical options and recommendations and guidance. Sometimes the options/recommendations include doing nothing.

    I wish your daughter all good things.

    Posted by Aurora B November 13, 09 03:59 PM
  1. This sounds like my daughter at 5 years. Now she is 8 and in 3rd grade. She has 3 boys who are "best friends" Unfortunately, at recess they will often exclude her and leave her out only to be super friendly and loving to hang with her otherwise.
    A new wrinkle was that she told one of her friends, Nathan, in front of me, that she had a crish on a girl in her class. It could be she was holding her own with Nathan, who has had a crush on a girl for a year.
    It seems to me that she is entering a period where kids are much crueller and she is already feeling a bit lonely and left out. I love and I have no problem with her gender id or preferences, whatever they turn out to be. It is simply that I do not want to see her attcked (verbally or otherwise). Recently, a new boy asked her in front of others why she didn't change with the other boys. When she said she was a girl, he said he didn't believe it. Advice? I am not so sure whom I might talk to?

    I already found reading this blog very helpful. Izzy S

    Posted by Isabella S November 15, 09 04:38 PM
  1. My daughter (now 11.5) was/is just like yours - and our daughters are much like many others. Same story - starts by age 2 (so early!!), they cling hard to their identity despite our efforts to widen their preferences, etc. I am on a listserv - GirlsPG@topica.com - check it out. I was also on the TYFA listserv mentioned above, but found that it was geared to (or maybe just currently populated by) people whose children had socially transitioned into living full-time as the opposite sex from their birth gender, names and all. My daughter hasn't felt this need, is very boyish but willing to be her girl name and identity, and the TYFA listserv was just a little too intense for me as a result - just dealing with different issues than the transitioned kids. The GirlsPG@topica.com listserv is run by a Children's Hospital psychiatrist Edgardo Menviel and a social worker, and most - not all - of the people on it have daughters who are able to live as their birth gender but who otherwise behave as and look like boys. You will find much support, love, and understanding there, which you will find that you need. We all love and support our daughters being just who they are, but we all have had to go through grief at losing the kids we thought we had, letting go of our gender-related fantasies (oh, the little dresses and hair bows I had!), letting go of what others think of us for letting our kids be themselves, and we have all had to handle situations that we didn't know how to handle, and needed support and advice from others. I highly recommend that you join as soon as you can. You will find much comfort and help there.

    Posted by Debra A. November 15, 09 10:03 PM
  1. Oh my goodness, I'm getting teary reading this. The level of helpful information, support and kindness in the comments today is just beautiful. I've learned so much as well.

    Posted by Cordelia Potter November 16, 09 02:10 PM
  1. When I was a little girl, I refused to wear dresses or anything with girly colors. I'm straight now, however I do work in a male dominated field (computer engineering). I do like girly things now, but I just felt like that wasn't really me when I was a kid.

    Posted by Bonni November 16, 09 04:04 PM
  1. Although I cannot related 100% to Aliah, but what I will say is I think you have to let your daughter develop and be loving. Like some of the other posters, I was (somewhat still am) a tom boy. Every since I was very young I hated girly stuff and dresses. I am the oldest with two younger brothers, one of whom is gay. I never wear make up, even now as a middle aged adult and a professional, and still do not like to wear dresses (only when it is absolutely necessary). I never identified myself as a "boy" growing up but I was not a feminine girl, to my parents' disappointment. I was always strong headed. Even today in my profession, I prefer to work with men than women. My closest friend that I confided in was a guy ("was" because he had passed away). I will not go into my parents expectations, but what I'll say is that you should support your daughter as she grows up. Maybe she'll grow out of it, maybe she'll become a lesbian, maybe she'll be a transgender and want a sex change, maybe she'll forever be a tom boy but still a woman. It is all very difficult to say how she'll turn out. Don't force her to be a girly girl if that's not her "style". Keep an open mind and please accept her for who she is and who she'll become, sexual-orientation-wise - don't let it come between you and her because she is still your child no matter what.

    Posted by Somewhere in Boston November 21, 09 08:28 PM
  1. I am so thankful for all of these comments. It has been awhile since I first posted my concern. I come back often to read these comments which sincerely help me. My daughter is still in the same boat but 2 years older. We have solved so many issues as which bathroom at to use at school, following rules even if we disagree etc. She is aware that there are other children out there who feel the same way as she does and also there are people who do not understand that people can be different. Since she is older it is so much easier to communicate. I have reached out to various transgender sites and groups. This may be a phase.... It may not.... But I am learning and it is so comforting to know we are not the only ones who have a struggle with gender identity. Thank you ALL again for the resources and positive encouragement.

    Posted by Aliah Sacramento,Ca September 7, 11 02:05 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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