Twin boys and sexual orientation

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  April 5, 2012 06:00 AM

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Hello-
I have identical twin boys who are 3. One of them is your typical little boy who loves trucks, cars and anything super-hero related. The other twin loves all things girly. You name it and that is what he wants and wants to play with..Barbies, princesses, anything pink, etc. He went through a stage all he wanted to do was dress up in my clothes, however that doesn't seem very often these days.
No matter what we say or what we do, he always wants to see or look at the girl character..if we say Batman, he says Batgirl, if we say prince he says princess. He clearly identifies himself as a boy and does not say he wants to be a girl or anything like that but he is just obsessed about anything girl related. We know he is still just a kid but sometimes it's a little intense. He doesn't show much interest at all in trucks, cars or anything boy related.
I guess my question is, is this normal little boy behavior? It's been going on for awhile now. I just worry that if it continues, he is going to have a difficult time fitting in with our society not to mention the distant relationship he will have with his own identical twin brother. I would like to hear your thoughts.

From: Amy, Baltimore


Dear Amy,

What you're describing sounds like CGN, childhood gender non-conformity, which, simply put, means that a child's behavior does not conform to gender stereotypes. Is this a predictor of future sexual orientation? Possibly.

Don't be too surprised that identical twin boys could have different orientations. Researchers have concluded that there are enough differences in DNA to account for differences in sexuality. What's more, as you'll see from this article by a Globe colleague, what you're describing is not unusual among twins.

What I really want to talk about, though, is your assumption that he will have a "distant relationship" with his "all-boy" twin brother. Sounds like you are setting yourself up for a self-fulfilling prophesy, and then some. Do you expect twins to have the same academic or athletic interests? To love the same books or have the same taste in music? What if one twin was a girl and the other a boy? Would you expect them not to get along?

I know not all twins are best friends, but many twins are, starting from a young age when they develop their own twin language. I bet big bucks that the differences between them -- whatever they are -- won't be a problem between them unless you enable that to happen.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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12 comments so far...
  1. I think you need to worry first and foremost about your children, not about whether or not they will "fit in". He likes Batgirl and pink? Fine. Support him in that. Eventually he will either change his mind -- or he won't. Either way, you'll never regret supporting him.

    Posted by TF April 5, 12 05:36 PM
  1. If you are worried about him fitting in, the worst thing you can do is discourage him and his expression of who he naturally is - because what will you accomplish? He'll learn to feel shame at who he is. He'll learn to hide. He might then be able to fit in, but at the cost of being happy and secure in himself.

    On the other hand, with your love and support behind him, he may learn to feel confident in himself. In the long run (and, for the matter, the short run) he'll be better off.

    One other thought: do three-year-old toys really have to considered as either for boys or girls? Do we all have to be walking stereotypes for our gender? Just let him explore his world, don't worry about the "gender" of the toy. It might mean something. But it might be meaningless. Besides, is it the worst thing in the world if instead of a football player you have a gymnast or a dancer?

    Posted by jjlen April 5, 12 08:43 PM
  1. Love the response to this question.

    Posted by Dana April 5, 12 09:14 PM
  1. I think the problem is that you are worried about "normal little boy behavior," as if there is such a thing. Plus he is only three. Things/behaviors/appearances we associate with genders are culturally created constructs. I never talked to my kids about "girl" things or "boy" things -- they learned it from their friends later on.

    Don't parent out of fear, parent out of love. The best way to ensure that the boys grow up loving and respecting each other is to show them that YOU love and respect them both, just the way they are.

    Posted by rdk April 6, 12 06:56 AM
  1. I am the mother of almost-3-year old boy/girl twins. My son LOVES cars and trucks and other traditionally "boy" toys. Because of his sister, he has access to many traditionally "girl" toys too. My daughter isn't really into dolls so far, but she love My Little Pony and dressing in dresses and playing princess. And you know what? My son likes to play princess, too. He especially likes to walk around the house in my much-too-big high-heeled shoes. And the two of them fight over which car belongs to whom. They're also starting to play more cooperatively and it's not unusual for them to pretend to cook food in their toy kitchen or to find either of them tucking a doll or a stuffed animal into the doll cradle.

    My point is that at 3 years old, they don't know what they're "supposed to" like and they don't have the hundreds of years of social baggage telling them that one toy is for girls and the other toy is for boys. When my son comes to me asking for help putting on a princess dress, I help him just the same as if he's asking for help putting on his firefighter costume.

    At this age, they're trying on lots of different roles and learning about the world and I am happy to encourage them to try all kinds of different things and experiment without making assumptions about their sexual identities.

    I wouldn't worry too much about your son being interested in traditionally girl toys. Especially with identical twins, I'm sure there's a lot of competition and this may be his way of finding a niche for himself that is separate from his brother. Not only does he have to share EVERYTHING with his brother all the time, people probably mix them up a lot or can't tell who is who. By finding an interest that his brother has no interest in, he is beginning to create a a separate identity for himself. I don't think he's doing that consciously necessarily, but he's happy with the result.

    Just go with it and allow him to play with the toys he wants to without assigning judgment or making assumptions as to what it means for his future. As he gets older, continue to support him and help him be involved in activities he's interested in whether that's ballet or football. As long as he knows that you love him no matter what, he'll turn out just fine. And just because he and his brother don't share interests now doesn't mean that will always be the case. I constantly marvel at the relationship my twins have and how they help each other and think of each other. I have no doubt that your sons can be the best of friends if they are accepted and supported as separate individuals with separate interests.

    Posted by TwinMom April 6, 12 07:28 AM
  1. 1) Stop worrying about the gender of the toy. Both myself and one of my nieces loved to play with "boy" toys. When I was four I really wanted a cowboy outfit from Sears, not the cowgirl outfit. We both learned to shoot rifles and were athletic and competitive. As adults we are both married heterosexuals.

    2) If this keeps up and isn't a passing phase, then I think the thing to do is to talk to your pediatrician and get a referral for a specialist. There's some chance that this is not because of sexual orientation but because of sexual identity. These are different and it's important to understand which one it is and how to deal with it. What I'm saying is that there is a small chance that your son is a transgender person and thinks of himself as a female.

    3) Gay people and transgender people are valuable loving people. I'm dismayed that you think that your son won't be lovable or valuable to his twin if he turns out to be gay or transgendered. Open your mind, educate yourself, and don't make decisions out of fear.

    Posted by FavoriteAuntie April 6, 12 11:22 AM
  1. Please embrace this child for who he is. Encourage his interests and his likes and dislikes. At his age, he needs to know that he is loved and accepted and that there is nothing wrong with him. Because there isn't.

    It's up to YOU to help him develop the self-confidence that he'll need in the future.

    One of my neighbors' kids was just like your son at age 3. Whenever anyone would comment about Bobby's preference for the Disney princesses, his mom would smile widely and say, "That's my Bobby. Isn't he great?" And he is.

    Good luck to you!

    Posted by just cause April 6, 12 01:52 PM
  1. Most kids aren't fully aware of boy or girl, but they change quickly once they're old enough for school and their friends tell them otherwise.

    Posted by AP April 7, 12 10:41 AM
  1. It might be a stage. It might not. One thing I know for sure: There are a lot more boys out there whose parents let them be who they are even if they don't fall into the boy stereotype. Your son may not fit into your idea of what boys usually are, but you might be surprised at how easily his peers accept him for who he is, even if he remains interested in the same things he cares about now.

    I also don't see why he would have a distant relationship with his brother. If one was only into superheroes and the other were only into trucks, would that make you feel better about the situation? Brothers frequently have different interests. That might just mean that they have more to talk about since they are focused on different things. They can learn from each other. Isn't that how friendships and even marriages work in real life? My husband and I work together so we purposely cultivate separate interests so we have something to talk about. Brothers can be the same way. Later in life one might be an attorney and the other a doctor. Maybe they will bond by talking about their very different jobs, and being interested in different things will give them something to talk about.

    As for concerns about his sexuality, which seems to be an undercurrent to your question, I think it is important to start giving your values to your children early...but think hard about what you want to teach them. I started very early with my son. I told him "I don't care who you love, as long as they are very good to your Mommy." Now THAT is family values.

    Posted by meri April 8, 12 10:57 AM
  1. DO NOT WORRY. LET HIM BE HIMSELF.

    My two boys were/are the same way. The oldest always showed an affection for "pretty" things, preferred girl characters, loved to dress up, asked for a tea set when he was three, loved show tunes, played better with girls, couldn't get enough arts and crafts, etc. He had no interest in sports, balls, or trucks. The younger one preferred more "typical" boy things, and is super-athletic. They both learned at a very young age how to mesh their interests and play together extremely well, and now at age 11 and 9, although inherently quite different, are truly loving, best friends, who appreciate and support each others' strengths and interests.

    We always fostered individuality, and allowed him to be himself (discouraging him from wearing his sleeping beauty sunglasses to preschool so they wouldn't get "broken", rather than telling him they are for girls - only to avoid other kids making fun of him). I certainly did not want him to feel badly about himself just because society says he wasn't supposed to like something. He slowly realized on his own, around the time he entered kindergarten, what items or behaviors others may view as "girly", and saved certain toys for use at home.

    Though he always got along with everyone, he never seemed to be on the same wavelength as other boys, and preferred the imaginative, dress up type play that was more typical of the girls, rather than the physical play of boys his age.

    Now, as a fifth grader, he still has no interest in sports, but proudly encourages and supports his brother who excels at them. He still likes Broadway show tunes, performs in local theatre, and is a talented artist. Although he is still interested in looking nice and takes care in picking out his clothes, he gave up the Sleeping Beauty sunglasses many years ago. He has friends that are boys, but unlike the other 11 year old boys at school who are awkward around them, he is close friends with several girls, and is completely comfortable talking to any female. I found out through a mother at school that on Valentine's Day he asked her daughter to be his "girlfriend", and she accepted. When I asked him about it, he embarrassingly admitted that it was true! :)

    That being said, if he didn't like girls in that way, or realizes later that he doesn't, I could not care less. He is my beautiful, sensitive, talented boy no matter what!

    Posted by mom2boys April 9, 12 11:26 AM
  1. I am a twin (we are both girls). My twin and I are super close - but complete opposites. When we were kids, my sister was the girly girl, and I was the tom boy. When we played house, I played the boy, I once told my family to now call me Stephen and tried to play outside without a shirt on because that's what boys do. I played sports, my sister danced. At 30 years old, I am still the tom boy, and my sister still spends more time in front of the mirror than I will ever understand. But I am happily married (to a man) and even though I'm still a tom boy, it did not in any way affect my sexual orientation, or how I was looked at in school, or my relationship with my sister - we totally embrace our differences and get a lot of laughs over how different we really are. I personally think you are worried about nothing.

    Posted by oneplusoneistwo April 9, 12 03:49 PM
  1. It might be a good idea to encourage some play with toys that are not so identified with gender- perhaps legos, board games, arts and crafts, outdoor play......

    Posted by Elaine L April 9, 12 04:25 PM
 
12 comments so far...
  1. I think you need to worry first and foremost about your children, not about whether or not they will "fit in". He likes Batgirl and pink? Fine. Support him in that. Eventually he will either change his mind -- or he won't. Either way, you'll never regret supporting him.

    Posted by TF April 5, 12 05:36 PM
  1. If you are worried about him fitting in, the worst thing you can do is discourage him and his expression of who he naturally is - because what will you accomplish? He'll learn to feel shame at who he is. He'll learn to hide. He might then be able to fit in, but at the cost of being happy and secure in himself.

    On the other hand, with your love and support behind him, he may learn to feel confident in himself. In the long run (and, for the matter, the short run) he'll be better off.

    One other thought: do three-year-old toys really have to considered as either for boys or girls? Do we all have to be walking stereotypes for our gender? Just let him explore his world, don't worry about the "gender" of the toy. It might mean something. But it might be meaningless. Besides, is it the worst thing in the world if instead of a football player you have a gymnast or a dancer?

    Posted by jjlen April 5, 12 08:43 PM
  1. Love the response to this question.

    Posted by Dana April 5, 12 09:14 PM
  1. I think the problem is that you are worried about "normal little boy behavior," as if there is such a thing. Plus he is only three. Things/behaviors/appearances we associate with genders are culturally created constructs. I never talked to my kids about "girl" things or "boy" things -- they learned it from their friends later on.

    Don't parent out of fear, parent out of love. The best way to ensure that the boys grow up loving and respecting each other is to show them that YOU love and respect them both, just the way they are.

    Posted by rdk April 6, 12 06:56 AM
  1. I am the mother of almost-3-year old boy/girl twins. My son LOVES cars and trucks and other traditionally "boy" toys. Because of his sister, he has access to many traditionally "girl" toys too. My daughter isn't really into dolls so far, but she love My Little Pony and dressing in dresses and playing princess. And you know what? My son likes to play princess, too. He especially likes to walk around the house in my much-too-big high-heeled shoes. And the two of them fight over which car belongs to whom. They're also starting to play more cooperatively and it's not unusual for them to pretend to cook food in their toy kitchen or to find either of them tucking a doll or a stuffed animal into the doll cradle.

    My point is that at 3 years old, they don't know what they're "supposed to" like and they don't have the hundreds of years of social baggage telling them that one toy is for girls and the other toy is for boys. When my son comes to me asking for help putting on a princess dress, I help him just the same as if he's asking for help putting on his firefighter costume.

    At this age, they're trying on lots of different roles and learning about the world and I am happy to encourage them to try all kinds of different things and experiment without making assumptions about their sexual identities.

    I wouldn't worry too much about your son being interested in traditionally girl toys. Especially with identical twins, I'm sure there's a lot of competition and this may be his way of finding a niche for himself that is separate from his brother. Not only does he have to share EVERYTHING with his brother all the time, people probably mix them up a lot or can't tell who is who. By finding an interest that his brother has no interest in, he is beginning to create a a separate identity for himself. I don't think he's doing that consciously necessarily, but he's happy with the result.

    Just go with it and allow him to play with the toys he wants to without assigning judgment or making assumptions as to what it means for his future. As he gets older, continue to support him and help him be involved in activities he's interested in whether that's ballet or football. As long as he knows that you love him no matter what, he'll turn out just fine. And just because he and his brother don't share interests now doesn't mean that will always be the case. I constantly marvel at the relationship my twins have and how they help each other and think of each other. I have no doubt that your sons can be the best of friends if they are accepted and supported as separate individuals with separate interests.

    Posted by TwinMom April 6, 12 07:28 AM
  1. 1) Stop worrying about the gender of the toy. Both myself and one of my nieces loved to play with "boy" toys. When I was four I really wanted a cowboy outfit from Sears, not the cowgirl outfit. We both learned to shoot rifles and were athletic and competitive. As adults we are both married heterosexuals.

    2) If this keeps up and isn't a passing phase, then I think the thing to do is to talk to your pediatrician and get a referral for a specialist. There's some chance that this is not because of sexual orientation but because of sexual identity. These are different and it's important to understand which one it is and how to deal with it. What I'm saying is that there is a small chance that your son is a transgender person and thinks of himself as a female.

    3) Gay people and transgender people are valuable loving people. I'm dismayed that you think that your son won't be lovable or valuable to his twin if he turns out to be gay or transgendered. Open your mind, educate yourself, and don't make decisions out of fear.

    Posted by FavoriteAuntie April 6, 12 11:22 AM
  1. Please embrace this child for who he is. Encourage his interests and his likes and dislikes. At his age, he needs to know that he is loved and accepted and that there is nothing wrong with him. Because there isn't.

    It's up to YOU to help him develop the self-confidence that he'll need in the future.

    One of my neighbors' kids was just like your son at age 3. Whenever anyone would comment about Bobby's preference for the Disney princesses, his mom would smile widely and say, "That's my Bobby. Isn't he great?" And he is.

    Good luck to you!

    Posted by just cause April 6, 12 01:52 PM
  1. Most kids aren't fully aware of boy or girl, but they change quickly once they're old enough for school and their friends tell them otherwise.

    Posted by AP April 7, 12 10:41 AM
  1. It might be a stage. It might not. One thing I know for sure: There are a lot more boys out there whose parents let them be who they are even if they don't fall into the boy stereotype. Your son may not fit into your idea of what boys usually are, but you might be surprised at how easily his peers accept him for who he is, even if he remains interested in the same things he cares about now.

    I also don't see why he would have a distant relationship with his brother. If one was only into superheroes and the other were only into trucks, would that make you feel better about the situation? Brothers frequently have different interests. That might just mean that they have more to talk about since they are focused on different things. They can learn from each other. Isn't that how friendships and even marriages work in real life? My husband and I work together so we purposely cultivate separate interests so we have something to talk about. Brothers can be the same way. Later in life one might be an attorney and the other a doctor. Maybe they will bond by talking about their very different jobs, and being interested in different things will give them something to talk about.

    As for concerns about his sexuality, which seems to be an undercurrent to your question, I think it is important to start giving your values to your children early...but think hard about what you want to teach them. I started very early with my son. I told him "I don't care who you love, as long as they are very good to your Mommy." Now THAT is family values.

    Posted by meri April 8, 12 10:57 AM
  1. DO NOT WORRY. LET HIM BE HIMSELF.

    My two boys were/are the same way. The oldest always showed an affection for "pretty" things, preferred girl characters, loved to dress up, asked for a tea set when he was three, loved show tunes, played better with girls, couldn't get enough arts and crafts, etc. He had no interest in sports, balls, or trucks. The younger one preferred more "typical" boy things, and is super-athletic. They both learned at a very young age how to mesh their interests and play together extremely well, and now at age 11 and 9, although inherently quite different, are truly loving, best friends, who appreciate and support each others' strengths and interests.

    We always fostered individuality, and allowed him to be himself (discouraging him from wearing his sleeping beauty sunglasses to preschool so they wouldn't get "broken", rather than telling him they are for girls - only to avoid other kids making fun of him). I certainly did not want him to feel badly about himself just because society says he wasn't supposed to like something. He slowly realized on his own, around the time he entered kindergarten, what items or behaviors others may view as "girly", and saved certain toys for use at home.

    Though he always got along with everyone, he never seemed to be on the same wavelength as other boys, and preferred the imaginative, dress up type play that was more typical of the girls, rather than the physical play of boys his age.

    Now, as a fifth grader, he still has no interest in sports, but proudly encourages and supports his brother who excels at them. He still likes Broadway show tunes, performs in local theatre, and is a talented artist. Although he is still interested in looking nice and takes care in picking out his clothes, he gave up the Sleeping Beauty sunglasses many years ago. He has friends that are boys, but unlike the other 11 year old boys at school who are awkward around them, he is close friends with several girls, and is completely comfortable talking to any female. I found out through a mother at school that on Valentine's Day he asked her daughter to be his "girlfriend", and she accepted. When I asked him about it, he embarrassingly admitted that it was true! :)

    That being said, if he didn't like girls in that way, or realizes later that he doesn't, I could not care less. He is my beautiful, sensitive, talented boy no matter what!

    Posted by mom2boys April 9, 12 11:26 AM
  1. I am a twin (we are both girls). My twin and I are super close - but complete opposites. When we were kids, my sister was the girly girl, and I was the tom boy. When we played house, I played the boy, I once told my family to now call me Stephen and tried to play outside without a shirt on because that's what boys do. I played sports, my sister danced. At 30 years old, I am still the tom boy, and my sister still spends more time in front of the mirror than I will ever understand. But I am happily married (to a man) and even though I'm still a tom boy, it did not in any way affect my sexual orientation, or how I was looked at in school, or my relationship with my sister - we totally embrace our differences and get a lot of laughs over how different we really are. I personally think you are worried about nothing.

    Posted by oneplusoneistwo April 9, 12 03:49 PM
  1. It might be a good idea to encourage some play with toys that are not so identified with gender- perhaps legos, board games, arts and crafts, outdoor play......

    Posted by Elaine L April 9, 12 04:25 PM
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About the author

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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