Gender Identity and Children

It’s not as complicated as you may think.

A month ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing a prominent transgender rights activist. She told me that the trans community is becoming the new minority group to hate, and she believes that things will only get worse before they get better. It’s hard to disagree with that sentiment, especially when the national news is continually reporting on the murders of transgender women and transgender teens taking their own lives. 


The most recent teen suicide was Leehla Alcorn. I followed her story. I read the heartbreaking note she left behind for all of us to see. And then, I looked at my own daughter and thought—What if Maggie was going through the same struggle?


The best thing I learned from my mother about parenting is to let children be themselves, however they choose to express it. I learned this the hard way because it is the exact opposite of what my mother did for me. When I was little, I identified as a boy. I wanted to wear clothes and play with toys that were labeled “for boys only.” It was a push and shove battle that my mother and I carried well into my teen years. 


I eventually conformed to society’s will and hers, and dressed as comfortably as I could as a girl. By then, I knew I didn’t want to physically be a boy. I was content in my body, but I wasn’t content with how I was forced to dress and carry myself. I wasn’t able to express myself fully until after I had graduated college. That’s a long time.


Like almost everyone else, I recently saw the famous photo of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s daughter at the movie premier for Unbroken. Shiloh, who likes to be called John, was glowing proudly in a suit with slicked back hair. Confidence radiated from her eyes. As I stared at the photo, I felt a twinge of envy. 


I don’t know if Shiloh/John is transgender, but I do know that this child is allowed to express herself in whatever way she feels most comfortable. And that is a beautiful thing. She may realize in a few years that she identifies as a girl but prefers to wear masculine clothing. Or maybe she will discover that she is transgender after all. I don’t know. I have every confidence that her parents will support her either way.


Which brings me back to Maggie. 


Right now, my daughter is all about princesses and toy trains. She loves picking out her clothes for preschool, and she often chooses to wear a dress. None of it matters much to me. What I cherish is seeing that glow in her eyes after she’s dressed and ready to go—the one that proudly says, “This is me! Whoever ‘me’ is right now in this very moment. This is it. This is who I am.”