Our posts about Coy Mathis, a six year old born a male who identifies as female, and the civil-rights complaint her parents have filed against the school over bathroom access, have drawn fascinating comments for weeks. The latest comes from a reader who has very personal experience with gender-identity issues in children.
As a parent with 3 kids of my own (age almost 5 to age 20) plus two step-kids, and as the parent of a daughter who at age 2.5 began insisting that she was my son, I really need to weigh in here. Age six is far too young to be certain as to what a child's gender identity is, and this kid may well (if his parents leave him alone and just get him gender-neutral clothing) grow out of this.
I have a daughter (almost nine at the present). Starting when she was about 2.5 she began insisting that she was a boy. It didn't stop, no matter how much I gently tried to explain that no, really, she was a girl. By the time she was 3.5, she was refusing to wear dresses, and would scream and tantrum if I tried to put her in them.
When she was age 4 or so, I once had kids come up to me in the park, and ask me "is 'that' a boy or a girl?" I said she was a girl. They said "then why does she say she is a boy?" At that time, I didn't have any reasonable response except to say that some people are born into the wrong body and that even though she had a girl body, she thought she had a boy mind. My daughter continued to insist that she was a boy, only wanted boy toys, and would get very upset if anyone referred to her as a girl.
So for kindergarten, I regretfully gave up on the cute pink frilly things that I'd set my heart on, and instead bought my daughter all sorts of gender-neutral clothing -- blue jeans, navy, gray, red and black sweat pants, navy, grey, yellow, red and black sweat-shirts, red chuckie taylor sneakers that could have been for either gender, and gender-neutral animal and sea-life t-shirts. I wasn't entirely convinced that my daughter was transgendered, but if she was (and I was starting to think so, given that she had been insisting for 2 years that she was male), at least this was a neutral way to subtly go about things without raising a ruckus or drawing attention to my child (or her siblings). Also, she has a very unusual Greek name that few in the US will peg for either a girl's or boy's name. So when kindergarten started, she had all sorts of gender-neutral clothing, and a gender-neutral hairstyle, so she wouldn't stand out, regardless of which gender she said she was. Plenty of time for these things to be figured out, I thought.
Maybe 2-3 weeks into kindergarten, my daughter (who had just spent the past 2 years insisting she was a boy and getting very angry when anyone such as myself said otherwise), began asking me, each morning, if the clothing I'd laid out for her was "girl clothes." I initially said that the clothing was for either a girl or a boy. She started expressing frustration -- now she wanted only girl clothing!
Since then, she has wanted to wear girl clothing (as long as it is not a dress or skirt -- she says she feels "funny" in a dress or skirt). She is extremely physically active and has more friends that are boys than are girls, but it's been over three years since she's said she was a boy.
Age six is, indeed, way too young to be pushing a child toward any gender identification. What is wrong with gender-neutral clothing for this child? For example blue jeans, a purple shirt, a gender-neutral necklace, short but not too-short hair, and purple or green chuckie taylors? His parents could always let him have colored undies and girlie socks underneath. But my daughter's experience really shows that age 6 is way too young for certain. By age 9 or 10 is a wholly different matter. But age 6, it seems like the parents are way too wrapped up in this..
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