In January 2017, the BBC aired a controversial documentary called, “Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?” which explored the doctrine that children know best when it comes to their “gender identity,” and that we should accept their beliefs without question. Following the airing of this documentary, the BBC came under fire from trans activists, who claimed the documentary would spark prejudice and lead to the social rejection of “trans kids.”
As the mother of a four-year-old girl and a 10-month-old girl, and step-mother to a four-year-old boy, I find the limited discourse around “trans kids” troubling. As I watch my children growing, learning, changing, and exploring, the idea of allowing them to make such a life-changing choice, so young, without question, is abhorrent.
While, in recent decades, progressive parents may have told their boys it’s ok to play with dolls and wear pink, and told their girls it’s ok to play sports and get dirty, the concept of gender identity has confused people. And this confusion has potentially dangerous consequences.
I have watched my little boy dancing around in a Princess Elsa dress to “Let It Go,” and I have watched my little girl crashing around a playground in her Liverpool football shirt, often being mistaken for a boy. It has never occurred to myself or my partner to suggest to either of them that they are doing something wrong by not conforming to the gender stereotypes of their sexes. I want them to be themselves — not what society says a boy or girl “should” be.
This is why I’m raising my children to know their sex, not their gender.
I’ll explain why: Their sex is what they are. The girls have vaginas and XX chromosomes and the boy has a penis and XY chromosomes. Obviously there are other physiological differences but those are the basics.
Gender, on the other hand, is what each sex is supposed to be. It is what males and females are supposed to be interested in, how they are expected to behave, what they are presumed to be capable of, and what they are assumed to think and feel. It’s the “boys like pirates, girls like princesses/boys like football, girls like ballet” school of thought. A campaign called Let Toys Be Toys explains how this kind of gendered socialization impacts kids’ lives:
“Children don’t pop out of the womb with expectations about their future careers, or beliefs about what their work is worth, but the stereotypes we see in toy marketing connect with the inequalities we see in adult life. By late primary age, research by Welsh organisation Chwarae Teg shows that children already have very clear ideas about the jobs that are suitable for boys and girls; ideas that are very hard to shake later on.”
My oldest daughter has always liked her hair short and never showed interest in “princess culture.” She loves Spiderman and football, but she also loves My Little Pony and tutus. Recently she came home with a bloody nose because a little boy in her class had pushed her down and laughed at her for “being a boy.” She was devastated and confused. She had always proudly worn her Spiderman backpack to school, and now was wondering if it meant something was wrong with her — something she has never had cause to question before. I told her there is nothing wrong with her, that she is a girl and liking Spiderman doesn’t change that because Spiderman is for everyone. To have said otherwise would surely have been cruel and sexist.
Kids need to know their sex. Not least in part for medical reasons. They need to know their body parts in order to describe any pain or discomfort they might be feeling, and to explain the source of that pain or discomfort. They need to understand the changes they will experience, physically, when they go through puberty — changes that are specific to sex.
Girls need to learn about periods — how to use tampons or pads, what pain relief works best. They also need to learn about things like yeast infections, the importance of cervical screening tests, as well as, of course, contraceptives and pregnancy. Boys need to learn about erections, testicular pain, about their voices dropping, the importance of prostate cancer examinations, and about wearing condoms and taking responsibility for their own role in reproduction and sexual health. These are basic biological realities that will manifest as my children grow and experience life.
Understanding their own biology is pivotal, but teaching them about gender is unnecessary. And in some cases it is harmful.
Nothing that children play with, watch, or wear is restricted to their sex. There is no reason boys can’t play with Barbies, wear dresses, or watch princess movies. There is no reason girls can’t play with dinosaurs, wear football kits, or watch superhero movies. Telling children otherwise is what creates problems.
I recently had a conversation with someone online who told me she is raising her little boy as girl. I assume this doesn’t mean teaching her child about the biologically female things he won’t experience. I don’t suppose she’ll be teaching him about period cramps and how to get blood stains out of knickers. What she means is that she will be raising him socially as a girl, in the gendered way that female children are typically raised in a sexist society.
She tweeted that every birthday and Christmas he asked for dolls, and every year he cried when he was bought trucks. I asked why she couldn’t just let him play with dolls? Why not let the kid choose what he wanted to play with? She said he was teased, made fun of, and laughed at for liking girls’ toys.
In other words, this woman taught her son that the bullies were right and that he was wrong. She changed him, not the bullies.
This boy is now on a path. He’s being raised as a “girl.” He’s on a path that leads to puberty blockers, a lifetime of medication, hormone therapy, and surgery. As is sometimes the case for other children who have been deemed “transgender,” like Florida teen Jazz Jennings, he might find, after being put on puberty blockers, his development is so damaged that he is unsuitable for sex reassignment surgery. A doctor on Jenning’s TV show, I Am Jazz, explains:
“We’re just now getting children who have been on puberty blocking hormones. When it comes to the surgery, we don’t have the raw materials we need.”
Yet no one is questioning it or offering him other options.
All because he wanted a Barbie.
When we impose gender stereotypes on children, it starts them on their journey to adulthood in a way that is not healthy. Fifty years ago, it meant little girls grew up to be housewives. They were taught to play with makeup sets, ironing boards, and dolls in order to groom them for a life of servitude, beauty, and motherhood. Little boys were taught to play with cars, blocks, and weapons, preparing them for a life of adventure, independence, money-making, and dominance.
We had begun to leave that behind. Campaigns like Let Toys Be Toys argued that any child can play with any toy. In 1972, Marlo Thomas and the Ms. Foundation For Women launched “Free To Be… You And Me,” which, through songs and poetry, taught children to embrace post-1960s gender neutrality and not be restricted by their sex. We had become more accepting of little girls who like adventure and little boys who like domesticity. We had begun moving towards embracing personalities, not stereotypes.
But with the rise of gender identity ideology, being “tolerant” of and “celebrating differences” has come to mean being intolerant of those who are different.
Today, being “tolerant” means believing that a little boy who likes Barbie is really a girl. It means that a little girl who likes her hair short and doesn’t like pink is really a boy.
Gender stereotyping is experiencing a resurgence in popularity under the label of gender identity, and those who strictly conform to it to the point of medicating their children are being celebrated as the truly open-minded and progressive.
But my children will be raised to know their sex. They will be raised to know their bodies, to understand what their bodies do and how they work, and to be aware of how their bodies will change and how to keep them healthy. They will be taught to love, respect, and nurture their bodies.
My children will not be taught their gender. They will never hear, “That’s a girl’s toy” or “Only boys wear that.” And if they hear it from others, they will swiftly be reassured that it is not true — that they can play with or wear anything they like, and that they are perfect they way they are. If they are teased for their differences, I’ll never side with their bullies. It’s not ok to tell them their biology should limit their behaviour, hobbies, or feelings.
As a truly feminist, progressive parent, I’m raising my children to know their sex, not their gender.