Parents of gender expansive children face challenges around sharing information and keeping your kids safe. We can help with these often challenging decisions.
Raising gender expansive kids comes with many decisions about when and how to share information. Each situation and each family is different. Some are completely open and tell everyone they meet about their gender, while others don’t ever want to mention the word “gender.” Some kids conform to societal norms of gender expression, while others are so clearly a combination of genders, that there is no option to be private.
There are no rules about when you must share information about your child. What type of body your child has is no one’s business. The only considerations we need to think about are what’s best for our child in each situation.
If your child likes to run around naked, your best decision may be to disclose. If your child is shy and private, then you have more of a choice. It’s helpful to weigh your child’s discomfort of disclosure against the scenario, “What would happen if…” to help you think about what’s best in each situation. These decisions aren’t easy. Some kids may avoid sleepovers altogether, and instead go to the party, but get picked up early to avoid changing clothes and sleeping in close quarters with friends.
There is no perfect solution. Disclosure and privacy both have their benefits and drawbacks. We need to work with our children to find the right balance. Remember that once you share your child’s gender information, you can’t un-share it. Even if a child is OK with being open when they are little, their needs around privacy may change as they grow older.
Transgender, nonbinary and gender expansive children are often the victims of mistreatment or even violence. Caregivers bear a burden to ensure the physical and emotional safety of their kids in the face of that general reality.
This can be tricky territory. Our own discomfort, as well as a desire to protect our children, may lead us to decide to allow one set of behaviors in the home, and another set outside the home. But there is a cost to this choice: to your child’s sense of self, and potentially their experience of your support and acceptance. Remembering to place your child’s needs at the forefront of your decision making process is the first step to protecting them.
Our role as parents is to love and accept our child, and help them learn how to deal with a world that sometimes doesn’t understand them. Without alarming them, we can help prepare our children for unwanted questions or comments by helping them come up with respectful replies that maintain their boundaries; this way, they won’t be left on their own to come up with a response on the spot.
Role-playing possible scenarios can be very helpful. If a child is too shy to participate, have two adults play the parts and let the child observe. Younger kids may want to say something along the lines of, “You may not like it, but I do” or “Everyone gets to wear what makes them feel good” or “There are no boy things and girl things, just things.” Older kids may say, “That’s private,” or “It’s rude to constantly point out someone’s differences.” They may also choose to remain private about their gender. .
We also need to teach our children how to access the support they need if they feel unsafe. If they are old enough to go places without you, giving them a phone so they can reach you is a good idea. Even if a child wants to be completely private, help them weigh the importance of maintaining that privacy versus finding at least one “safe adult” they can seek out if need be. Safety for teens includes helping them have clear rules about dating and relationships. We each need to work with our teens on deciding when and how to disclose information, so that they do not put themselves in a dangerous situation by surprising a potential date or partner.
We each know our own communities best, so we each need to decide if our children are in physical danger by expressing their gender in public, and weigh this physical danger against the emotional harm of not allowing our child to be their true selves.
Consider documenting your child’s gender identity and expression in case your parenting choices are challenged. This may mean creating a “gender file” in which you keep letters from your child’s doctors or therapists confirming your child’s gender identity, official documentation of name or gender changes, photos showing your child expressing their gender over time, and any other items that may “prove” your child’s gender identity or expression to an outside party if the need arises.