097: How to support gender-creative children

Recently a listener posted a question in the Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group asking about research related to children who are assigned to one gender at birth, but later realize that this assigned gender doesn’t match the gender they experience.


Another listener recommended Dr. Diane Ehrensaft’s book The Gender-Creative Child, and we are fortunate that Dr. Ehrensaft quickly agreed to speak. Listener Elizabeth co-interviews with me as we learn how to truly listen to our children when they tell us about their gender, and what we can do to help them navigate a world full of people who may know very little about – and even fear – children whose gender does not conform to expectations.


While we didn’t get a chance to discuss it (too many other topics to cover!), you might also be interested to learn about the “They-by” movement, which advocates for allowing children to choose their own gender when they feel the time is right, rather than the parents assigning a gender at birth based on the child’s genetalia.


Here are some especially recommended resources:


Human Rights Campaign’s Guide on supporting transgender children: https://assets2.hrc.org/files/documents/SupportingCaringforTransChildren.pdf?_ga=2.156922811.1499059672.1559845994-1938179427.1559845994


Recommended books for children – for ALL children, not just those actively exploring their gender identity (note: these are affiliate links):

10,000 Dresses

The Adventures of Tulip, Birthday Wish Fairy

My Princess Boy

The Paperbag Princess

Mama, Mommy, and Me

Daddy, Papa, and Me

Who Are You? The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity

I am Jazz

Julian is a Mermaid

Introducing Teddy


Read Full Transcript

Jen: 00:01:21

Hello and welcome to the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. Today, we’re going to talk about a topic that originated from a question in the Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group. Now, sometimes I have questions on my list for a long time, but other times when someone expresses an interest in a topic, they also point me toward a place to start the research, which really does speed things up and that’s actually what happened with this episode. So, listener Elizabeth asked if I’d done an episode on children’s gender identity and some other listeners chimed in with potential resources, one of which was Dr. Diane Ehrensaft’s book, The Gender Creative Child. And after I read the book, I knew that Dr. Diane Ehrensaft was the right person to talk to about this topic. So, she’s here with us today. Dr. Ehrensaft is a Developmental and Clinical Psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Director of Mental Health and founding member of the Child and Adolescent Gender Center, a partnership between the University of California, San Francisco and community agencies to provide comprehensive into disciplinary services and advocacy to gender conforming and transgender children and youth and their families. She’s an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco and the chief psychologist at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Child and Adolescent Gender Center Clinic. Her research and writing focuses on the areas of child development, gender, gender nonconforming and transgender children and youth parenting, parent-child relationships and LGBTQI families. She also serves on the board of Gender Spectrum and National Organization offering educational training and advocacy services to promote gender acceptance for youth of all genders. Welcome Dr. Ehrensaft.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:02:52

Thank you so much for having me.

Jen: 00:02:54

So, to help us understand more about the research on this topic as well as what to do with it practically in our real lives as parents, listener Elizabeth is here as well. Her child, John was assigned a male gender at birth. John is now 4 and has been telling his parents pretty insistently for a while now that he is a girl, even though he still likes to use the pronouns he, him and his as well as the name his parents gave him at birth. Welcome Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: 00:03:18

Thank you. I am glad to be here as well.

Jen: 00:03:20

And so I do want to say briefly before we get started that even if your child seems fairly convinced that the gender they were assigned at birth is the one they want to express, that you might want to listen to this episode anyway because I’d say there’s a reasonable chance that somebody in your child’s class is probably somehow exploring their gender identity. And so knowing the information we’re gonna discuss today will help both you and your child be a better friend and ally. So, let’s start off with some terminology please, Dr. Ehrensaft because I didn’t know a lot about this topic before I started researching it. And even now I find I have to constantly revisit the definitions to remember what’s what. So, can you kind of give us a crash course in some of the terminology we’ll be using today, please?

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:04:00

Absolutely. So, we start out with what we call the sex designated at birth and the sex designated at birth is usually what you will see on a birth certificate and it’s typically one or the other F or M and that essentially is based primarily on your chromosomes, whether you have XX or XY chromosomes. And it’s usually determined by whoever delivered the baby, looking between the baby’s legs and seeing what genitalia up here and then declaring the sex of the baby. It’s often declared before birth these days in a sonogram, so that you can know early in your child’s gestation what people think the sex of your baby’s going to be. So it’s just physical. Gender is the next thing. And that’s very different than sex. We actually don’t assign a gender at birth. We assign a sex at birth and that’s the physical part.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:04:58

Then the world around the baby comes in to match that sex with the gender. And the gender is really how we live out being male, female or other in the world and it’s based both on inside and outside. And certainly has a very strong social component, looks really different from one culture to another, but I don’t know any culture in the world that does not use some organization around gender, not necessarily into boxes. And when we understand gender, let’s divide that up. There’s a gender identity and that is who I know myself to be as male, female or other. It’s just an inner sense of being. Your gender expressions have more to do with how you do gender. For a little kid that might be the clothes they wear, the toys they play with, the kids they want to play with, the activities that they want to do, how they move and so forth.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:06:00

And sometimes we lump the two together and it’s really important to keep them separate. And those two things, again, needs to be kept separate from our sexual identities. And we often lump all three together, gender identity, gender expressions and sexual identity or orientation. They are absolutely different. Gender is one path, sexuality is another, then they cross, but really your sexuality is who you desire, who you are attracted to, who you want to be with. And it might be someone who is the same gender as you, someone who’s opposite or different gender than you. All these things come in quite different combinations, which is the beauty of it all.

Jen: 00:06:44

Okay. Already having a hard time keeping it straight in my head. So to summarize, I guess gender identity and expression is kind of about who you are. Is that a good way of thinking about it? And sexual identity and expression is about who you desire?

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:06:59


Jen: 00:07:00

Okay. Okay, super. That helps then. And so then we start talking about things like cisgender, gender-expansive. Can you talk a little bit about those?

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:07:08

Yes. The cisgender people in the world are the people who are experiencing the gender they lived at, usually starting out with who their parents assumed them to be based on their sex. And so their gender is the same and matches the sex designated to them at birth. So, those are our cisgender people. And then our transgender or gender-expansive people, people who are saying, I have a different match. It’s not based in our culture, the gender binary boy, girl, man, woman. So it might be, for example, a little person who says, you all have it wrong. You think I’m a boy, but I am a girl, I am a girl with a penis. I’m an XY girl. So, transgender means a cross that your gender does not match the sex designated to you at birth and those are transgender children.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:08:14

Gender-expansive children are also children who say, look, it’s not an exact fit for me, so we’re going to have to expand it some because it’s not totally working for me. They may have a gender identity that’s a good match for the sex designated at birth. So, maybe they were born, somebody said, oh, you have a boy. And they say, yeah, I’m a boy, but I don’t like the rules for boy. And I like dresses. I like to play the Mommy in all my role play activities, but I am a boy and that’s the way I like to do. So, those would be different combinations that wouldn’t be your fit under the cisgender umbrella.

Jen: 00:08:59

Okay, that’s really helpful. And so in the reading that I was doing about this, I think I learned that there’s really no inherent problem with not feeling like the gender you were assigned at birth or I guess would it be more correct to say the sex you’re assigned at birth?

Dr. Ehrensaft:

00:09:14 I like to use the sex assigned at birth.

Jen: 00:09:15

Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. That makes sense. So the sex you are assigned at birth, but we also have a diagnosable disorder related to this, right? Can you talk about that nuance, please?

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:09:26

There is a history of diagnosis for gender for children and it actually began when the diagnosis of homosexuality was taken out of the American DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual). And what took its place when homosexuality was removed from the books in the 1970s was a new diagnosis for gender. So, we now have gender identity disorder to basically pinpoint those people who did not feel cisgender as I just described it. And that diagnosis remained on the books for a long time. And then it was changed recently to gender dysphoria, which is a step up from gender identity disorder because it really just designates those people now who feel distress about their designated sex at birth, not being a good match for the gender they know themselves to be. So it’s a step up, but from my perspective it’s not good enough because there’s still places that under the category of a mental disorder or a mental problem and it pathologizes what I call gender infinity, all different kinds of gender modalities, the rainbow of gender.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:10:52

So, it is a controversial issue in the field right now. And I will disclose that I am a proponent of, particularly with children, removing the diagnosis from any mental health manual because the intent right now is to depathologize gender and say it’s the beauty of humanity to have such a wide variation of gender and all its possibilities. And there is nothing that is unusual or mentally discordant about that. And I would like to give a new diagnosis and I call that social gender dysphoria. It’s the society that needs to be treated, not the child.

Jen: 00:11:41

Yeah. And I imagine health insurance programs wouldn’t pay for that, isn’t it? But yeah, that was sort of where I was thinking on this was it seems to me that the dysphoria, which is sort of the discomfort, is arising from the lack of support that the child feels may be from their parents, may be from society and not from these sort of feelings of not feeling an alignment between their sex and gender.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:12:04

I think that’s absolutely correct. I will say that with all the support in the world, we still have some kids who feel uncomfortable about the poor body match for themselves. And I do think that this is exacerbated by continuing to say boys have penises, girls have vaginas, rather, there are penis-embodied people and vagina-embodied people and most vagina-embodied people identify as girls, but some are boys, etc., etc. So, I think we always will need to pay attention to people who would like to be able to bring their body in better alignment with the gender they know themselves to be. But we might want to get rid of the word dysphoria for that and just call it discordance.

Jen: 00:12:59

Yeah. And so just kind of playing on that for a few minutes, I have a bit of a long sort of statement/question before we start getting into the super practical stuff and pulling Elizabeth in for that. So, we talked about how the diagnostic and statistical manual does list this gender dysphoria as a pathological condition and in the previous 4th edition of the DSM, the diagnosis was gender identity disorder in children abbreviated to GIDC. And so the shift is that in the 4th edition it was the cross-gender identification itself that was the problem. Whereas now it’s discomfort without identification is the problem. And so I just want to tip my hat to Dr. Jake Pyne, who is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Guelph for putting some things into words that were kind of swirling around in my mind and I couldn’t quite figure out.

Jen: 00:13:44

And so Dr. Pyne notes that Dr. Ken Zucker, who was a big proponent of this GIDC diagnosis defends it based on “expert consensus”. So in other words, if a bunch of experts think that something is an illness, then it’s an illness. And the threat of social ostracism is cited as sufficient rationale for treatment. And Dr. Zucker said that children often misclassify their own gender and he believes a child who disagrees with a clinician is inherently wrong. And it isn’t society’s phobia of gender variant people, but rather the active being gender variant itself that causes distress in children. And this diagnosis is the result of poor parenting. It’s up to the clinician to save the child from their inevitable fate as a social outcast and remake the child into a normal person. And so this shows up in places like the DSM, which has this unstated but nevertheless powerful view of what normal is, which is White and heterosexual and male.

Jen: 00:14:38

And so it’s kind of unfortunate that it’s the psychologists who carry a lot of the weight of responsibility for the way that gender variant people have been persecuted since it’s their theories that legitimize the actions taken by people like teachers and social workers who control what a child does as well as parents who are taught to surveil their children and administer this humiliation and a desire for success in normalcy. And while the three of us on the call today are all White, I also want to acknowledge the Black and Brown youths who face an incredibly potent combination of threats. There was one researcher whose work I read said that I quote “I always marvel at the ways in which non-White children survive a White supremacist US culture that prays on them. I’m equally in awe of the ways in which queer children navigate a homophobic public sphere that would rather they did not exist. The psychic survival of children who are both queer and racially identified as non-White is nothing short of staggering.”

Jen: 00:15:32

And so Dr. Ehrensaft, I know you were co-interviewed with Dr. Zucker for an NPR show in 2008 where you acknowledged that his approach to treating GIDC was still the most prevalent one, but his clinic has since been closed down after it emerged the children he treated were not experiencing positive outcomes. And your model of embracing gender variance is becoming much more normalized. So, I’m sorry to put you on the spot here, but I wonder if you could speak just briefly to the way in which gender variance has been kind of problematized over the years. And we as a society have tried to make gender-variant people fit into our norms rather than adapting our norms to fit this huge variation in the human experience.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:16:12

So, I want to start out by having my field be accountable and that is the field of psychology, mental health, gender studies, and we are the best of the worlds and the worst of worlds. And some of the so-called experts who based the shaping of a diagnosis on research should be humbled enough now to say they were wrong. The research was flawed and history is proving them wrong and I would say going back to the interview on NPR in 2008, at that time I remember being put on the spot around the question about whose model is more prevalent and I had to be honest and I think I gave a nervous laugh and said, oh, Ken’s. If you ask me now in 2019 and not just because his particular clinic has been closed, but because what has happened in this last decade, I will tell you without a doubt that our model which is the gender affirmative model is the ascendant model of care throughout the world right now and I’m very happy to be able to say that because I think we are repairing what did great damage to gender-expansive people, particularly children throughout history and continues to damage children every time someone tries to employ reparative or conversion therapy with the child to make them conform to what society wants them to be.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:17:42

The challenge to that that we are offering is to basically enhance these kids resilience and the adults around them and the Trans Community and also to both educate and increase the gender literacy in the world around them because it’s the support of others and their own resilience, persistence and gender creativity that’s going to make such a better world for everybody. As you said in the introduction, this is not just about children who are gender-expansive. This is about any child who has a gender and every child in our culture has a gender and the acceptance in the room at the table for everybody as not just being but it is dividing will hopefully challenge the kind of intersectionality of oppression that you mentioned before that can happen no matter what it is that creates you as a category of being other than what someone else said was normative.

Jen: 00:18:50

Yeah, and thank you for addressing that. And I’m wondering what happens to a child if we don’t permit them to live as the gender that they perceive themselves to be?

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:19:01

The data coming in is simple, elegant and common sense. What happens to the children who are non-supported and being able to be who they are is they do not do as well in their mental health, in their physical health and then their academic performance and in their relationships. Nobody wants that for the child. The children who are supported are doing well and they are a completely different trajectory than the children who aren’t supported. So, for example, we hear frightening statistics about the number of trans people who have thought about attempted or completed a suicide.

Jen: 00:19:46

Oh yeah, it’s massive, isn’t it? Was it 40%? I read it somewhere.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:19:49

40% to 41% but going back to Jake Pyne and his colleagues who did a study looking at the effects of parental support called, it’s the Trans PULSE Study. There was a phenomenal difference when there was parental support and the rates of kids who thought about suicide went down to 4% and it was something like 50 plus percent for the kids who weren’t supported. We’d like it to be 0% but 4% is way below the average for the general youth population. So, what’s important is not just to talk about the risks for the children, but the lack of risk when they get support and there’s good outcomes when they get support.

Elizabeth: 00:20:40

So, I guess I’m going to jump in a little bit here as a parent who is attempting my hardest to support my gender-creative child.

Elizabeth: 00:20:48

Just a couple of notes on that one. I once heard some of the terms you’re looking at right at the beginning about being gender-expansive. I love the term gender creative. I also once heard the idea of a gender galaxy to get off of a spectrum or all of that. And I will say that if John were in a gender galaxy, he would spend a lot of time on superhero planet, which gets in some ways, John is also very into the planets and thinks about being an astronaut. And John is exploring the gender galaxy a lot, which is inspiring in a lot of ways. But also I have to admit it’s hard for me as a parent, there is a part of me that just wants to know what are you going to be John? If you want to be a girl, then let’s change your name and grow out your hair and you know, make all these changes, have a coming out to a girl party. But we’ve sort of been in this space with John where we’ve just been giving, trying to give him space. But even talking about this with the pronouns him is hard. So, I guess a couple of questions. One, based on the research, you know we’ve mentioned a little bit that often children who express gender creativity at a very young age end up not being transgender. So a little bit more about that and then moving forward, how do I really support John in this gender exploring space?

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:22:12

It’s a wonderful questions and I love the notion of the gender galaxy. I used the notion of a gender web and the gender web is more kind of getting away from a spectrum of how someone puts their gender together using nature, nurture and culture. But the gender galaxy is wonderful because it’s spatial and it’s also based in time. And I also use another phrase, it’s poetry in motion. The hardest thing for parents and for professionals and sometimes for the child themselves is being in this space of not knowing. And I think that is culture bound. If you think about it in our culture often the first thing we ask a person before baby is born is, is it a boy or a girl? So, we are already needing to locate that child between two boxes and we have all grown up in that culture.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:23:04

We just had that imbued within us. Very hard to shape it. So, at our gender clinic, one of the hardest things that we as professionals have to tell parents is we don’t have a litmus test. We wish we could put just a little, you know, stick or a piece of paper into a jar with some liquid in it. If it comes out in blue, it’s one thing. If it’s red, it’s another. When it’s purple it’s something else. So it is a challenge for all of us to, one, be able to live in a state of not knowing, particularly if it’s our child and two, to accept the new premise that gender is not a fixed point in time, but it can roll out across your lifetime. So, we have to give up time and space for exploration particularly with kids. With that said, I want to go back to the persistent of the assisted data.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:24:01

When I read that data, as a developmental psychologist, when I first read it, I said, this is making no sense to me at all because they’re talking about these young children lumping them all together and it’s apples and oranges. So, I kept muttering to myself, this is apples and oranges. Okay, I’m going to figure out who are the apples then and who are the oranges. And I did that and I studied it and it turns out there’s some research that supports it that in early childhood you have some guidelines, GPS, but it’s not a litmus test to give you some information about your child. So, the apples are the kids who will say, not I wish I was a girl if they were designated male at birth, but I am a girl. And often they are in persistent, consistent and insistent on this. And sometimes the play doesn’t look just like fun and fantasy, but very serious messages trying to get across to somebody else.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:25:05

Would you listen? This is who I am. When they are little, some of these kids have body upset, which is they don’t like what’s between their legs because they’re in a culture where they learn, boys have penises, girls have vaginas so they feel they have the wrong thing and they want to switch it out or go to the store and buy another one or trade with their sibling. And these are often the kids who are early on mind designating, I mean communicating to others that I am not the gender you think I am. If you thought I was a boy but I’m a girl and these are often kids that when you say, okay, we got it, well sorry for the confusion and now we will recognize you as such. And sometimes that means name change, pronoun change, and telling everybody, re-introducing this child to everybody, often this child settles down and does better.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:26:03

So those are apples. And in the research, those are probably the kids who got labeled as persistent that there was something going on early in life with their gender and was still going on with it. Then we have the oranges and these are the kids who are more likely will say, I wish I was rather than I am. Or they might switch it out and say one day I’m a girl, the next day I’m a boy, but there’s not a singular clear cut, a non-unchanging message. And they will often be very playful about the gender. And there isn’t that sense of serious work, they’re often quite happy with the bodies they have, but they might like playing with that body. So they might, if it’s a little somebody who identifies as a little boy, he might put on an Elsa dress and stuff that with three pair of socks in each side to make these wonderful boobies and say, don’t I look terrific?

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:27:03

And so these are kids who are not really articulate in something about their gender identity, but gender expressions. Those are oranges. And then I realize, ooh, I forgot a category. And those are our food salads. And those are the kids that are mixing up around both identity and expressions. And I know some people said, you really wanna use fruit because that was a pejorative term for gay people that are use particularly in the past. And they said, yeah, I want to appropriate the term just like we appropriated queer. And I’m holding with fruit salads because it also fits with apples and oranges. So these are our gender fluid, our non-binary kids. And sometimes in a moment we can’t know. So what we need to do is step back and listen, follow our child’s need, but never put barricades in front of them. And we often hear people say, okay, so what if I do that and then my child says I’m a girl and I let them change the name and they change their pronouns.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:28:09

And they live as a girl for maybe three or four years. And they say, you know what, I’m not so sure. Maybe I’m a boy or boy girl. What if they changed their minds? And so my question back is, okay, what if they change their minds? Then we support them in their next iteration of gender and make sure that they have all the supports and going through their galaxy or down their pathway as they move forward with gender as a lifelong process. That all sounds simple. It’s really hard when you are a parent. We’ve all been trained to know about gender, but also all the people around you who are going to accuse you of forcing your child into a non-normative pathway because the traditional tope was if a child is transgender or gender-expansive, it’s the parent’s fault. It’s a bad thing and parents should stop it.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:29:02

Or if you encourage it, you’re making it happen. Now I ask anybody who’s been around the child, you try and make a child transgender, it’s impossible. It comes from them, not from you and it’s very hard to stand up to that when other people are pointing fingers. But it’s important for all of us friends and allies, children and families to come together to educate the world. The children come to us and our job is to not provoke their gender creativity and help them become who they are and support parents for the journey that comes with a lot of thorns, pebbles and confusions along the way.

Jen: 00:29:43

Yeah, it does sound like a difficult journey. And just as we sort of transition to discussing the parental experience, I wonder if Elizabeth could you tell us a bit about how did this start for you and your family and John and what have been some of the hardest things that you’ve needed to kind of address both maybe within yourself and also coming from society as you’ve gone along with this journey.

Elizabeth: 00:30:05

Sure. Yeah, that’s a great and big question. So, before turning three, John sort of had a dress suddenly available that are then John’s size and he sat and his eyes lit up and asked if he could put it on. And I said, of course. And he put it on and started twirling around. So, that sort of started a dress wearing thing that went on for a while and he did continue to ask about when I grow up I’m going to be a girl and when do I get boobs? When are you going to get a penis, Mommy? So, there were a lot of questions around gender preference, questions about can I become a girl? And this was, I’m so glad Dr. Ehrensaft said, what she did about sort of parents being accused of making their child transgender. So at about three and a half when these questions got really complicated, I talked to one of John’s teachers who had some books and we read I Am Jazz, Introducing Teddy, Julian Is a Mermaid, and Who Are You?: The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity all to John at the same time which I’m sure was a lot.

Elizabeth: 00:31:11

But after that we actually both got pushed back for having done that. And immediately after John started saying, deep down inside Mommy, I feel like a girl. And he would correct me when I would say, oh, little buddy or you know, something like that. Say, no, no, no, Mommy, I’ve told you a thousand times I’m a girl. And so as I said earlier, I sort of wanted to go full in and say, okay, let’s think of another name. Let’s grow your hair out, let’s go buy more dresses and have sort of steps back a little bit since then. I did talk to his pediatrician who also said, and this supports with what Dr. Ehrensaft said, that I can’t, you know, expect John to be a girl every day or a boy every day.

Elizabeth: 00:31:55

I really just have to follow John’s lead. I love the fruit salad idea because while John will wear dresses depending on the week, like 25% to 75% of the time, John’s really into construction vehicles and frequently he has a younger sibling who’ll frequently identify him as big brother, but will also identify him as big sister more frequently though when like role playing as a cat. So, I would say we’ve been very lucky to be a part of a supportive community and that John has a supportive school. One thing that I just struggled with recently was people, and I’d love to hear what Dr. Ehrensaft has to say, so maybe I’ll sort of get off the mic in a minute here, is that people want to minimize what John is saying and what John is doing. So, I’ve had a lot of other supportive adults say he’s way too young to be thinking about any of this. It’s just a phase. Oh my son wanted to paint his toenails and fingernails for a couple of months and just sort of want to dismiss whatever it is. So, I guess I struggle with that because I want to say like, no, we need to take John seriously without saying, no we have to believe that John’s a girl, if that makes sense.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:33:13

I wanted to point out a double standard that we have. So as I mentioned I’m both to development and clinical psychologist, but my first training was in developmental psychology and what we learned, and it was just pounded into our head about gender development, is that little kids are thinking about their gender. We have to do what then called sexual socialization to help them know how to do it. And by sex they should be really clear about who they are and know that there’s no backsies on that. That’s what I learned. And starting with the first thing you learn is I am boy or I am girl because your parents tell you that. And we expect that of all cisgender children. When a child says, hey, but I’m not cisgender and goes through the same process, all of a sudden they’re too young and they can’t know. And I call that a double standard that how come cisgender children can know, but transgender children can’t and usually we have a double standard.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:34:17

It means it’s good for one group and we victimize the other group. And I think that’s what we have right here. So, anytime you hear somebody say it’s just a phase. That is a negative pejorative statement because we know that when we say something’s just a phase and we hope they’ll grow out of it. And that’s a terrible message to give a child who is exploring their gender when we want to give the message the beauty of all genders. So, I would say you do your young child a great disservice when you do not take them seriously and you set up a double standard and they can know. Young children can be very clear about who they are. Or they can say, I’m not clear yet, but I’m going to be creative and explore it. So, I’ll give you an example of a child I’m working with now who’s a bit older and I’m working with her just to help her explore her gender.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:35:22

And I’m using her, but that’s a pronoun that shifts from time to time. And this is what she said to me at the very beginning of our connection together. So in the morning, I feel I’m a girl. In the afternoon, I feel I’m a boy. And in the evening I feel I am a girl boy. So I’m gender confused. So we’re working not just on her gender confusion but the world around her are confused about her exploring the gender galaxy. So, I think that it’s really, really important that we listen to children, that we take them seriously and we do facilitate a gender pathway that’s going to feel most authentic to them and the cross section of where they are now. And I do think that means that we don’t interrogate them about their gender every day. That would be oppressive. But that we always have an open pipeline and we heard good narratives and good images. So around the books Elizabeth that you read to your child, I would say kudos to you. That is a wonderful introduction to gender in it’s all variations and hues because if the child only gets one message about gender from the books in the classroom, how are they going to know about all genders?

Jen: 00:36:54

Yeah. Elizabeth, I do want to expand on this sort of parental experience for a moment, but I know that you have a question related to kind of if you wanted to ask John everyday what gender he’s feeling today. And so I’m just wondering from the practical experience of this, you know, Dr. Ehrensaft if we we’re not supposed to interrogate our child everyday, but our child is sort of very flexible in exploring this, what practically should parents like Elizabeth do to support their child? Is it for this other child that you’re working with, do you call them a she in the morning and a he in the afternoon or how do you physically practically support them?
Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:37:30

Physically and practically, I think of it more of a check-in model that it is to check in because silence means sending message that we don’t talk about such things and talking about it all the time means we’re worried about it and anxious about it. So that is somewhere in between around check ins and yes, with this particular child, if that’s what they are saying will be helpful to them right now, that would be part of social gender creativity why not? And why do we have to be clear about one pronoun that we tag on all the time and why couldn’t we be fluid about that? So, I would say it depends on the child. For some children that wouldn’t work and for another child that maybe exactly what they do. And I think what I heard from you Elizabeth is that your child is saying, look, I’m good with the pronouns he, him and his right now and I feel like a girl.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:38:30

And so I think you just start there. And I do think and I would say it’s within all of us that we do want to get our child in focus and come up with a clear cut narrative about who they are around their gender and that there may be a sense the first time we hear, I feel I’m a girl that we want to jump forward with action. And I would say reflection first and action later. But I would not say that I condone the model that says they are too young to know. So, we’ll have to wait and see until they’re much older and their brains are more developed before we do anything about their gender. That I think has high risk attached to it.

Elizabeth: 00:39:15

I really appreciate this and I grabbed on to that creating a gender pathway. You know, I’m thinking a lot about both how I personally and then my husband does this within our home. I’m also thinking, you know, John goes to school every day and is in a classroom with a bunch of three and four year olds. John has informed me that he’s been trying to convince his classmates that girls can have penises too. And I wonder how his classmates are experiencing all of this because again, John uses male name and male pronouns and is going around telling his classmates that he’s a girl. And so, you know, thinking in terms of his teachers are very open to whatever we want to do, but I haven’t felt very confident in even giving them ideas about what to do. We’ve thought about, and John himself has said, oh Mommy, I want to share, you know, I Am Jazz with my classmates. So we’re planning on doing that soon and I’ve talked to his teacher and she’s willing to do that. But just other ideas, and I know this gets a little bit ahead of things in terms of working with the broader community, both classroom, but then you know we have a lot of family reunion this summer, extended family is a whole other challenge.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:40:30

And I would say this is the extra legwork that comes from being both an ambassador and an advocate to the child is to teach the rest of the world with the kind of what I call gender literacy that will support not just John but all the children. So some of those books that you read beyond I Am Jazz, I’d say it would be good to have a curriculum where the teachers read it to the whole class and people talk about diversity as we do about other kinds of cultural, racial, ethnic diversity that we just talk about the different, you know, as I say, colors and hues that gender comes in and so that it becomes a moment of her education because where did the children get confused from? Somebody taught them that boys have penises and girls have vaginas and now this doesn’t make sense because they’ve already been taught something.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:41:27

So it’s kind of unlearning or expanding what you were taught before so that there’s new horizons for all the children. And that goes back to being friends and allies. I know that some, like some of the kids I work with say with pride, I am an XY girl and I often use the analogy of left handed and right handed. I’m left handed. So, I’m a minority and historically and culturally in some cultures today I’m also an anomaly. I’m also considered sinister. I am also not supposed to use my left hand. And then I transferred to that to a left-handed pride and acknowledgement of all the other wonderful creative people in the world throughout history of left-handed. But that involved a shift in education around what it means to be left handed. So, I would say building gender-expansive, accepting classrooms that highlight gender diversity would be best talked about and certainly supportive of John and that that’d be reflected in whatever posters they have on the wall. What books are in the library and that make sure that those day-to-day interventions always happen. So, obviously something’s happened. But if there’s a comment about, well, you can’t be a girl because you have a penis, there would be a teacher right there and say, well, I’m sure he does but we will work with that and who we are, we know in our heart and our brain. And I think John is absolutely gender creative saying, I’m a girl, please use, he, him as pronouns and I would say, okay, that’s a gender mosaic. That’s a lovely way. It may confuse other people, but I would never take that away from John.

Jen: 00:43:19

Yeah. So, I’m just thinking about Elizabeth’s own sort of personal experience of this. And it seemed as though she was very immediately willing to step in and say, okay, this is what you’re feeling, let’s go ahead and go with that. But I think that that’s not always the case. And that some parents feel very kind of ambivalent about it or they may feel as though they don’t want this change to happen. And I’m wondering if before we start talking about some of the really concrete things that we can do to support gender creative children, if we can first just spend a couple of minutes acknowledging that this is not always, and not to imply that it has been super easy for Elizabeth, but it seems as though she didn’t go through a phase where she saw this as kind of a rejection of herself and that this was her fault and that there was a kind of maybe a real sense of loss of the child that she gave birth to. So, I wonder if Dr. Ehrensaft could you just kind of talk us through what are some of the experiences that parents have when the child decides to go through this kind of process?

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:44:17

Well, I’ll start by saying it’s definitely not a walk in the park and it’s really helpful to have supports around you and not feeling like we’re doing this in isolation. It’s also important to feel like you have some safe place where you can talk about the whole gamut of feelings that run through you when you discover that your child is telling you that they’re not the child you thought they were. The important thing is that you have a firewall that doesn’t go to your children in terms of some of the difficult, ambivalent and negative feelings so that you protect your child is absolutely critical because I have to tend to say that anytime I need a parent who says, I’m absolutely fine with that. I’ve always been fine. There’s never been an issue. I go, really? Let’s just spend a little time on that and let’s kinda lift up the rug and see if anything got crossed underneath it.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:45:09

So, I will say it comes with a complexity of feelings. I also think we talk about a gender spectrum and there’s also a parental pathway than a spectrum of acceptance. And I always use the parable of the story of Stuart Little. So, in the story of Stuart Little, Mr. and Mrs. Little are expecting a baby, they’re really excited, the baby comes out and the doctor says, oh, you have a mouse that’s so exciting and Mr. and Mrs. Little are not excited because they didn’t expect the mouse. They expected a little human baby, but they learn how to both raise Stuart Little with connection to them and also with safety and that is the journey. I would say that’s a similar journey when you discover that you have a child who’s gender-expansive or saying you got it wrong, I’m not the gender you think I am. The only difference is you don’t know at birth.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:46:09

You will not know it until a child can start communicating it to you. Therefore you have a couple of years perhaps where you thought it was one way. It may be two years and maybe five maybe 10 it could be 30 but you have in your mind that it was one way. And we do put a lot of emphasis on gender and organizing where child is. And then we have to switch gears either about gender identity, gender expressions or both. And that’s not easy and you didn’t lose your child, but you lost the vision of who you thought your child was. And I think it’s important to differentiate that. And you know, all of parenting is about working through, it’s not about our dreams, it’s about our children’s dreams for themselves. And this was not only a dream, it was a vision and a lived reality for a period of time that we have to treat because we got it wrong.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:47:11

Not to any fault of our own, but because we didn’t know. Once we know we have to start taking the net knowledge and shifting. And that’s the spectrum of gender acceptance. And for many people either because of their religion, their personality, their social or family context, cultural context and religion, this is a real challenge. But I say it’s a challenge with taking and again to make sure that you have supports around you and also you are not rejected if you are having a time with it. Because that’s often what happens too because people don’t feel comfortable saying I’m having a hard time with it and at the very extreme there’s some people would say, I’m not having a hard time with it. No kid of mine is going to be gender-expansive and I can tell you these experts to support me and I will find every way I can to make it just be a phase and stop it and those are the parents that need the most help because those are the kids who are most at risk.

Jen: 00:48:18

Elizabeth, did you want to follow up on anything specifically related to your experience?

Elizabeth: 00:48:22

So, I will say some of the struggles that we’ve had, one, it created conflict, which is something I really struggle with because of other parents who aren’t on board and particularly like parents of John’s friends. So that has been really hard. It does also create some conflict within the family just in terms of deciding how you respond. And I brought up the whole thing and not everyone wanting to take it seriously. I think to me that that whole desire not to take it seriously really is true. It’s a desire for it to just not be. And that’s hard for me to hear as a parent of this child who is so beloved to me. So, I think that’s an interesting piece to think about.

Elizabeth: 00:49:10

And you know, I’ll say my partner too has said, you know, I will support John and whoever John is, if John ends out being transgender, let’s say, I will have to be an advocate and that is just not personality wise, who I am, that will be hard for me. So I think that’s been one conversation that we’ve had and I have to admit for me too, that’s a challenge. I’m sure we both, you know, it was about a year ago that John really started saying, I’m a girl. I feel like a girl deep down inside. And I know that, again, it hasn’t been easy, but I think we’ve sort of been in our own, especially my husband and I, our own sort of individual paths of figuring out what that means and sometimes we touch base with each other on it and sometimes we go along our own path for a while. So yeah, I guess I don’t have a whole lot that would come into when and how does getting counseling like for a family and you know John has a two-year-old sister, I don’t know, who sometimes identifies John as sister instead of brother. I think sometimes she’s more in tuned to all of this than we are. But what sorts of support with counseling offer a family and when her other families out there thinking about this, when do you sort of say, okay, yeah, this is something that we need to take the time, the money and whatever to go get extra support with?

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:50:32

That’s such an important question and I will start by saying I have been on the committee, the task force to write the next version of The World Professional Association Of Transgender Health Standards of Care. And for the first time, there is going to be a separate chapter on children before the age of puberty. It’s never happened before. There is someone who is showing up and saying I’m gender-expansive or I’m transgender. And one of the things we spent many weeks talking about as an international committee, is the role of mental health. And so I want to start by saying that if a child is gender-expansive or transgender, that doesn’t equate to get them to a therapist because it’s not a mental health problem, but it can come with psychological challenges. So I use the model of gender consultations and that there are times when it’s really helpful to have a place to think through with another person who may have some expertise about how you want to build the pathways for your child and that may never involve your child and important resource for parents and that can happen with an individual trained gender specialist, it can happen in support groups.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:51:55

It can happen just in a group of parents getting together among themselves. But having a place to do that I think can be really important. And I think a mental health professional can be really important when there are stress lines when it isn’t a supportive community or family around a family and when there’s conflict between the parents. So that will be the gender consultation for the parents’ model. Now we come to the child. Does the child need to see a mental health specialist? Not necessarily, but the reasons they might would be if they are stressed out. If they show what I call gender stress, gender distress, gender confusion or something we labeled gender noise when gender is on their mind all the time and just preoccupies them. And some kids do say I want to go talk to the gender lady because I just like to do that.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:52:51

And I think we need to honor that as well. And some kids want to come with their parents and with their sibling and all talk about it together. Some kids absolutely want a place to their own or need a place of their own. And the reason for that is they’re so busy taking care of their parents and looking if the parents are upset by what they say that they need a place free from that for a while so they can begin to get their own gender and focus. So, all those different models are models of what I think of this gender dream work and using the expertise of somebody who’s trained both as a psychologist or mental health professional and as a gender specialist. But I will say word of caution, there are some people who say they’re trained, but their model is very much one of curing a child and helping the parents see what they did wrong. Stay away from those folks.

Jen: 00:53:51

Definitely. And so I wonder if we can spend our last minutes just talking through some of the things that gender variant children need to thrive. And I’m going to use an acronym here that I found at a research paper. It’s H-A-P-P-I-N-E-S-S. And so I’m going to say each of the things, and I wonder if Dr. Ehrensaft could you address what falls under that particular letter? So, the first letter is H and that’s TO BE HEARD. So, what does that mean for helping a gender-variant child to thrive?
Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:54:18 I would want to star that one because it actually has an L in it, to be heard is to listen. And I’m going to put an M in there, even though it isn’t in the word happiness. Okay? Under the umbrella of happiness is how critical it is to listen to the child, but also to mirror back to the child the image of what they’re trying to tell you about themselves. No child wants to look in a mirror and see a fun house mirror where they’re distorted or a blank screen where they don’t even show up. And so I’ll give you an example of listening, being heard and mirroring. So this happens. A child will say, I’m a girl and I want a Barbie and the parents being very gender sensitive and also focusing on gender expressions says the fact to the child, honey, I’ll get you a Barbie doll, that’s absolutely fine. But you know what Barbie dolls aren’t just for girls. You don’t have to be a girl to play with Barbies. You’re a boy and you can have a Barbie, let’s go get one.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:55:33

And the kid rather than feeling supported has a meltdown and said, Mommy, you’re not listening. I know the boys can play with Barbies. I said I’m a girl and I want to play with a Barbie. So that was a child who didn’t get heard on the first time around and had to come around the second time and didn’t get near from a very well-intentioned parents, but it didn’t work for the child. So, that’s what I want to say about the activity you’ve been heard.

Jen: 00:56:04

Okay. And then the A in happiness is to be ACCEPTED.
Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:56:08 Second critical piece that all the research now is showing that the more a child is accepted, the better they do. And it’s the same thing except it is to get back a positive image of who you are. I see who you are and thumbs up. And I know Elizabeth, you mentioned like you know, what about extended family who can’t do that thumb up then it just what you press in them. And it does maybe mean stepping out of your comfort zone of conflicts and assertiveness. It’s something they say that I’m simply asking you to be genderless and say nothing to my child about gender, so you can avoid using any pronouns if pronouns are an issue but just receive my child and just edit out gender and if they make a comment to you about their gender, just listen. So that would be under the umbrella of ACCEPTANCE. We also put in no rejection.

Jen: 00:57:09

Okay. So I think we already covered the first P which is ACCESS TO PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT both for the child if they feel they need it and for the parent if they feel they need it. The second P is PEER CONTACT with others who are going through similar experiences.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:57:22

Knowing that you’re in a community is incredibly helpful and we have a gender spectrum family conference every July with camp-type programs set up with the kids and they are just in seventh heaven. Also we have gender-day camps here in the Bay Area. Rainbow camp, that one closed down. We now have Camp Indigo. That has been wonderful, but I do want to say caveat, not all kids want to do that. Not all kids feel comfortable creating that community. They just want to be in the community to be able to help another one. So you really have to pay attention to who your child is as to whether they would appreciate and grow and that kind of peer contact or not. Most importantly is pure acceptance, no matter what gender the peers identify as themselves is just room for everybody.

Jen: 00:58:18

Okay. And then I in happiness is ACCESS TO INFORMATION. What kinds of information do these children need?

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:58:24

The basic information children need when they’re young is that gender comes in all kinds of colors and hues and whichever you want is great. That is the most important information and that you are the arbiter of your gender. You will know, it’s not for somebody else to tell you. It is the most important information. I do want to say something about TMI (too much information). As children get older they will perhaps really benefit from getting information about medical interventions for gender confirmation, for children that would include puberty blockers, temporary pause on puberty, either so they can sort out more in gender and get in focus or the kids have known their gender from when they were early in life to be able to prevent an unwanted puberty. And then there’s gender affirming hormones. So that would be testosterone for transgender boys and estrogen for transgender girls.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 00:59:24

Those are some extremely valuable medical interventions for youth, puberty beyond. They do not apply to children before puberty and a process after that will be gender affirming surgeries, both top and bottom. Sometimes little children, we see this information about what they can anticipate in the future and it’s actually too much for them at the time. Other children, you may need to tell them if they’re really just terribly upset about the fact that, you know, someday their body would betray them. But I think there is a tendency to provide too much of the information, where children can’t really sort it out yet or go into magical thinking about it. So it’s really just important to think about what is age-appropriate information for a child to have about gender. I know there’s also a question about, well do you tell the children about the social gender dysphoria and the kind of negative attitudes that people might have about them?

Dr. Ehrensaft: 01:00:30

And I think there was a really good book written about race and development called I’m Chocolate, You’re Vanilla and it made the important point, and this was about African American children and this country United States that the first thing for them to develop pride in who they are and what that will give them the baseline of resilience to then learn about how some people don’t feel that way. So that I think with a smaller children, the important thing is to just give them a positive sense about who they are and then as they get older, to give them a tool box developmentally appropriate for their age about how they might handle a situation where somebody doesn’t see it the same way they do. And that may start as early as preschool. And I would just leave that just about very specific rule that particular child hasn’t learned yet. So, we’ll teach them not about transphobia in the culture but I think later I think children need to be prepared that it is there. And I think that is the place we think about building jobs, gender resilience and the family’s gender resilience so they can keep their child safe and steady and know how to handle situations that may involve a pushback from somebody who thinks differently than we do.

Elizabeth: 01:01:59

I’m going to just jump in really quick. So, I was introduced to the book Sparkle Boy, you might be familiar with it Dr. Ehrensaft, but it has a lot of negative response to, I think it’s like a two or three year old boy wearing a dress and I was reticent to introduced that book to John. You know, I am Jazz just touches on it a little bit in terms of some of the kids in Jazz’s school, you know, insisted on calling Jazz boy names or ignoring Jazz or things like that. So, that is something I’ve wondered about because I do, you know, for the most part we’ve avoided anyone directly confronting John about it. There’ve been other preschoolers who have been like, why is that boy wearing a dress? That’s crazy. But it is, you know, you talked in Gender Born, Gender Made that parents sort of block this tight rope of anxiety between wanting to support their child’s gender expression but also wanting to keep them safe. So if you could just say a little bit more about that balance between building the pride but also preparing an age-appropriate ways. Yeah, I just love to hear a little bit more on that.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 01:03:09

I think to young children, the best preparation is to observe adults teaching gender literacy being advocates. So the example in a preschool, if somebody says you can’t wear a dress, you’re a boy, just in that immediate situation hearing an adult say or another kid can pop up and say, actually dresses are people things and girls can wear them, boys can wear them and John is wearing one. So that would be an example of just in that moment that dealing with it very, very microscopically in that moment and I actually am of the bent myself about previewing books that give negative images when children have not experienced them and putting those on the bookshelf, bring them down later. There is by the way a nice book that was sent to me this week called Ogilvy, and it’s more about gender expressions, but it’s about bunny rabbits and it’s a great preschool book and it’s more about gender expressions, not gender identity, but very much about who gets to do what and who’s wearing a dress and who’s wearing a sweater in which it’s the same little knit thing that a bunny is wearing. But I do think that we might want to not introduce a child before they experience it a notion that what they’re doing is thought by others to be wrong.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 01:04:34

There are plenty of time to learn that. So that’s my perspective on it. I wanted just to add something to that, which is I also, in terms of the safety feature, talk to families about antiquates about the Harry Potter cloak and it goes like this that as a child gets older, they may be in certain situations where people haven’t learned yet. And sometimes when people don’t know something new, they can be not so nice. And so sometimes there might be certain situations like Thanksgiving at grandmothers where we put on our Harry Potter cloak, we make ourselves invisible to others, but we know who we are and we know that it’s under our cloak. So that the power goes to the child putting on the cloak rather than having to hide themselves and cover themselves because it’s dangerous out there. And a lot of kids just jump on that and then they feel very powerful rather than powerless in situations and it helps a family where you can say, you know, we just can’t do that, we’re traveling back to India where family’s from. It’s a small village and just can’t do it there. And that is one approach I might offer a Harry Potter cloak. The message behind it being, there’s nothing wrong with you. The world hasn’t learned yet, but we’re on it and we’re gonna really help them learn.

Elizabeth: 01:06:04

That’s great. I really like that. Thank you.

Jen: 01:06:07

And so to wrap up our H-A-P-P-I-N-E-S-S acronym, that actually leads us nicely into the end, which is not to be bullied, blamed, punished, or otherwise discriminated against. And I think that was somewhat self-explanatory. The only thing I wanted to call out here was that one study I read found that victimization due to LGBT status between the ages of 13 and 19 fully accounts for the associations between gender nonconformity and depression and low life satisfaction as young adults. So they’re not depressed because of their LGBT status. They are depressed because they were victimized due to their own LGBT status, which perhaps seems sort of obvious, but there it is. So moving on, our E is FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION. Dr. Ehrensaft can you briefly tell us what that means?

Dr. Ehrensaft: 01:06:48

Anybody who isn’t free to express themselves is oppressed and we never condone oppression. So, the freedom to express oneself in a way that is authentic and true to them is the crux of the matter. So, I would nearly want to start this one too, of how important it is in terms of expression and that we get away from gender policing and we get away from binary boxes. So as one child said to me, what is the problem with everybody? Don’t they know it’s not about your gender, it’s just personality. So if we just move it to personality.

Jen: 01:07:31

Yeah. So being able to choose your clothes, your friends, your activities and those kinds of things as well. First S is SAFETY.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 01:07:39

When we become a parent, every one of us is given a dual task. On the one side is to carve the pathway for a child to be able to express and be themselves in the most expensive, healthy and authentic way. On the other side of the equation is keeping the children safe because there are harms in the world and it’s our job as parents to protect our children. So we have to integrate the two. And there’s nothing more challenging than integrating those two. When you have a gender-expansive child within a transphobic culture that suffers social gender dysphoria. The question is what form does safety take? And what I would say is the A (acceptance) is a critical part of safety. Children are safer when they are accepted and therefore they’re more resilient and can go in the world with a sense of agency in situations that may be challenging for them.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 01:08:48

So, we’ve often thought that the way to keep our children safe is not to accept their gender or to tell them they can’t express it and that made them fire. Because that goes back to the statistics that come up over and over again. The reason the kids aren’t doing well is because they haven’t been accepted. And so safety also means protecting against the risk factors and therefore accepting the kid. So it’s a full circle, but there aren’t going to be situations that are simply not physically safe. And that case, again, the important message to a child is that it’s about the culture out there, not you. So, let’s figure out a way to keep you safe in this particular context with the added message and we’re all working on making this a safer place.

Jen: 01:09:41 Y

eah, and it sort of feels like the last S is SUPPORT is the flip side of safety, right? You’re keeping them safe, which is protecting you from the bad things, but you’re also providing that positive support as well.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 01:09:50

Exactly. And every parent will tell you I support my child, but that could translate to I support my child by stopping them from being gender-expansive so they don’t get beat up. That is a form of support that’s not helpful. So, we have to really delineate what we mean by support and bring the A into that S that is predicated on acceptance.

Jen: 01:10:19

Wow. What a fantastic conversation. We are way over time, but Elizabeth, in closing, I’m wondering if you have one more burning question you’re desperate to ask?

Elizabeth: 01:10:28

I don’t have another burning question. I would say just to other parents or anyone experiencing around gender creative kids to remember, I know sometimes I’ve gotten lost in John’s gender creativity and seen it as a problem and a source of stress and I have lost all the rest of who John is and also sort of the amazing way in which John is teaching myself and his classmates and his teachers and the people that we meet at the library about the fullness of who we can be as human beings. And so to try not to get lost in all of that, what am I going to do about my family? What about is it safe to go to Target? How am I going to handle all of this and to step back and to fully see your child’s for their imagination, their intelligence, the ways in which they’re caring and all of that and also for the ways in which they’re courageous and teaching the rest of us so much. Thank you.

Jen: 01:11:25

Thanks so much for ending on that positive note and what we can all learn from gender creative children. I’m grateful that you’ve shared your experience with us, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth: 01:11:33

My pleasure, thank you.

Jen: 01:11:34

And Dr. Ehrensaft, I’m so grateful that you took the time to write the books that have helped so many people who are going through this right now and to help us think through this a bit more. Thanks for sharing your time with us.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 01:11:45

Yeah, thank you so much. And I’m just going to finish also by adding a personal experience. I am the mother of a gender creative child from the 1970s and 1980s, so quite a while ago. So I went to the journey myself and I would absolutely agree that my greatest teacher in all my work as a gender specialist was my child.

Jen: 01:12:10

And we think our role as parents is to teach our children everything we know, right?

Dr. Ehrensaft: 01:12:15


Jen: 01:12:16

When in actuality our children can teach us so much about ourselves and about life. Yeah. Thanks for that nugget to leave us with. It’s been such a pleasure to speak with you today.

Dr. Ehrensaft: 01:12:24

Thank you.

Jen: 01:12:25

And so Dr. Ehrensaft’s book The Gender Creative Child and Gender Born, Gender Made can be purchased on Amazon and references for the episode as well as a list of children’s books that you can use to either introduce your child to this topic if it’s something that you haven’t or they haven’t really thought of before, or if your child is going through this kind of gender questioning process and wants to see some characters that mirror their experience can be found at YourParentingMojo.com/GenderCreative.




About the author, Jen

Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.

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