Please stop encouraging parents to panic about their children's genders
(Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

The Church Of England has released a statement condemning transphobic bullying (as well as every other type of LGBT+ bullying). 

The upshot of the statement was this: please let your children dress-up however they want to, and don’t shame them if they choose items of clothing that don’t fit the stereotype of their gender.

This is, without question, a good thing but for a lot of people it’s been uncomfortable.

Most took it to mean that children who want to dress up in clothing that doesn’t ‘belong’ to their gender are somehow picking whether they are a boy or a girl.

It’s dangerous territory and those people are wrong.

Children should be able to wear whatever they want, play however they want, not be confined by pink for girls and blue for boys and that have absolutely no bearing on whether they are a boy or a girl.

Do we really believe that how children play somehow defines their gender? Do people still really think that girls can’t play football and that boys don’t cry?

Parents conducting complex surveillance on children’s dressing-up boxes to provide evidence that their child has been assigned the incorrect gender sounds slight off, doesn’t it?

Please stop encouraging parents to panic about their children's genders
(Picture: Ella Byworth fro metro.co.uk)

It’s not impossible that a little boy wanting to wear a tutu might mean that he was assigned the wrong gender at birth. But, more likely, he just likes wearing a tutu for fancy dress.

Little girls who like wearing combat trousers and wellies rather than dresses might also be trans. Or they could, more probably, just like wearing those things.

When we make these heavy-handed assumptions about gender we underestimate how complicated the concept of gender is and we overestimate how much we can decide about a child from the way in which they play.

It’s unfashionable to use the words ‘just a phase’ because it’s a sentiment which was used to silence and stifle LGBT+ people.

But the truth is, sometimes it is a phase, and that’s okay. All children go through phases. Some of them are reflective of their characters in the long term, and some really aren’t.

Children who like swords or light-sabers don’t often turn out to be violent. Kids who love playing with dolls don’t always want children.

And even if it’s not ‘a phase’, plenty of adults using light-sabers aren’t violent people. Adults in fancy dress haven’t used it as a stealth way to alert people that they’re transgender.

Your gender is not defined by your play-style as a child and it’s not defined by your clothing.

It’s a complicated Rubick’s Cube cube of elements. And it’s not really fair to children to suddenly start attributing all sorts of things to what they do when they dive into the dressing-up box.

There’s something rather uncomfortable about jumping to the conclusion of being trans the second a child wants to wear a fairy dress.

It’s an old-fashioned mentality which says ‘these things are only for girls, and if you like them, you are a girl’. There is a lot more to being a girl than pink tulle, just like there’s a lot more to being a boy than wearing trousers.

If a parent said ‘my daughter likes playing with tools so I think she might be a lesbian’ we’d be horrified.

It would be a callous, over simplistic thing to think. And yet, if a little boy who wants to dress the same as his sisters and play Mummy to a doll, there’s a chance that there’ll be a discussion about his gender identity.

Being trans isn’t a choice and it isn’t something that should be seen as ‘wrong’ or ‘a phase’ in any way.

Being open-minded about what gender a child might identify with by the time that they’re older is healthy, but I can’t help wondering if the entire discussion about ‘what gender are you?’ would be best left alone until kids are older, until the parents have observed more than a few dressing-up sessions.

If a child approaches their parent for a discussion about their gender identity then not for a moment would I suggest shutting that down, or fobbing them off with ‘we’ll talk about it when you’re older’.

But if your child seems happy and unfussed by their gender?

Please don’t go steaming in and make them feel as if by wearing a tiara your son has done something momentous.

Childhood is marked out by change, evolution and temporary obsessions. Personally I veered between being an aggressive tomboy who kept bugs in her pockets, and a tutu wearing ballerina who wanted a Sky Dancer for Christmas so badly that I cried. That’s standard.

Perhaps the gender neutral parenting of the Victorian times, where children wore weird white smocks and had mid-length hair and were sort of treated as a-gendered blobs until they got older, was a good thing.

metro illustrations
(Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)

Your child might be trans. They also might not be. But what gender they’re going to identify with as adults shouldn’t affect your parenting when they’re children or even as they become adults.

You don’t need to raise your boy children and girl children differently anyway. So why panic? Just treat all of your children equally, let them play how they want to play, be interested in whatever they are interested in, and there you go. You’ve the whole issue.

There is a sense of fear from transphobic people, they seem to think there’s a constant and pervasive agenda from transpeople to rob the world of their genders. That’s not what’s happening here.

Politically active left learning new parents worry about gender. A lot.

Raising a child is scary and hard and you’re constantly worried you’re going to screw it up. I think that parents in 2017 have been told to worry about gender far, far more than they actually need to.

Your child really doesn’t need to be defined by their genitals and parents should stop worrying so much..

If your child seems unhappy for any reason, especially if their gender seems to be actively worrying them, then yes of course you should seek help.

You should take all the support that you can get and you should protect your child fiercely because self-harm and suicide attempts among trans teens is astonishingly high.

But if your son is generally cheerful but just likes wearing the tiara and the tutu at dressing up time, then please, don’t turn it in to a big deal. Deciding that your child is trans because of how they dress really isn’t different from deciding that they are gay for the same reason.

Don’t teach your children that what they wear defines anything about them, that their outfits can somehow smudge the solidness of their gender orientation.

It doesn’t, it shouldn’t and children should just be left to play. In whatever outfit they want.

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