Describing a transgender child's gender to others

How should parents address their transgender child in front of others? Since many parents might be unsure of how to handle this, expert Diane Ehrensaft, PhD, suggests a couple of ways to work with your child and discuss what works best.
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Describing a transgender child's gender to others

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A lot of parents are really stymied about what to do with their cross dressing children or their transgender children – particularly those children who have not affirmed a gender yet – that's opposite to the one in their birth certificate, but like it when people think that they're that gender out in the world. So for example, I worked with one family where they had a little boy who dressed in dresses. Eventually, he did come out of his transgender and lives as a girl now. But before that time, when he was skipping down the street in his dresses people would say, "What a lovely little girl." And the parents, feeling they should be truthful to the world said, "Actually, it's not a girl. It's a boy." And their little boy was furious and said later, "Why did you have to say that?" And they said, "Well, what would you like us to say?" "Well, just say I'm a chipmunk!" So there was a sense of not wanting to be exposed and wanting to be able to play out being that gender. What a parent should do is first find out what does their child want. And weigh being truthful to the world versus whimsical play with your child, so that if your child would like to be seen as a girl and play being girl, it's okay. I guess those little white lies to be just non-disclosing and simply say, "Thank you," if they say, "What a beautiful little girl."

How should parents address their transgender child in front of others? Since many parents might be unsure of how to handle this, expert Diane Ehrensaft, PhD, suggests a couple of ways to work with your child and discuss what works best.

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Diane Ehrensaft, PhD

Clinical Psychologist

Diane Ehrensaft, PhD is a developmental and clinical psychologist in Oakland, California. She is a parenting expert and also specializes in gender studies and psychotherapy and consultation with gender nonconforming children and their families. She is the author of Gender Born, Gender Made:  Raising Healthy Gender-Nonconforming Children; Mommies Daddies, Donors, Surrogates, Building a Home Within (co-edited with Toni Heineman), Spoiling Childhood, and Parenting Together. Dr. Ehrensaft has made many media appearances, most recently the Anderson Cooper Day show, and has presented and published both nationally and internationally on the subjects of parenting, child development, assisted reproductive technology, and children’s gender development and gender nonconformity.

Dr. Ehrensaft is the Director of Mental Health of the Child and Adolescent Gender Center, a University of California San Francisco-community partnership offering interdisciplinary services to gender conforming children and youth and their families, as well as the psychologist at the UCSF Gender Clinic.

She serves on the faculty of The University of California and is a founding member of A Home Within, a national non-profit organization serving the mental health needs of children and youth in foster care.

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